One-possession games: The Arizona Cardinals have lost all six games in franchise history at the 31-year-old Metrodome, and last season's 34-10 loss there to the Minnesota Vikings was particularly ugly. The Cardinals haven't won in the state of Minnesota since 1977, and we've already discussed the apparent mismatch between the Vikings' pass rush and the Cardinals' offensive line. But if recent history can serve as a guide, this game isn't likely to be a blowout on either side. Since the start of the 2011 season, the Cardinals have had more games decided by one possession (17) than any NFL team. The Vikings are tied for second on that list with 14. The Cardinals are 11-6 in those games and the Vikings are 4-10.
Minnesota will surely welcome any red zone production from Adrian Peterson against Arizona on Sunday.
Red zone issues: The Vikings know that points will be at a premium after failing on three first-quarter opportunities to convert a red zone touchdown in last week's loss to the Washington Redskins. The Cardinals are the only NFL team to hold each of their opponents under 21 points this season and are on pace to set a franchise record for fewest points allowed. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave acknowledged he should have involved receiver Percy Harvin more in those red zone trips against the Redskins, but the Vikings haven't gotten much production there from tailback Adrian Peterson, either. Peterson's three red zone carries against the Redskins netted two yards, and his streak of five games without a touchdown is the longest of his career. It's going to be hard for the Vikings to score consistently against the Cardinals without incorporating and getting production from Harvin or Peterson, or both. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (five touchdowns) is starting to attract heavy attention from opposing defenses.
The right direction: After a slow start, the Green Bay Packers offense has started to hit its stride.The Packers have scored a league-high 14 touchdowns over that period, amassing a total of 97 points, and they have a touchdown on 10 of their past 11 trips to the red zone. That trend comes as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get another chance to play on their preferred artificial surface Sunday at the St. Louis Rams. Rodgers' career passer rating indoors is 113.6, the highest in NFL history. But shhhhhhhhh!Don't tell them. The Packers prefer criticism to praise.
Slow starters: As they prepare for Monday night's game at Soldier Field, the Detroit Lions know one of their biggest problems this season has been slow starts. They've been outscored 67-37 in the first half of games this season, and they've only outscored opponents in the fourth quarter (73-51). Quarterback Matthew Stafford deserves his share of the blame. Based on video analysis, he has overthrown or underthrown 26.7 percent of his passes in the first quarter of games this season. That figure drops to 15.7 percent in the fourth quarter. The Lions should plan to avoid falling behind the Bears early at all costs. The Bears' offense has lit up this season once staked to a lead by its strong defense, which is allowing the fewest points per game (14.2) in the NFL.
Cutler shines late: How good has the Bears offense been late in games? Quarterback Jay Cutler has an NFL-high 96.6 Total Quarterback Rating (on a scale of 1-100) in the fourth quarter this season, in part a function of opponents moving to single coverage on receiver Brandon Marshall while trying to play from behind. Both Lions victories this season have come on fourth-quarter comebacks. But if the Bears play like they have in their past three games, especially, any deficit the Lions face late is going to be tough to overcome.
(Statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)