Vikings Streaking At Right Time

The Vikings had been buried earlier this year and left for dead. But, before the death certificate could be signed, something funny happened. The team has rolled off three straight victories and, with a win today against the Cleveland Browns, the Vikings will be above .500 for the first time all season and in the middle of both the divisional and wild card playoff hunt.

With all the high hopes that the Vikings and their fans came into the 2005 season with, it's hard to imagine that the team can do something today it hasn't done all season – win a game to go over .500.

Yet, considering a 1-4 start that had fans not only jumping off the bandwagon, but throwing coaches and players under the bus, the team's comeback has been impressive. While the Giants are the only "quality" opponent the team has a victory over, the fact of the matter is that during the final six-game stretch run for the Vikings, they have four of the six games at home. Of those six games, only two opponents – the Bears and the Steelers – have a record of better than .500 and both of them are going to be playing in the Metrodome.

Of the five teams the Vikings have lost to this season, all of them have records of 7-3 or better. The Falcons, Panthers and Bucs all have a chance to make the playoffs despite being from the same division, the Bears will need to fall apart for the Vikings to catch them and the Bengals are on the way to the playoffs for the first time since bell bottom pants and fringe jackets were in fashion.

Put simply, at the time they've played them, the Vikings have won the games they should have won and lost the games they should have lost. If that holds true the rest of the way, the Vikings have a chance to make a serious late-season push and finish at 10-6 or, at worst, 9-7. Granted, that's a big if – but it's a far cry from what fans could have projected a month ago.

GAMEDAY NOTES
* The Vikings are 3-1 at home this year, while the Browns are 1-4 on the road. The Vikings have a pair of three-game winning streaks on the line – they've won three straight and they haven't lost at home since the season opener Sept. 11 vs. the Buccaneers.
* The Browns could be without both starting guards today, depending on how they react during pre-game warmups. Left guard Joe Andruzzi has missed the last two games and is listed as doubtful and right guard Cosey Coleman is questionable with a knee injury of his own.
* In the first seven games of the season, the Vikings rushing offense averaged 84 yards a game – a fair portion of that being scrambles by Daunte Culpepper. In the last three games with Brad Johnson as the starter, the team has averaged 112 yards a game on the ground.
* Reuben Droughns need 132 yards rushing to be the first Browns player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack both did it in 1985.
* Statistically, the Browns should hold the advantage. The team is currently ranked 20th in offense (19th rushing and 18th passing), while ranking 24th in defense (28th vs. the run and 13th vs. the pass). On the other side of the coin, the Vikings rank 25th in offense (24th rushing and 21st passing) and 28th on defense (21st vs. the run and 25th vs. the pass).
* The Browns don't travel well. They've lost their last four road games and are 3-15 dating back to 2003.
* ESPN's website has a season-long poll asking fans to give their coaches a vote of confidence or non-confidence in an approval rating. Mike Tice is 5-5 and has an approval rating of 51 percent -- well up from the 21 percent he had three weeks ago on the same poll. In contrast, the Browns are 4-6, but Romeo Crennel has an approval rating of 91 percent. Go figure.
* Today will be the first chance for Melvin Fowler and Nat Dorsey to meet their former teammates since the two were traded for each other earlier this year. Fowler is likely to start Sunday, while Dorsey remains a backup.
* Today will serve as homecomings for former Vikings Jason Fisk and Brian Russell. Fisk hasn't played with the Vikings since the 1998 season, while Russell was allowed to leave after signing an offer sheet to move to the Browns this past offseason.
* Don't be surprised if CB Antoine Winfield is locked up with Browns rookie Braylon Edwards for most if not all pass plays. In the last four games, Vikings rookie Troy Williamson has caught six passes for 78 yards. In last week's win alone, Edwards caught six passes for 90 yards.
* Nate Burleson looks like he will be ready to return to the lineup, but if he doesn't start, don't be shocked to see Koren Robinson get rewarded with his first Vikings start.
* The Vikings are 31st in the league for sacks allowed with 45. Only the hapless Texans have more.
* The only Vikings offensive lineman who has started every game this season is left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
* The Vikings offense has scored just one touchdown in the last 10 quarters, yet has won all three games. They're due for an explosion and many are convinced that, if underestimated, they could put up some solid numbers vs. the Browns.

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