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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Adrian Peterson's successful return from last year's suspension has brought his seventh Pro Bowl invitation and a chance to lead the NFL in rushing for the third time in his nine-year career.
Peterson's impact also has the Minnesota Vikings on the verge of the playoffs.
A bothersome ankle leaves Peterson's availability for Sunday's home game against the New York Giants in question. Peterson was held out of practice for the second consecutive day as he deals with a sprained left ankle.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he thought Peterson would get some work Thursday and has said the back should be ready for Sunday night. Peterson participated in the pre-practice stretching, but didn't practice.
Peterson was injured in the first half of last week's 38-17 win against the Chicago Bears. Peterson returned for two second-half series before sitting out the rest of the game, finishing with 18 carries for 63 yards.
Returning to the game for six second-half carries provides optimism for the determined Peterson.
"Pretty confident I'll be ready to go," Peterson said Wednesday. "I felt pretty good getting back out there and running on it."
Peterson leads the league with 1,314 rushing yards, 9 ahead of Tampa Bay's Doug Martin. But as Peterson tries to win the rushing title for the first time since 2012 — when he ran for 2,097 yards and won the league MVP award — Minnesota has much more on the line.
The Vikings can secure a playoff berth this weekend before its game if Atlanta loses or ties Carolina and Seattle wins or ties St. Louis. If Arizona beats Green Bay, the Vikings and Packers will play in the season's final week for the NFC North title.
Peterson isn't Zimmer's only concern.
Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring) have missed the past two games. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph (foot) has missed three straight. Barr, Smith and Joseph have returned to practice and were limited on Thursday.
"If the guy is iffy health-wise and we we're already in the playoffs, then I may sit him for another week," Zimmer said. "But there's a fine line because, like I said, I don't want guys to be rusty going into Green Bay, and I don't want to have bad momentum if we do get into the playoffs."
Zimmer learned the importance of momentum in his time as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator.
In 2009, the Bengals rested players in the final week with nothing to play for. Their opponent, the New York Jets, had to win to win to make the playoffs. New York beat Cincinnati 37-0 to end the regular season, then the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, with the Bengals losing 24-14 at home.
"So, that's probably not going to be my approach," Zimmer said of resting players. "I think there's a risk-reward with the last game, depending on the scenario that happens. You try to look at the big picture, then make your decisions based on that. But it's not going to be wholesale, I won't do that."
Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) also missed Thursday's practice. Defensive end Everson Griffen (shoulder), running back Jerick McKinnon (hamstring), cornerback Josh Robinson (concussion) and receiver Charles Johnson (ankle) were limited Thursday.
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