Baby, It's Cold Outside

The Vikings head into Denver, where Mike Shanahan has made an art form of exploiting his home field advantage. That, combined with an extreme lack of success by the Vikings on the road in December makes Sunday's game a watershed moment for a team trying to reverse a decade-long trend of disaster outdoors on the road in December.

There was a time when playing in cold weather, snow and ice played into the hands of the Vikings. It was an intangible the team took full advantage of – much in the same way teams like the Packers, Bears, Bills and Patriots have used the elements to their own advantage.

But all of that stopped when the Vikings moved into the Metrodome. Because of their new home field – complete with a roof and artificial turf – the Vikings were transformed from a team built for all weather conditions to a team built for speed.

What was once the Vikings' biggest ally has become their biggest detriment in recent years. No longer can the team say that cold weather is a plus for them. It isn't – and the record reflects it. The Vikings had lost nine straight outdoor games on the road in December before beating the 49ers earlier this month, have lost 13 of the last 15 and, prior to the 49er win, hadn't won a regular-season outdoor road game since 1999.

While the weather forecast calls for sun and temperatures in the lowers 40s, the Vikings have to overcome a lot of adversity to come away with a win. With their season on the line, the Vikings will have to go a long way to reversing the malaise they have suffered on the road. Learning to win on the road is as much a mindset as anything else and the players know it.

"Good teams find a way to win on the road," linebacker Ben Leber said. "There's something to be said about having a home field advantage, but once the game starts, it all comes down to executing. Some teams struggle a lot on the road, while it doesn't seem to matter to other teams. We've had some good games on the road this year and are looking to continue that Sunday. We have a good team and playing on the road shouldn't be an issue for good teams."

While the numbers look pretty awful for the Vikings, if they're going to turn the corner and return to prominence in the NFC, a major component of that improvement will be to find ways to win on the road, especially late in the season. If the Vikings can make that change in their fortunes, success will follow.

* Pat Williams returned to practice Friday after sitting out the previous two games to nurse injuries to both his knee and elbow. While listed on the injury report as questionable, it was deemed that he was sat down simply to give the veteran Pro Bowler some healing time. He is expected to start and be able to play at full strength Sunday.
* Sidney Rice (ankle) and Antoine Winfield (shoulder) are also listed as questionable, but the Vikings expect to have Rice on the field for Sunday. Winfield once again will likely be a game-time decision.
* Vinny Ciurciu is likely to miss Sunday's game with an ankle injury. He is listed as doubtful and, barring a significant improvement today, he will more than likely be among the Vikings' inactives Sunday.
* Bobby Wade (knee) and David Herron (concussion) are listed as probable on the team's injury report.
* The Vikings defensive linemen will likely have more than a couple of complaints Sunday about the Broncos' blocking scheme. For years, the Broncos have been accused of playing dirty because the blocking schemes often involve cut blocks when linemen are engaged with other people. The blocking scheme calls for the offensive linemen to chop defenders at the knees, which has drawn a lot of ire from players and coaches alike that the scheme should be illegal because players do get hurt and having someone intentionally going hard at your knees is a practice that should be outlawed.
* Three Broncos – linebacker Ian Gold, tight end Daniel Graham and wide receiver Brandon Stokley – are all listed on the team's injury report as questionable with knee injuries.

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