MINNEAPOLIS (AP) As in the rest of life, the approach of the end of the NFL season can prompt reflection of recent performance and experience.
The Minnesota Vikings have been one of the most consistent teams in the league, still carrying a legitimate chance to dethrone rival Green Bay for the NFC North title. With losses in four of their last five games, the New York Giants squandered control of the NFC East, by far the softest division in the conference.
The Vikings host the Giants on Sunday night, their vision headed in opposite directions. With Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. suspended for this game by the NFL for boorish, dangerous behavior on the field last week against Carolina, there's a seasonally appropriate, naughty-or-nice component to this matchup.
More from FoxSports
By pure luck, the Vikings (9-5) get to play the Giants (6-8) without one of the league's best wide receivers. The Giants entered the weekend with the reality that they could already be eliminated from contention before kickoff.
''We want to play as best we can, as hard as we can, for two games,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. ''That's it.''
That will be tough to do without Beckham.
''It's not a player you replace,'' running back Rashad Jennings said.
The Vikings, too, could take the field with a little less tension by nightfall with the potential of a wild-card spot already clinched. They'll still have the division title in their sights, though, with a game against the Packers looming a week away.
''I'm too much of a competitor in each game that I wouldn't want to fight,'' coach Mike Zimmer said.
Here are some key angles to know about the game:
JOSEPH AND THE GIANTS: The Vikings are on track to get nose tackle Linval Joseph back. A second-round draft pick by the Giants in 2010, Joseph signed with the Vikings last year and was flourishing in his second season in Zimmer's scheme until hurting his toe and missing the last three games.
''I'm just excited to be playing this week and can't wait to play against my old team,'' Joseph said.
BECKHAM'S ABSENCE: Beckham is one of the league's true go-to passing targets, with 40 more catches than his next teammates, Rueben Randle and Shane Vereen. Another regular wide receiver, Dwayne Harris, has been dealing with a shoulder injury. So roles could be elevated for Myles White, Hakeem Nicks and Geremy Davis.
''Young guys will be put in position to make plays, and we're going to run our normal offense,'' Manning said. ''We'll put guys in a position to do what they do well and to get open. We'll have to make plays, but we've got guys who can do that.''
READY TEDDY: Teddy Bridgewater has shown the Vikings many signs of promise, from a strong set of statistics recently on third downs to a 111.6 passer rating in six career December games. That's third best in the league over the last two years, behind Tony Romo and Cam Newton. This season, Bridgewater is just 20th in the NFL in yards and 27th in touchdowns, but the 9-5 record is the critical part.
''It's a stat-driven league, a league that's driven by numbers,'' Bridgewater said. ''Everyone wants to see all the passing yards and things like that, but the most important thing is winning football games.''
THE GREAT OUTDOORS: The Vikings are 10-5 at the University of Minnesota since construction began on their new covered downtown stadium. That's the best all-time winning percentage by an NFL team playing in a temporary home. The Bears went 4-12 in 2002 about two hours south of Chicago at the University of Illinois in Champaign during Soldier Field renovations, one example of the struggle of short-term relocation, albeit with a small sample size.
This will mark the last scheduled NFL game, pending the playoffs, for the Vikings as an outdoor team before they move into a climate-controlled venue again.
''I feel like our fans at home have done a great job of coming out and cheering for us the last two years, making it a harsh environment for our opponents,'' Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. ''Our fans have always been good at that.''
PRIME TIME PLAYERS?: The Vikings are 3-18 in prime-time games since 2009, including five straight losses on Sunday nights. Their last appearance under the lights was three weeks ago on a Thursday night at Arizona, a fine performance under difficult circumstances, but still a 23-20 loss to the Cardinals.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL