Tarvaris Jackson or Gus Frerotte – who will start for Vikes in playoffs?

Tarvaris JacksonThe Minnesota Vikings needed a last second 50-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to beat the New York Giants’ scrubs 20-19 on Sunday, but nevertheless, they are the 2008 NFC North Champions.

With the win, the Vikings clinched the No. 3 seed in the NFC and will play either the Cowboys or Eagles. The question now becomes, who will line up under center for Minnesota come next week?

Tarvaris Jackson had another solid day, completing 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. He did throw one interception, but outside of that solely turnover he protected the ball well. In four games since replacing the injured Gus Frerotte, Jackson has completed 57 of 89 passes for 740 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception.

Regardless of whether or not Frerotte will be healthy enough to play next week, Jackson has earned the right to start. There seems to be a notion in sports that players shouldn’t lose their jobs because of injury, but the only thing Brad Childress and the Vikings should be concerned with is which quarterback gives them the best chance to win.

As of right now, that player is Jackson. His teammates have gotten into a rhythm with him under center, he’s played well and most importantly, he hasn’t made a ton of mistakes. It also helps that Adrian Peterson (who better learn to hang onto the football) is running like a man possessed right now, and takes a lot of pressure off of Jackson’s shoulders.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to toss Frerotte back into the fire when he hasn’t played in over three weeks and his backup is playing quite well. Jackson should be the choice under center next week for Minnesota.

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NFL Week 16 Primer Late Games

Here’s a quick Week 16 preview for all of the late games with playoff implications in the NFL this week:

Tarvaris JacksonFalcons at Vikings, 4:15PM ET
Who would have thought this game would have so much meaning when the season started? Minnesota needs just one more victory to win the NFC North and put the Chicago Bears out of their misery. They’ll start Tarvaris Jackson again at quarterback this week as Gus Frerotte continues to recovery from a back injury. With a lot of help from Adrian Peterson and the running game, Jackson has been absolutely outstanding since subbing for Frerotte two weeks ago and has thrown five touchdown passes in the last six quarters. The Vikings’ defense took a hit this week when it was discovered that run-stuffer Pat Williams would miss the next 2-6 weeks due to injury. That should help Michael Turner and the Falcons’ dynamic running game stay on track, although they’ll still need a huge contribution from rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, who struggled last week against Tampa. Atlanta needs to win out and hope Dallas or Tampa lose one of their two remaining games. And considering they host the Rams next week, their playoff hopes may reside in beating the Vikings. Can the Falcons’ defense contain Peterson and force Jackson to beat them through the air? Or will the Vikings continue to build momentum as they make a playoff push?

Jets at Seahawks, 4:05PM ET CBS
The Jets are clinging to a slim lead in the AFC East as they currently hold tie-breakers over the Dolphins and Patriots in the division. However, they’re 0-3 on the West Coast this year and a trip to Seattle is never fun for any team come December. This game will also mark Mike Holmgren’s final home game, so you can expect the Seahawks to be ready to play. Still, this is a team the Jets should beat, especially if they consider themselves a legit playoff squad. Seattle’s defense has been brutal this year and as long as Brett Favre can keep from turning the ball over, NY should come up with a big road win.

Bills at Broncos, 4:05PM ET CBS
All the Broncos have to do is win and they clinch the AFC West crown. They won’t have the fortune of facing J.P. Losman, though, as Trent Edwards will resume his starting quarterback duties after missing the past couple weeks due to injury. Denver has been consistently inconsistent this season, especially at home where they currently post a 4-3 record. Buffalo is a disaster, but they did give the Jets a game last week at the Meadowlands and Edwards might (emphasis on might) give the offense a boost. But as long as Denver’s run defense can contain Marshawn Lynch, they should (emphasis on should) be fine.

Eagles at Redskins, 4:15PM ET FOX
The Redskins were officially eliminated from playoff contention last week after an embarrassing loss to the Bengals but you’re crazy if you don’t think they would love to play spoiler. Led by quarterback Donovan McNabb and a stingy defense, the Eagles have played inspired football over the past month and proved two weeks ago in New York that they could win a huge road game. Philly needs to win their final two games to have a shot at a postseason berth and it won’t come easy. After playing in Washington this Sunday, they host the Cowboys next week, who will also be fighting for their playoff lives. If Jim Zorn continues to play things tight to the vest with his play calling, Philly defensive coordinator Jim Johnson might have a field day calling blitzes and confusing quarterback Jason Campbell. But first and foremost, the Eagles have to stop the run or else the passing game will open up and it might allow Zorn to get more creative than he has been of late. Washington’s defense has been solid all year but can anyone slow down McNabb and Brian Westbrook? As long as the Redskins are motivated to ruin the Eagles’ postseason dreams, this should be a great game.

Panthers at Giants, 8:15PM NBC
The battle for the No. 1 seed in the NFC is on the line this week in East Rutherford as the G-Men host the suddenly Super Bowl-caliber Panthers. These are two teams heading in opposite directions as the Giants have lost two straight while Carolina is winners of two in a row. The Panthers have been dominating opponents with their running game over the past two weeks, but they’ll get a huge test this Sunday against a stingy New York front seven. Still, the Giants’ offense has struggled without Plaxico Burress and a healthy Brandon Jacobs, so losing three in a row isn’t out of the question. They need to do a better job of protecting Eli Manning or else the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will run through Carolina this year. Jacobs is expected to play so that should help, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be. And can anyone stop the Panthers’ Steve Smith?

Is there a quarterback controversy in Minnesota now?

Tarvaris JacksonSince taking over for the injured Gus Frerotte the last two weeks, Tarvaris Jackson is 19 of 27, has thrown for 268 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, that Tarvaris Jackson – the same Tarvaris Jackson that was essentially a disaster at the beginning of the year and who prompted Vikings’ head coach Brad Childress to replace him with the ageless Frerotte.

Frerotte will likely miss Minnesota’s next game this Sunday vs. Atlanta while he rests his injured back, but he should be healthy enough to play in the Vikings’ finale. If he is, should he start over the suddenly hot Jackson? Before he was injured, Frerotte led the Vikes to a one-game lead over the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, so doesn’t he deserve the opportunity to reclaim his starting job when he’s healthy again?

It’s an interesting debate because on one hand, Frerotte has earned the right to be in the starting lineup. Plus, Jackson essentially had his opportunity to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback and he couldn’t make enough plays in the passing game to keep his job. Frerotte stepped up to the plate and delivered when Jackson failed and it’s not like he lost his job due to poor play – he got hurt.

But on the other hand, Jackson has led the Vikings to two impressive wins and even though he struggled earlier in the year, maybe he just needed time to rebuild his confidence. It looks like Childress has scaled back his offense quite a bit and Jackson has flourished, making easy reads and essentially getting out of Adrian Peterson’s way.

Personally, I think the job is still Frerotte’s. If he’s healthy, he’s earned the right to remain the starter and while it’s nice to see Jackson turn things around, he won’t always face the Lions and Cardinals defenses every week, either. In fact, maybe this Sunday will be Jackson’s first true test, as the Falcons have played very well defensively in the second half of the season.

It’ll be interesting to see if Atlanta will stuff the box and force Jackson to beat them through the air. Arizona couldn’t stop Peterson on the edges and it opened everything up for Jackson in the passing game. If Jackson falls back to earth on Sunday, maybe this debate will seize and Frerotte will reclaim his job next week and through the playoffs if the Vikings make it. But if he turns in another solid performance, there might be a legitimate quarterback controversy in Minnesota.

Vikings stay one game ahead of Bears in NFC North, but lose Frerotte

Tavaris JacksonIt wasn’t pretty, but the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions 20-16 on Sunday to remain one game ahead of the Chicago Bears – who beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-10 – in the NFC North Division.

The story for the Vikings is that quarterback Gus Frerotte was carted off the field with a back injury and that Tarvaris Jackson (yes, that Tarvaris Jackson) lead Minnesota to a come from behind victory. Jackson completed 8 of 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, although Brad Childress kept things ultra-conservative and relied on Adrian Peterson (102 yards on 23 carries) to move the ball.

Not that he was playing very well before the injury, but the Vikings will need Frerotte the rest of the way or else their slim lead in the division could evaporate. Jackson hasn’t played all season and it was evident on Sunday that Childress still doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the young QB to win the game by throwing the ball. And if Childress doesn’t have confidence in Jackson to throw the ball vertically against the Lions, than he won’t when the Vikings play the Cardinals, Falcons and Giants the rest of the way.

Even though they’re still one game back in the division and were just waxed in Minnesota a week ago, the Bears actually look like they’re in better shape right now than the Vikings. They have a tough home matchup on Thursday against the Saints, but then play a skidding Packers team at Solider Field before wrapping up their season against Houston. Minnesota actually has a tougher remaining schedule, although Chicago needs to beat the Saints on Thursday or else their postseason dreams might be dashed.

Are the Vikings who we thought they were?

Adrian PetersonBefore the season started, the addition of Jared Allen to the defensive line and then the continued development of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had many NFL purists believing the Minnesota Vikings were the team to beat in the NFC North.

But Jackson was replaced by the ageless wonder Gus Frerotte, the team lost three of its first four games and suddenly the Vikings were like many other annual chic picks in the NFL – overrated.

Minnesota appears back on track, however, winning four of their last five games and seizing control in the NFC North by soundly beating the Bears 34-14 on Sunday Night Football. So the question is – were the purists right all along and the Vikes just needed time for things to fall into place?

The Vikings have a couple of key elements that make them a sound football team. They can run the ball (Adrian Peterson was a beast in their win over the Bears) behind a solid offensive line, they can stop the run and Allen gives them a dominant pass-rush. They still have some issues stopping the pass and both of their defensive tackles could be suspended soon, but they’re clearly the best team in the weak North division at this point.

Assuming Minnesota wins their division, the question now becomes – how far can they go? Peterson is such a weapon, but we saw Sunday night how much of a physical pounding his body takes because of how hard he runs. Frerotte has been a major upgrade over Jackson, but does his play have a ceiling? It’ll be interesting to see if not only the Vikes can wrap up the division, but also whether or not they can compete with the Panthers, Falcons, Cowboys or any other Wild Card team they would face in the first round.

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