Sunday's loss to the Giants was a damaging blow to a team that figures it needs 11 victories to guarantee an NFC North Division title and a favorable position entering the playoffs.
A victory would have given the Vikings six wins with four games left at the Metrodome, where the Vikings are 121-64. The loss means the Vikings likely have to win two of their remaining five road games, which won't be easy.
The first test is Monday night at Indianapolis in a game that likely won't include WR Randy Moss because of his strained right hamstring. It's the Vikings' third prime-time road game of the season. They lost 27-16 at Philadelphia on a Monday night and beat New Orleans 38-31 on a Sunday night.
"It's tough to win on the road, but to win on the road in a night national TV game, it's even tougher," coach Mike Tice said. "Then to have three nationally televised games on the road in one season — I don't know that anyone else has that course that has been charted for them."
That isn't the only schedule quirk the Vikings aren't happy with. On Nov. 14, they play at Green Bay a week after the Packers' bye. They lost to the Packers at home last season a week after Green Bay had a bye.
"Two years in a row getting to play Green Bay after their bye?" Tice said. "I mean, that's a hell of a course that has been charted for us."
For the second consecutive season, the Giants have thrown a wrench into the Vikings' season. Last year, the Vikings were 6-0 when a loss to the Giants at home started a 3-7 slide that knocked them out of the playoffs.
This season, the Vikings are 5-2 with a tougher schedule ahead of them. Four games remain against the second-place Lions (4-3) and third-place Packers (4-4). And there's another December trip to Chicago, which beat the Vikings at Soldier Field in December last season.
AFC South leader Jacksonville (5-3) and NFC West co-leader Seattle (4-3) also visit the Metrodome. And there's another outdoor cold-weather game Jan. 2 at Washington.
Basically, the Vikings figure they can lose three more games, as long as they aren't to Detroit or Green Bay, because of tiebreaker rules.
That's probably why you're seeing the Vikings leaning toward not playing the injured Moss on Monday night. They need him for Green Bay a week later more than they need him at Indianapolis in a game they probably would lose even if he were healthy.
* Tice finds himself in a running back quandary. Mewelde Moore isn't 100 percent. Thursday's practice wasn't promising and, if he fails to improve significantly, not only will he lose his starting spot, he might be de-activated. The Vikings plan to keep four running backs on the active roster. Larry Ned, who has been a special teams standout, could keep his spot if Tice is convinced Moore can't go at 100 percent. But, seeing as game-day active spots have been burned in recent weeks, perhaps Moore deserves a chance to fight to keep his starting job.
* After suffering two concussions in recent weeks, Raonall Smith has been shut down for Monday's game. Dontarrious Thomas, who has become a rookie nomad on the LB crew, moves into his spot. That spot was occupied by Chris Claiborne — who remains M.I.A. with a calf injury.
* Do you have good Monday Night Football memories? If so, you've been selective. Heading into Monday's game, the Vikings are 21-21 all-time on MNF.
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