By Shawn Lealos

Just two weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals were both division leaders and looked to be in strong position to head into the playoffs and possibly each go deep. One week later, and the Vikings were embarrassed at home by the Seattle Seahawks, a team that is losing time to catch the Cardinals in the NFC West. Now, these two teams play each other, and both teams see this week’s Thursday Night Football game as an important step in their march to the playoffs.

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Arizona Cardinals NFC West Hopes

The Carolina Panthers are not only the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season, but are also the first team to clinch their division. The Arizona Cardinals could move closer this weekend. If the Cardinals beat the Vikings, the worst they can finish is in a tie for the NFC West title. The best that the Seahawks can do is to win out and finish in a tie with the Cardinals at 11 wins. However, if the Cardinals win two more games, they clinch the division. Even if they lose the rest of their games, they play the Seahawks in the final week of the season, and could still win the title with a win in that game. Win on Thursday, and they make those dreams even closer.

Minnesota Vikings NFC North Hopes

The Minnesota Vikings have become a .500 team over the last four weeks. After opening the season with a 7-2 record, they sat in first place in the NFC North, and a win over the Green Bay Packers would strengthen their position. The Packers blew them out 30-13 to take control of the North. The Vikings won the next week while the Packers lost to even up the division again, but then the Seahawks blew out Minnesota on Sunday, 38-7, while the Packers won to tie up the division again. Minnesota needs a win over Arizona to keep this race alive.

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Adrian Peterson

Peterson came out of the blow out to the Seattle Seahawks and didn’t hold his tongue. Peterson entered the season not wanting to play for the Vikings anymore, but they finally reached a deal to keep him there. Peterson has rushed for 1,182 yards this season and is the best running back in the NFL once again, but he still isn’t satisfied. After the loss, Peterson made the comments that his team was outcoached in many different ways. In the Vikings’ four losses this season, Peterson has averaged 11 carries for 43 yards a game. In the wins, he has averaged 24 carries for 125 yards a game. It’s clear what the Vikings need to do to win.

The Arrival of David Johnson

The Arizona Cardinals have won a lot of games this year thanks to quarterback Carson Palmer, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and running back Chris Johnson. However, Johnson is now out for the season and it wasn’t holdover Andre Ellington that stepped up for the team. Instead, it was rookie David Johnson who got to show what he was made of. After getting 22 carries for 139 yards in the previous 11 games, Johnson carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards on Sunday. It appears that the Cardinals won’t miss a beat in the running game.

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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.