Vikings Coming Out Party?

The Vikings prepare for their date with the Patriots tonight knowing the NFL world is watching -- for better or worse.

The Vikings are a home underdog tonight when they meet the New England Patriots. For a team that is 4-2 and on the verge of what they believe is a playoff run, their first Metrodome appearance under Brad Childress on the Monday night stage could be a stamp of approval that the organization is prepared to move to the big time or a chance for the Patriots to expose their weaknesses to the rest of the NFL.

Teams have used the Monday night forum as a coming out party in the past, like the Vikings did when they went into Lambeau Field in 1998 and whipped the Packers to make believers of people who thought their fast start was a fluke. For other teams, like the Bears two weeks ago and the Cowboys last week, the Monday night platform proved to expose weaknesses that other teams will try to exploit.

The trump card in the deck is Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He has been known to completely revamp defenses to attack and confuse opposing offenses. You can bet he's going to try to throw something at the Vikings that they haven't seen in hopes of creating confusion and, in the process, turnovers.

Tonight's game is going to be huge for multiple reasons. With a win, the Vikings can improve to 5-2 with the easiest portion of their schedule coming up. With a loss, they fall to 4-3 and will have more questions than answers hanging over their heads.

Which one will it be? We'll know a lot more in 24 hours.

* The losses by the Panthers and Seahawks on Sunday can only be helpful for the Vikings. With wins over both of them, the Vikings would potentially win any head-to-head tie-breakers if a playoff spot depended on it, so they're quickly becoming fans of anyone who can beat them.
* The Patriots have downgraded four players -- offensive linemen Stephen Neal and Russ Hochstein, safety Eugene Wilson and tight end Daniel Graham -- to out for tonight's game. All four are expected to be deactivated.
* With 23 carries tonight, Chester Taylor will set a career high for carries in a season.
* Brad Johnson continues to move up the career touchdown passing list. With one more, he will tie Joe Theismann, who will be part of the Monday night broadcast crew this evening.

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