EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings began the week preparing as if Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. could play Sunday night, but the NFL announced Wednesday that the second-year pro's suspension has been upheld after appeal.
The Vikings (9-5) won't be tasked with going against the leading receiver of the Giants (6-8) when Minnesota hosts New York on Sunday Night Football. Players, however, said there are still plenty of challenges from the Giants in the passing game.
That starts with Eli Manning, who has solid numbers when targeting all other teammates in the past two years. Manning is 545-of-851 passing (64 percent) for 5,605 yards with 37 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a rating of 87.6.
Beckham has 91 receptions for 1,396 yards and 13 TDs this season, accounting for 26.1 percent of the team's catches, 35.8 percent of its receiving yards and 40.6 percent of its passing touchdowns.
Next in line is Rueben Randle, a fourth-year pro who has 51 receptions for 638 yards and six scores. The Giants also have reached into their recent past and brought back Hakeem Nicks, who spent last season with Indianapolis and time earlier this year with Tennessee.
Nicks recorded 311 receptions for 4,622 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first five seasons in New York. He has four catches for 26 yards in four games since rejoining the Giants.
"People say, 'Hakeem Nicks, that was a long time ago,' but he's still a great player," nickelback Captain Munnerlyn said. "I still think he's one of the tops in the league because of body size and his control. They've got Randle, who's been outstanding."
Beckham was flagged for three unnecessary roughness personal foul penalties Sunday against Carolina and suspended for one game by the NFL earlier this week.
Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin told Twin Cities reporters that his team is "pretty much focused" on facing the Vikings.
"We've all, from the standpoint of the team, recognized Odell was wrong in his actions, so therefore, we would never defend those kinds of actions, but we do support him completely as a young man for his values, character, work ethic and the fact that he's one of ours," Coughlin said.
Coughlin added that Beckham wasn't the only player in the wrong and said anyone who believes so is "naïve."
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson texted Beckham and encouraged him to keep his head up and learn from the incident.
"Outside of Eli, he's their best player," Peterson said.
The Giants are averaging 26.6 points per game and allowing 25.6 per game. The Vikings are averaging 21.1 points per game and have allowed 19.4 per outing, but are coming off their high point for lighting up the scoreboard this season (38 against the Bears).
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said the Vikings expect the Giants to continue to be a scoring threat.
"We just have to continue to execute with the same intensity and have the same mindset going into this game Sunday," Bridgewater said. "The New York Giants are a team that can score points, and we understand that. But our defense has been playing some great football this year. Those guys accepted the challenge from Coach Zimmer, and we also as an offensive unit accepted the challenge."
The Vikings rank seventh in the NFL in passing yards allowed (229.5 allowed per game) and are tied at eighth in points allowed per game. All five players who started in the secondary against the Bears (Munnerlyn, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes, and safeties Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith) received a special reward this week from defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.
Pro Bowl overlooked?:Peterson was selected for his seventh Pro Bowl on Tuesday but is the only Viking to be picked for the all-star game. Teammates were happy for Peterson, but also thought he could have had company in Hawaii.
Peterson said "I have no idea" how fullback Zach Line didn't make the cut.
Line has three touchdowns on 11 touches this season, has helped Peterson return to the top of the NFL rushing leaders with 1,314 yards and has 95 yards on six catches this season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he really didn't talk to the team too much about the Pro Bowl selections, but reiterated to reporters his high opinion of his team. He awarded game balls to each player last week after a win against the Bears guaranteed — at the very least — a winning record in his second season as a head coach.
"We probably had some guys deserving, and every year it's kind of like that," Zimmer said. "I like this football team; I like the guys we have and to me they're all Pro Bowlers, to me. That's really all that I care about."
Defensive end Brian Robison said he's "over the Pro Bowl."
"The Pro Bowl is a popularity contest," Robison said. "It's just one of those things where you see some guys make it and some don't and you wonder how the heck they didn't make it. We're concentrating on winning ball games."
Hot — and quick — hand: Bridgewater is coming off a historic, five-touchdown (four passing, one rushing) game against the Bears and a career-high 335 passing yards against the Cardinals (12-2).
"We've done a combination or things – we've gotten the ball out quicker, we've moved the pocket some and then we've had some longer ones where he's held the ball a little bit longer," Zimmer said. "You have to have a combination of all of those things because if not, then they know where you're at. I think those things are all important and I think we've done a good job with that."
In seven career December games, Bridgewater has completed 145 of 203 passes (71.4 percent) for 1,776 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 103.8.
Zimmer didn't pinpoint a specific reason for the uptick at the end of Bridgewater's first two seasons.
"I mean he's throwing the ball really well in practice right now," Zimmer said. "I don't know what the case would be last year, I hope that this year it's because we have a chance to be where we're at and maybe that excites him. I don't know. I think maybe last year was more learning, getting better, getting better and things like that."
Bridgewater repeatedly mentioned throwing the ball with rhythm during his media session Wednesday.
Starters progressing: It remains to be seen whether Vikings defensive starters Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr or Harrison Smith will be cleared to return to action Sunday night, but Wednesday was a start.
Joseph, Barr and Smith participated in the first practice of the week on a limited basis.
Joseph has missed the past three games with a foot injury, and Barr and Smith have been sidelined since suffering injuries in the first quarter of the game against Seattle.
Injury reports: For the Vikings, in addition to Smith, Barr and Joseph, Everson Griffen (shoulder) and Sharrif Floyd (not injury related) were limited. Peterson, Josh Robinson (concussion) and Rhett Ellison (ankle) did not participated. Charles Johnson (ankle) was a full participant.
For the Giants: WR/RS Dwayne Harris (shoulder), LB Devon Kennard (foot), DT Markus Kuhn (knee) and S Cooper Taylor (concussion) did not participate. RB Orleans Darkwa (illness), LB James Morris (quad) and DE George Selvie (concussion) were limited.