Desperation vs. Realization

The Vikings face a team in Tennessee that needs a win to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, but Dennis Green and the Vikings' hopes have nearly already faded.

The recent history of the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings would indicate today's game is a first-class clash of teams poised for playoff positioning. But in 200l, this football odyssey, these two teams are far from the ranks positioning for the playoffs.

No, at this point in the season, 11 games into it for both teams, each team is pretty well out of the playoff pictures. But the Titans, at 5-6, have a little more motivation. If they win their remaining five games they should make the playoffs.

The same isn't true with the Vikings, however. Even if they win their last five games, chance are they would miss out of the playoffs. At 4-7, they are not mathematically eliminated -- yet -- but they are almost surely headed that way even they can pull off the improbable running of the table.

Both teams have been ravaged by injuries, and the ability of key players to play through the pain today on the hard turf of the Metrodome will be a deciding factor. For Tennessee, it is running back Eddie George and quarterback Steve McNair who will be on hobbled watch, but both are expected to play. For Minnesota, quarterback Daunte Culpepper is the most watched injured player, but there is no clear indication that he will or will not play. The team isn't saying, and really may not know until about 11 a.m. this morning.

Further in the stars of this game and the next five is the future of Dennis Green and his assistants. Publicly, Green is getting the support from owner Red McCombs. Behind the scenes it is a completely different story. Green has to avoid the embarrassing losses like at Philadelphia to save his job. The win total may not be as important, given the injuries and heartache of 2001, as the way in which the team plays these last five games.

It starts with Tennessee today.

* On the injury report, the Vikings have Culpepper listed as questionable, along with DE Willie Howard and FB Jim Kleinsasser. Tackle Brad Badger, G Calvin Collins and David Dixon, DT Chris Hovan, WR Nate Jacquet, LB Ed McDaniel and Jim Nelson are all listed as probable.
* For Tennessee, one key player is out, safety Daryl Porter. Also out are backup WRs Justin McCariens and Chris Sanders. Listed as questionable are safety Blaine Bishop, RB George, T Brad Hopkins, CB DeRon Jenkins, TE Erron McKinney, QB McNair, CB Donald Mitchell, SS Aric Morris, G Zach Piller, DT Robaire Smith and TE Frank Wycheck. TE Shad Meier is probable.
* Tennessee is the first of three AFC opponents in the next five games, with a home game against Jacksonville in two weeks and a road game on Jan. 7 at Baltimore to close out the season.
* Tennessee is 2-0 so far this year against NFC opponents.
* Former Vikings general manager Jeff Diamond, who was a very popular executive in Minnesota but lost out in a power struggle with Dennis Green, will be back in the Metrodome today filling the same role with the Titans. Diamond is one of the nicest and down-to-earth front office people in sports.

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