Is Sickness Part Of Vikings' Misfortunes?

The Vikings have had all kinds of things go wrong for them in the last year, but they still can make the playoffs … if they can overcome sickness and beat Washington, or get lucky and get help from other teams.

The Vikings thought their luck finally had changed for the better when Detroit botched an extra-point snap to hand-deliver a 28-27 victory two weeks ago.

Think again.

With the team scrambling to make the playoffs despite a 3-6 record in its last nine games, 10 players have come down with the flu, including QB Daunte Culpepper.

"Just another week," said coach Mike Tice, shaking his head.

Culpepper, CB Antoine Winfield and TE Jermaine Wiggins were excused from practice on Wednesday. Culpepper showed up anyway but didn't participate during the 30-minute period that was open to the media.

Tice downplayed the impact this will have, saying he expects each player to play on Sunday at Washington.

But Wednesday is the most important day of practice for the week. Also, RB Onterrio Smith was a surprise game-day de-activation because of the flu last week. So it's entirely possible that someone won't be able to play because of the flu bug that has struck Winter Park.

"It's some bad stuff," Culpepper said.

The Vikings wasted their opportunity to coast on the final week of the regular season when they lost to Green Bay 34-31 on Christmas Eve in a winner-takes-all game for the NFC North title.

The Vikings could have clinched a wild-card berth on Sunday if Carolina had lost, and again on Monday if St. Louis had lost. Of course, the Panthers and Rams both won.

So now, the coughing, sniffling Vikings head into the final week of the season with three more scenarios that could land them in the playoffs for the first time since 2000. They are:

  • A Carolina loss or tie at home against New Orleans.

  • A St. Louis loss or tie at home against the Jets.

  • Beat Washington.

    The most likely scenario, one would think, is the last. The Redskins are 5-10 and will be playing without RB Clinton Portis, LB LaVar Arrington and probably CB Fred Smoot.

    But, remember, this is the Vikings. Their inability to finish games — and seasons — is matched only by their lousy luck.

    Last year, they traveled to Arizona for the season finale needing only to beat the 3-12 Cardinals to win the NFC North. They lost on a last-second touchdown pass by Josh McCown. Josh McCown!

    If that's not bad luck, what is?

    The Vikings could be in trouble if their collapse continues at Washington. Carolina is playing too well to lose to the Saints. The Jets, meanwhile, will have a tough time winning at St. Louis.

    All season, we've heard how the Vikings aren't the same team that fell apart last season. The 2003 team started 6-0 and finished 3-7, missing the playoffs by a game.

    This year's team started 5-1. A loss at Washington would complete a second consecutive 3-7 finish.

    It might not be enough to keep the Vikings out of the playoffs. But the way the Vikings' luck is, don't count on the Vikings getting any help from the Saints or Jets on Sunday.

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