Tough stretch starts Sunday

The Vikings have made their way to a 5-0 record playing teams that are a combined 7-17. While fans are focusing on a three-game stretch leading up to the bye, the players are focused on Baltimore.

Given the one-game-at-a-time approach that prevails in the NFL, the Vikings aren't about to admit they are looking at anything other than their upcoming opponent.

But the reality is the Vikings' next three games are going to go a long way toward determining just how good this team actually is this season. Minnesota has built a 5-0 record by beating clubs that have gone a combined 7-17. That includes road victories over St. Louis (0-5), Cleveland (1-4) and Detroit (1-4).

This favorable stretch is going to come to a halt Sunday when the Vikings play host to Baltimore. The Ravens (3-2), who advanced to the AFC title game last season, are coming off a 17-14 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday and have lost two in a row but could give the Vikings their toughest test of the season.

Things won't get easier when the Vikings travel to play defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh the next week and then play their last game before the bye against the Packers at Lambeau Field. That will mark quarterback Brett Favre's return to Green Bay and figures to be a very difficult environment for the visitors.

"I really don't look at it as a stretch of games," coach Brad Childress said. "I look at it as one game apiece."

Another way to look at it is like this: If the Vikings win two games in this stretch they figure to be in outstanding shape come December.

That's because after their bye week, the Vikings will have a rare three-game home stand, playing Detroit (Nov. 15), Seattle (Nov. 22) and Chicago (Nov. 29) at the Metrodome. After their Nov. 1 game at Lambeau Field, the Vikings won't be back on the road again until Dec. 6 when they play at Arizona.

That is way too far out for anyone who calls Winter Park home to even consider publicly at this point.

"You can't look at it as these next three weeks or these next four games," offensive lineman Artis Hicks said. "You've got to look at it (as the) Baltimore Ravens and take it one game at a time. I've been on a team where we started 8-0 and the thing is every week we approached it like, ‘This is what we have this week.'

"Once you get a little ways and you get to the bye week and you turn around and look at the body of work that you've done as a whole, that's a little bit different. But when you're in it and you're in the moment, that's what you have to do."

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe admits it might not be easy as some guys make it sound.

"We've got to be politically correct and talk like this," he said. "We do think ahead a little bit, in the back of our minds. But we do stay focused about what's right in front of us. The Baltimore Ravens. We know we've got the Steelers coming up and some other hard teams, but that doesn't have anything to do with the Ravens."

SERIES HISTORY: 4th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 2-1. The teams have not played a regular-season game since Brad Childress became the Vikings coach in 2006. This will mark the Ravens' first regular-season game at the Metrodome. The only team the Vikings have played fewer games against than the Ravens is the Houston Texans (two).

BY THE NUMBERS: Plus-8 — Vikings turnover differential through the first five games, which is the best in the NFL.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the best team I've ever been on. I've been up there with the Giants and I left a Super Bowl team, but this is the best team I've ever been on. The camaraderie is what really makes it. Everybody likes each other here, in this locker room and on this team. They like each other as a person. We mingle, we go out, we're always joking and laughing." — Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe talking about the chemistry of the 5-0 Vikings.


The Vikings continue to use a regular wave of defensive linemen that gets some of their starters a rest. While right end Jared Allen rarely leaves the game, the Vikings have been using a rotation at nose tackle that calls for Fred Evans and Brian Robison to spell veteran Pat Williams.

Evans will replace Williams for a few consecutive snaps and sometimes an entire series. The versatile Robison can play either end but also is used in the middle in passing situations. Letroy Guion seems to be the odd man out at this point.

Even Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams gets some rest when Jimmy Kennedy comes in.

After being inactive for two games, Jayme Mitchell returned last Sunday and was used in place of left end Ray Edwards at times.

  • WR Percy Harvin did not practice Wednesday after injuring his shoulder on Sunday in St. Louis. Harvin did not have to leave the game.

  • DE Ray Edwards was limited because of a hamstring injury.

  • LG Steve Hutchinson was limited because of a back injury that has bothered him in recent weeks.

  • RT Phil Loadholt was limited because of an ankle injury that forced him to miss last Sunday's game.

  • WR Darius Reynaud was limited because of a hamstring injury. Reynaud was injured in Week 3 against San Francisco. He was way from the team last week to tend to a family matter.

  • FB Naufahu Tahi was limited because of an ankle injury.

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