Vikings' magic number is two

The Vikings can clinch the division with a win and a Green Bay loss this week, and Minnesota can simply clinch a playoff spot with a win even if the Packers also win. It's already that playoff-scenario time of year.

The Vikings are almost making things look too easy these days.

After blowing out Seattle 35-9 a week earlier, the Vikings completed a perfect November with a 36-10 rout of the Chicago Bears on Sunday at the Metrodome.

That gave the Vikings a 10-1 record entering their Sunday night game at Arizona and put their magic number at two for clinching the NFC North. A Vikings victory over the Cardinals and a Green Bay loss to Baltimore on Monday night would give Minnesota its second consecutive division title. A win against the Cardinals, even if the Packers also won, would still clinch a playoff spot for the Vikings.

Clearly, however, this team has far greater aspirations.

"At this point we want to get home-field advantage in the playoffs and that doesn't just stop when we win the division," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Teams, like the Saints, are pushing, they keep doing well. We have to step up our game and keep performing on Sundays to get to our goal."

The victory over the Bears was just the latest indication that there are few teams in the NFC that can compete with the Vikings. (Unfortunately, the Vikings and Saints will not meet during the regular season.) Minnesota already has swept Green Bay and Detroit and will look to complete the division sweep when they face the Bears on Dec. 28 at Soldier Field.

The reality is that the Vikings' toughest remaining opponents might be the Cardinals or Cincinnati Bengals, who will visit the Metrodome on Dec. 13.

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, a member of four Packers teams that won 11 or more games during his nine seasons in Green Bay, said no matter what happens he doesn't think overconfidence will become an issue with this club.

"The group that we have in the locker room has been really good about taking it one game at a time," Longwell said. "Even after the quick start guys would come in on Mondays and be like, ‘We know we can get better. We haven't played our best.' We are still trying to learn, and it's kind of a unique group that way. They've understood the big picture the whole time without looking too far ahead."

Longwell expects that to continue in part because of the team's focus on improving, no matter the opponent.

"It's the internal motivation that keeps you going," he said. "The best teams that I was on always (hit) the accelerator in November and December, no matter what the record was and no matter whom we were playing. That came internally. What you have to guard against is naturally cruise control because whether you are (10-1) or (1-10), cruise control can kill you in this league."

LINEUP WATCH: Versatile veteran Artis Hicks replaced Anthony Herrera at right guard on Sunday after the latter suffered a concussion the week before against Seattle. Hicks played right tackle in Week 5 at St. Louis in place of the injured Phil Loadholt and is the Vikings' top backup at both guard and tackle positions. Herrera had not missed a start since taking over the right guard spot full time in the fifth week of the 2007 season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 500 — Quarterback Brett Favre became the first player in NFL history on Sunday to reach 500 career combined touchdowns (passing and rushing) in the regular season. Favre finished Sunday with 502 passing and rushing touchdowns, including an NFL record 488 through the air.


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