- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Passing game and protection on the edges. The Vikings' front seven is a strength on defense, so it is likely going to be difficult for the Patriots to generate a consistent ground attack. That puts the focus on the passing game and spread formations to soften up the front seven, and means tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer will have to rise up to block pass-rushing threats Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. The Vikings can also be tough to handle up the middle with the pass rush.
2. Stopping the run with the front seven. The Patriots have been solid against the run in their base 3-4 defense, and their ability to limit Adrian Peterson with seven players will be key, because the safeties will be needed to help on the deep ball against Randy Moss. The Vikings have a big, physical offensive line, which will test the Patriots against the run.
3. Randy Moss vs. Patriots' young corners. The Patriots know as well as anyone how lethal Moss can be with the deep ball. Primarily lining up as the "X" receiver -- away from the tight end side -- Moss could be matched up against Devin McCourty (seventh career start) or Kyle Arrington (fifth career start), which represents the biggest test of the young cornerbacks' careers.
4. Yards after the catch with Percy Harvin. While Moss' return to face the Patriots will generate more of the buzz, Harvin is also dangerous, but in a different way. He can line up at various spots and is elusive with the ball in his hands, both on offense and on special teams. Strong fundamental tackling, similar to the way the Patriots played in San Diego last week, will be important against Harvin.
5. Availability and effectiveness of Deion Branch and Pat Chung. On Thursday, Branch was added to the injury report because of his hamstring, while Chung returned to practice Thursday after being knocked out of last week's game with a knee injury. Both are questionable. Branch has been targeted 20 times in two games, showing how he's quickly emerged as a go-to guy. Chung is one of the top playmakers on defense.
6. Brett Favre vs. Tarvaris Jackson. Depending on which quarterback is in the game, the style is markedly different. Getting Favre to move his feet would be ideal, whereas Jackson is the type of quarterback the Patriots would be focusing more on keeping in the pocket.
7. Capitalizing on Brett Favre's mistakes. Assuming Favre plays, defensive backs should have a chance for a few interceptions. The Vikings rank last in the NFL in interception percentage, as Favre has already totaled 10. When the opportunity is there, it must be seized, because, as Favre has proven, he can serve one up on one play and then fire a touchdown strike on the next. Minnesota has a minus-6 turnover differential this season, tied for 27th in the NFL.
8. Kickoff coverage units of both teams. Two of the NFL's best kickoff-return units will be on the field. The Patriots rank first in the NFL, with an average drive start at the 32.6-yard line. The Vikings, behind Percy Harvin, rank third (31.8) and are also the NFL's top punt-return unit. The potential for explosiveness is there and the role of the kickers could be key -- New England's Stephen Gostkowski is tied for third in the NFL with 14 touchbacks, while the Vikings' Ryan Longwell is tied for 28th with just one.
9. Jake Ingram's snapping. It's seldom a good thing when the snapper is under the spotlight, but Ingram had the toughest game of his young career last week, rolling two snaps back to punter Zoltan Mesko. Can he rebound?
10. Time for the No. 3 and No. 4 receivers to rise up. The Patriots haven't run many pure four-receiver packages this season, in part because tight end Aaron Hernandez has receiver-like skills. But this projects to be the type of game to spread things out with pure receivers, which puts more of the focus on Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who potentially could have more opportunities to make their mark.
23hEric D. Williams
2dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo