Purple on Purple in Twin Cities

Oct 17, 2009 - 4:01 AM By BARRY WILNER AP Football Writer

A prevalent opinion around the NFL heading into this season was that if the Baltimore Ravens found some offense, they'd be a Super Bowl favorite.

It was also thought the Minnesota Vikings would contend if they got a quarterback who could threaten defenses and eliminate those eight-in-the-box alignments to deal with Adrian Peterson.

On Sunday, it's purple on purple as the Ravens visit the Vikings, but with the teams headed in different directions.

After winning their first three outings with a dominating offense and a big-play defense, the Ravens (3-2) have turned sloppy. Penalties, bad decisions, dropped passes - the stuff of losers - have infested Baltimore's performances.

Meanwhile, the Vikings (5-0) can't seem to do anything wrong. They've won big, including a 38-10 romp at St. Louis last week. They've won small, with Brett Favre's 32-yard TD pass to Greg Lewis - who hasn't caught any other balls - edging San Francisco 27-24 with 2 seconds to go in Week 3.

As Baltimore's usually formidable defense has been vulnerable and overly aggressive, Minnesota's unit has been balanced and opportunistic. The Vikings lead the league with a plus-8 turnover differential.

So which team is using cautious words?

"We're getting a lot of pats on the back," Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "But 5-0 can turn into 5-11 and we play a lot of good teams coming up. We can't get content or relax, because Baltimore's coming up. It's like hitting a bee's nest, rustling them up a little bit, they're going to be pretty mad coming in here."

Mad as can be after weak late-game showings in losses to New England and Cincinnati.

"It's not like we got blown out of the stadium," running back Ray Rice said. "These are games where, in the fourth quarter, there were one or two plays that if we make the play, we win the game. Those things get corrected. It's not a lack of effort, it's not a lack of intensity, it's not a lack of (being) physical."

Also Sunday, it's the New York Giants at New Orleans; Chicago at Atlanta; Cleveland at Pittsburgh; Houston at Cincinnati; Arizona at Seattle; Philadelphia at Oakland; Buffalo at the New York Jets; Tennessee at New England; Kansas City at Washington; Carolina at Tampa Bay; St. Louis at Jacksonville; and Detroit at Green Bay.

Unbeaten Denver is at San Diego on Monday night.

Off this week are Indianapolis, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami.


N.Y. Giants (5-0) at New Orleans (4-0)=

The combined records of Giants opponents is 6-19. For New Orleans, it's 8-11, but the Saints have beaten the Eagles and Jets, both better teams than anyone the Giants have faced.

Eli Manning gets to play in his hometown for the first time as a pro, hoping that right heel problem is in the past. It sure didn't bother him in last week's demolition of the Raiders.

New Orleans ranks first in points per game at 36, but its defense, rated sixth overall, has been the revelation in the Big Easy.

Chicago (3-1) at Atlanta (3-1)=

Atlanta looked sensational in all areas in its romp at San Francisco, something the Bears got to examine fully as they sat through a bye weekend. Chicago might have preferred to keep playing, having won three straight as quarterback Jay Cutler really heated up the offense.

His counterpart with the Falcons, "Matty Ice" (Matt Ryan), has picked up impressively from his rookie of the year campaign.

Still, the respective running games, led by Chicago's Matt Forte and Atlanta's Michael Turner, could be decisive.

Denver (5-0) at San Diego (2-2), Monday night=

That one of these teams would be spotless this deep into the season hardly is shocking. That it's the Broncos, after all the offseason turmoil, is almost unfathomable.

But a vastly upgraded defense that ranks second overall under new coordinator Mike Nolan, and a carefully orchestrated offense supplemented by two big-play performers (WR Brandon Marshall and rookie RB Knowshon Moreno) have made Denver the runaway leader of the AFC West.

San Diego was supposed to be in that position, but once again, the Chargers have underachieved in most aspects.

Cleveland (1-4) at Pittsburgh (3-2)=

Perhaps the only people who want to cherish last Sunday's 6-3 win at Buffalo are the Browns themselves. An ugly W is a W still.

This one could get real ugly if Cleveland performs in a similar offensive manner as against the Bills, when Derek Anderson completed all of two passes. Remember, too, that the Steelers always take the archrival Browns seriously, even when they are laughable.

Plus, both Troy Polamalu and Willie Parker are expected back for Pittsburgh.

Houston (2-3) at Cincinnati (4-1)=

At some point, the Bengals will stop waiting until the final moments to clinch victories. Then again, it sure has worked in a four-game winning streak, with decisions against Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They come off their best performance of the season in ending the Ravens' string of not yielding a 100-yard rusher at 39 as Cedric Benson ran for 120. Carson Palmer is showing no ill effects from last year's elbow woes and the defense is stingy.

The Texans can be dangerous - at least when they don't have to run in short-yardage situations. They particularly struggle in the red zone, so the message should be: Get the ball to Andre Johnson. Often.

Arizona (2-2) at Seattle (2-3)=

With San Francisco idle, one of these teams will gain ground in the NFC West, which figures to go down to the wire anyway. Kurt Warner was magnificent in the first half, pedestrian in the second against the Texans last weekend, and the Cardinals needed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception return for a TD to win it.

Matt Hasselbeck must remain healthy for Seattle to compete. He came back early from broken ribs to throw for four TDs against Jacksonville.

Philadelphia (3-1) at Oakland (1-4)=

What better way for Donovan McNabb to follow up his return from a broken rib against Tampa Bay than with a game at Oakland? Almost like target practice.

The Eagles look ultradangerous with the ball thanks to the rapid development of receivers DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin, and rookie running back LeSean McCoy.

The Raiders? If the NFL had relegation, they might get dropped.

Buffalo (1-4) at N.Y. Jets (3-2)=

Despite vocal votes of support from his players before last week's game, Dick Jauron saw his team put out one of its sorriest performances ever in a 6-3 home loss to the Browns. Owner Ralph Wilson is not eager to eat the remainder of Jauron's contract, but even the 7-9 record he posted in his first three seasons as Bills coach seems unattainable.

Rex Ryan has no job security issues. His concerns are about a defense that was manhandled by the Dolphins on Monday night.

Tennessee (0-5) at New England (3-2)=

Tennessee's plummet is unfathomable, from 10-0 last season to 3-9 since, including a playoff loss. The Titans are banged up, especially in the secondary, which means Randy Moss might finally get on track for the Patriots.

Maybe everybody has been too impatient for Moss, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots to act like the 2007 version that went unbeaten through 18 games before the Super Bowl defeat. Then again, this could be the week when something similar to the '07 team shows up.

Kansas City (0-5) at Washington (2-3)=

It's not the Redskins' fault that they face their sixth straight winless opponent. Their problem is that they lost to three of them, albeit one foe was the Giants in the opener. After this, the Skins get the Eagles, Falcons, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles again, and Saints. Not many losses among those teams.

The Chiefs blew a 13-3 lead against Dallas, but of all the winless teams, they are showing the most moxie. Still, they have won just two of their last 29 games, the worst streak in franchise history.

Carolina (1-3) at Tampa Bay (0-5)=

The Panthers got healthier with a bye week and then rallied past the Redskins. DE Julius Peppers, the league's highest-paid player, showed up in the Washington backfield and provided some missing spark for Carolina.

Tampa has been outscored 140-68, including 37-7 in first quarters.

St. Louis (0-5) at Jacksonville (2-3)=

Jacksonville flew cross-country to Seattle riding a two-game winning string, then got hammered 41-0. Here's a chance to get going against a team that can't move the ball (28th overall), can't stop anyone and has been outscored 146-34.

Detroit (1-4) at Green Bay (2-2)=

After being humbled by Favre and the Vikings - still sounds weird, doesn't it? - the Packers had a week off to mend and solve their myriad blocking problems. Bringing back veteran tackle Mark Tauscher after a 10-month recovery from a knee injury probably won't matter this week. Tauscher isn't projected to play, and the Lions aren't projected to get much pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers.

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