Success Affecting 2003 Draft

The upside of the Vikings' current winning ways is that they're building for next year. But it looks like they'll be doing it with a lower draft pick than many predicted two weeks ago.

When the Vikings faced a four-week schedule that included games at Green Bay and New Orleans and at home vs. Atlanta and Miami, there was considerable belief that the team would go 0-4 in the stretch and, even with a win over Detroit next week, finish 4-12.

With that in mind, speculation became that the Vikings could pick as high as No. 2 or No. 3 -- the always-hapless Bengals seem to have a lock on No. 1 despite an upset win Sunday. But, with the recent success, the Vikings' stock is rising and their top pick is falling.

Cincinnati has all but clinched the No. 1 pick and, thanks to tie-breakers, the Vikings are assured of finishing second in the NFC North. In addition to those three teams, this weekend marks the first time all season that the Vikings have a better record than expansion Houston, which won its first game and had the Vikings in the rear view mirror ever since.

Throw in Dallas, which has faced a tougher schedule and Arizona and the Vikings would currently be slated to pick No. 7 in next April's draft. With a win Sunday, it's possible Washington and Jacksonville could slip in front of the Vikings, dropping them as far as No. 9. The good news is that there's no way either Carolina or Seattle, which would finish an identical 6-10 with losses next week and a Vikings win, would move in front of the Vikings -- both teams beat Minnesota head-to-head which drops the Vikings.

While the recent turnaround has been great, the value of the top pick the Vikings currently have has dropped from No. 3 to No. 7 and could go lower after the regular season ends next weekend.

* As expected, the Vikings got the news they feared Sunday when a MRI revealed that kicker Hayden Epstein has a torn left ACL. He is expected to have surgery this week, but, with just one game remaining, the Vikings may not sign a player. Gary Anderson is expected to handle all kicking duties vs. Detroit Sunday.
* Byron Chamberlain will have a MRI today on his injured ankle. It's thought to be a high ankle sprain and could likely keep him out of Sunday's game.
* Michael Bennett has an outside chance of winning the NFC rushing title. After a poor performance for Deuce McAllister Sunday, Bennett trailed by less than 80 yards, but that's still a lot of ground to make up in one week.
* Daunte Culpepper became the fifth Vikings QB to top 10,000 career passing yards -- joining Fran Tarkenton, Tommy Kramer, Wade Wilson and Warren Moon.
* From the de ja vu department comes this. Anderson's 53-yard field goal Dec. 20 was the longest since he kicked a 53-yarder Dec. 20, 1998, at the Metrodome vs. Jacksonville.
* Culpepper needs 291 yards combined rushing and receiving to break his own team record of 4,407 combined yards set in 2000.

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