For the first time in almost a month the Patriots (5-5) return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on the Minnesota Vikings (3-7).
After a three-game road trip that saw New England go 2-1, the team returns home for a stretch that sees four of the final six games take place in Foxborough.
The Vikings come to New England following last week's 31-21 upset of the Green Bay Packers at home in the Metrodome. Minnesota struggled early in the season, but has shown improvement of late including tough losses to the Giants and the Buccaneers.
"I think that if there was one word I could use to describe the Vikings it would be explosive," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "Really, every phase of the game, they are a very explosive team, particularly on defense. They have a very disruptive front four and a lot of depth on the front line with [Kenny] Mixon, [Chris] Hovan, [Fred] Robbins and [Lance] Johnstone. They have a lot of depth there."
While the Minnesota defense has been adjusting to new personnel the unit has ranked 31st in the NFL. Linebacker Greg Biekert is the teams leading tackler with 99, while Johnstone leads in sacks with 5. Belichick believes some adjustments the team has made in recent weeks have truly made them a far better unit.
"They have played 10 games, they've made a lot of personnel moves defensively and I think really for the better," Belichick said. "They've become a much more effective and solid on defense in the last few weeks with those personnel moves, you know, moving some people around particularly in the secondary and on their sub defense. I think they have improved that dramatically in the last three or four games and of course played real well against Green Bay and that showed up. A lot of the adjustments that they have made have worked out well for them. Defensively this is a much better team than what they had earlier in the season."
On the offensive side of the ball the Vikings are always an explosive team. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper is coming off a solid Packers game that saw him complete 13-of-26 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another. Randy Moss is the most notable player on the Minnesota offense and is having another strong season. Moss is tied for an NFC-high 62 receptions for 764 yards and four touchdowns. But the most explosive player on the offense may be running back Michael Bennett. Bennett has carried the ball 152 times for 853 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has an active streak of four-consecutive 100-yard games and has three runs of greater than 60 yards this season.
"Of course, offensively with guys like Moss, Bennett, [D'Wayne] Bates, Culpepper and [Byron] Chamberlain, they have a lot of explosive players on the offensive side of the ball," Belichick said. "They are really capable of scoring from pretty much any point on the field. it's a big team including a big quarterback and a couple of big receivers, a big fullback, a big offensive line, that's kind of the element of the game that they bring."
But as explosive as the Vikings have been, they have struggled on the road in recent years. Minnesota is 0-4 on the road this and has not won a road game since Thanksgiving day 2000. The game will likely come down to whether the Patriots are able to stop Bennett and the NFL's number one ranked rushing offense and whether the Vikings can shut down the Patriots sixth ranked passing offense. The Vikings are somewhat of a hit or miss team, while they can explode for a score at any time, they also have a minus-16 turnover ratio this season. As is normally the case in the NFL, the team that makes fewer mistakes and takes advantage of opportunities will likely win Sunday's matchup.