The Vikings have made the most of their last six weeks -- going 6-0 and being transformed from a league laughingstock to a trendy favorite to be the hot NFC team heading into the playoffs.
But, just as the fans and national media are climbing aboard the bandwagon, the Vikings face their stiffest test to date in the final three-game run.
Of their remaining opponents, all three are at the top of the NFL in total defense. The Steelers are rated No. 8, the Ravens are No. 6 and the Bears are No. 1 through 13 games, and each brings a different and unique style of defense to the table.
The Steelers have found success in the 3-4 defense while other franchises have tinkered with it and abandoned it over the years. They bring blitzes from everywhere and disguise it well -- concealing who is staying back in coverage and who is coming after the quarterback. The Ravens are simply a smashmouth defense that likes to dominate through brute strength. The Bears, meanwhile, have ridden the defense to a 9-4 record -- putting up oppressive Red Zone numbers in which teams have only scored touchdowns on one in five trips into the Red Zone.
While the Vikings have come together as a team, there is still reason for concern because the offense has been doing just enough to win. Against the league's top defenses, that may not be enough. The defense has gotten the Vikings this far. Now it's time for the offense to do its job and seal the deal.
* The Vikings plan to keep Darren Bennett on the roster this week and quite possibly keep him active despite the expectation that Chris Kluwe will be ready to go Sunday. It may be an expensive insurance policy that will cost an offensive linemen or wide receiver to be active Sunday, but it's a risk the Vikings believe is worth taking.
* Owner Zygi Wilf made an appearance on a Twin Cities radio station Thursday, and when asked about whether Daunte Culpepper will get his $6 million roster bonus this spring, Wilf said he will and is expected to be ready for opening day of the 2006 regular season.
* The NFL has approved moving the regular season finale of the Packers-Seahawks from 3 p.m. local time to noon. Many believe that is a precursor to shifting the Bears-Vikings game from noon to 3 p.m. so it can be seen by a national audience.
The Defense Doesn't Rest
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