Vikings face a tough road ahead

The Vikings have put themselves in a commanding position to secure the division and a playoff berth. Good thing, because their last stretch of games could be their toughest stretch of the season.

After sweeping a three-game home stand against opponents with a combined 10-23 record, the Vikings will get a tougher test to open December.

Minnesota, sitting at 10-1 and one game behind New Orleans (11-0) in the race for the best record in the NFC, will play its first road game since early November when it faces the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Cardinals are coming off a last-second loss to Tennessee but remain atop the NFC West with a 7-4 record. The Vikings also will face Cincinnati (8-3), Carolina (4-7), Chicago (4-7), and the Giants (6-5) to close the regular season.

Catching the Saints doesn't figure to be an easy assignment. New Orleans, coming off an impressive Monday night victory over New England, will finish the regular season by going against Washington (3-8), Atlanta (6-5), Dallas (8-3), Tampa Bay (1-10) and Carolina (4-7).

The Cowboys would appear to have the best chance of keeping the Saints from perfection.

"I am just worried about Arizona, that's all," coach Brad Childress said when asked about his team's upcoming schedule. "I can't get over my ski tips too far. We've got a West Coast trip to a team that played in the Super Bowl last year. That's a hard place to play that has a lot of explosive components to it."

The Vikings, whose only loss so far came at Pittsburgh, will face definite tests against the Cardinals and Bengals. The Bears game also will be played on a Monday night in the cold at Soldier Field, so that could end up being a test just because of the weather.

The conditions won't be an issue this weekend for the Vikings in Arizona. A year ago Minnesota routed the Cardinals, 35-14, at University of Phoenix Stadium a week after Arizona had secured the NFC West. The Cardinals don't figure to relax this time around and actually can keep the Vikings from securing a playoff berth.

A Vikings victory Sunday would give them a spot in the NFL's postseason tournament for a second consecutive year, and if Green Bay also losses against Baltimore next Monday that would give Minnesota its second NFC North crown in a row.

The Vikings are going to try to maintain the momentum they gained in one-sided victories over Detroit (27-10), Seattle (35-9) and Chicago (36-10) the past three weeks.

Behind MVP candidate Brett Favre, the Vikings have scored 30 or more points seven times through the first 11 games. That's the second-most games of at least 30 points in team history for a single season. The Vikings accomplished the feat 11 times en route to going 15-1 in the regular season in 1998.

The Vikings also have won seven of eight road games, dating to 2008, and are looking for their 20th victory in their last 24 regular-season games.

It's no wonder that many are anxiously awaiting the potential matchup between the Vikings and Saints in the NFC Championship Game.

Childress, of course, has continued to harp on the one-game-at-time philosophy in an attempt to keep his players from looking too far ahead.

The nice thing for Childress this Sunday is at least he can offer his players the ability to see where they stand against a quality opponent on the road.

SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead, 10-9. They are 6-5 against the Cardinals franchise on the road after a 35-14 victory last Dec. 14 at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Vikings are 2-0 against the Cardinals in the playoffs, having beaten them in divisional playoff games in 1974 and 1998.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Career-high touchdown passes thrown by Brett Favre in a 56-35 victory over the Cardinals last season when the quarterback was playing for the New York Jets. Favre completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and was named AFC offensive player of the week for his performance.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's almost heresy. I can't believe that is coming out of my mouth on the sideline." — Vikings coach Brad Childress, who has always had a run-first mentality, on the fact he told offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to keep calling for pass plays on Sunday against Chicago.

NOTES

Veteran running back Chester Taylor has been worked into the mix on a more consistent basis the past two games. Two weeks ago against Seattle, Taylor had a season-high 11 rushing attempts for 73 yards. He had only four carries last Sunday against the Bears but caught six passes for 51 yards with a touchdown.

Taylor, who will be a free agent after this season, is an extremely valuable backup to Adrian Peterson and handles his limited playing time in a very professional manner. Taylor remains a key to the Vikings offense on third down, although Peterson has been getting on the field more often in those situations.

  • G Anthony Herrera missed practice Wednesday because of a concussion. He sat out last Sunday's game because of the injury.

  • CB Benny Sapp did not practice Wednesday because of injuries to his thumb and ribs. Sapp said he expects to play Sunday.

  • S Eric Frampton was limited because of a concussion.

  • OT Bryant McKinnie was limited because of a back issue.

  • TE Visanthe Shiancoe was limited because of sore ribs that he injured last Sunday against Chicago.

  • FB Naufahu Tahi was limited because of an ankle injury that has bothered him in recent weeks.

  • RB Chester Taylor was limited because of sore ribs.

  • CB Antoine Winfield, who has missed the past five games, was limited because of the injury to his right foot.

  • WR Bernard Berrian took part in all of practice despite still being listed on the injury report with a hamstring problem.

  • RB Adrian Peterson took part in all of practice despite his sore ankle.


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