Why this game is intriguing: A battle between two 4-2 teams, and it's the ninth-best game? Really? That speaks to the quality of games this week, especially with drama present in so many. Featuring two unsuspectingly good teams with surprisingly effective defenses and run-based offenses, this matchup simply doesn't have the star power of some of the other showdowns. Wait a year or so, though, because Christian Ponder has the potential to reach NFL stardom. He's led this insanely young team to stunning success so far this year.
What to watch: The Cardinals' 4-0 start, which had the entire NFL talking, is starting to look like fool's gold. But new (and old) starter John Skelton will try to prove that wrong. Losing to the Rams in a road Thursday night game is not crushing, but succumbing to the Bills at home might be. If Arizona doesn't turn Ponder over early, and if it can't stop power runner Adrian Peterson, it'll be a sure road loss that will make us wonder who that team was that started so hot.
The Arizona Cardinals' suspect pass protection was partially responsible for the loss of their starting quarterback last week.
The injury to Kevin Kolb gives John Skelton another shot at QB.
Skelton takes over for the struggling Cardinals on Sunday when they visit the Minnesota Vikings, who are looking to open 4-0 at home.
Kolb, who assumed Arizona's starting quarterback position in Week 1 when Skelton suffered a sprained ankle, injured his ribs while being sacked in last Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to Buffalo. The Cardinals, losers of two in a row following a surprising 4-0 start, said Kolb will be out for "an unspecified period of time."
It might have been only a matter of time until Kolb suffered an injury, considering the beating he had been taking. The Cardinals have allowed a league-worst 28 sacks, with 22 of them coming in the last three games.
Skelton is now faced with the difficult challenge of trying to stay upright against a Minnesota team that enters Week 7 ranked 11th in the NFL with 15 sacks. Vikings pass-rushing specialist Jared Allen has a sack in each of the last four games, and an NFL-best 26 since the start of last season.
Skelton did little to impress after replacing Kolb last week, completing 2 of 10 passes for 45 yards with an interception. The pick led to Rian Lindell's game-winning field goal.
"(He) can't make that throw," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Skelton has proven he can win, though, going 6-2 as a starter last season.
"We are comfortable with whatever quarterback lines up Sunday, he'll get the job done," running back LaRod Stephens-Howling told the team's official website.
Christian Ponder had given the Vikings (4-2) confidence in their quarterback for the first month of the season, but he has regressed a bit.
After throwing for 824 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first four games, Ponder has four TDs and four picks in the last two.
His mistakes cost the Vikings in last Sunday's 38-26 loss at Washington, as one of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown and his fumble deep in Minnesota's own territory set up another Redskins touchdown. Despite his subpar showing, coach Leslie Frazier stressed that Ponder is only in his second season, and his first as a full-time starter.
"There's going to be some growing pains along the way," Frazier said. "We know that. This is a part of the process with him, part of the evolution of being an NFL starter. And we grow as a team, he'll grow. But things like what happened (Sunday) could happen as he continues to gain more experience."
It helps that Ponder has a healthy Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
Peterson enters the week ranked third in the NFC in rushing with 499 yards, and is averaging 96.8 yards in four career starts against Arizona. He amassed 122 yards and three touchdowns in last season's 34-10 victory over the Cardinals, the Vikings' sixth straight home win in the series.
Last year's victory over Arizona marked Minnesota's lone home win, but they've won all three of their games in Minneapolis this season.
Peterson will be facing an Arizona defense that has yielded 276 rushing yards in its last two games. Despite being susceptible against the run, the Cardinals have still been tough to score on, allowing an average of 16.2 points -- fourth-best in the NFL entering Week 7.
"We know we're going to be in the game at the end of it. We've got a great defense," Arizona offensive guard Daryn Colledge said. "They've given us an opportunity every single week to be in a game."