The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts have made NFL history. This is the first time the league has had two 11-0 teams.
And then there are the Minnesota Vikings, owners of a 10-1 record. With 11 players leading their respective positions in fan voting for the NFC Pro Bowl team, it's hard to say the Vikings are flying under the radar. But, if they were, their three prime-time games in December should expose them to anybody that cares about the NFL.
That stretch starts Sunday night when the Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals, a game that will be televised on NBC.
"It's going to be great," said receiver Sidney Rice, who is third in the NFL with 964 receiving yards and sixth in the league with 56 receptions. "… They moved this (game) back for this week, so everybody's going to be watching. Hopefully we can go out and perform like we've been doing this past couple weeks."
Since their bye week in early November, the Vikings have won by 17 points over the Detroit Lions, 26 points over the Seattle Seahawks and 26 points over the Chicago Bears.
By the end of the Cardinals game, Rice could double the receiving yards he had in his first two seasons combined (537). A big performance Sunday night would go a long way to helping him become a Pro Bowl player for the first time in his career. But getting a chance to show coaches and players, who vote on the Pro Bowl later this month, could also help.
"Definitely it's an opportunity. But the main focus is winning, getting that next win," Rice said.
That team-first attitude has carried over with two rookies as well. Percy Harvin was the Vikings' first-round draft choice and is a leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is also the league leader in kick return average, leads the fan voting for the Pro Bowl in that category and had his first 100-yard game receiving last Sunday.
"I'm taking every game just like the other one. It's good whether it's prime time or not. Every game is important to us," he said. "It's good that I'll be able to show it off, but I take each game as important."
Right tackle Phil Loadholt was the team's second-round draft choice and has helped solidify the right side of the offensive line. He's already had one prime-time game, against the Green Bay Packers on "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 1, but with games against the Cardinals, Panthers (Sunday night, Dec. 20) and Bears (Monday night, Dec. 28), this will be a lot of national exposure for the 6-foot-8, 343-pound rookie.
"I kind of use all of them like (for exposure), to tell you the truth. I can't tell the difference if it's prime time or not," he said. "I can't see if there's more cameras or anything like that, so I use all of them to not just gain respect but play as hard as I can and help this team win."
Kurt Warner will be experiencing something unusual Sunday night. If Cardinals quarterback starts – he sat out last week with a concussion and is questionable this week – he'll be the youngest starting quarterback in the game. For a 38-year-old QB in the NFL that's a little unusual.
Of course, the 40-year-old Brett Favre is the quarterback on the other sideline for the Vikings. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Favre doesn't play like he's 40.
"Nope, he sure doesn't. He is playing at a high level," Whisenhunt said. "Of course, I am around a 38-year-old guy every day throwing it, so I am certainly conditioned to not make a judgment about it."
Warner reportedly was still having some sensitivity to light as a post-concussion symptom this week, but he was hoping to play. He participated fully in practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"We will take it day-by-day as we did last week, but it's encouraging right now," Whisenhunt said on Wednesday.
NOT FORGETTING THE FLAGS
Despite having the league's fifth-ranked offense for yards and second in points scored, Rice said the Vikings still have some areas in which to improve.
"We need to improve on a lot of things. No. 1 is self-inflicted things like penalties. We had a lot of penalties last game and we had a talk about it as soon as we got in the meeting room on Wednesday morning with coach," Rice said. "That's the one thing we want to work on. We don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot down in the red zone and keep having to back up and back up. We want to put sevens on the board instead of three."
Last year, the Vikings seemed to be outmatched on special teams often. This year, they seem to be getting the better of it with dangerous return men like Harvin on kickoffs and Darius Reynaud on punts. Meanwhile, Kenny Onatolu and Heath Farwell lead the coverage units with 16 and 12 special-teams tackles, respectively.
But Arizona has an answer in rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh-round running back that is leading the Cardinals with 18 special-teams tackles and had his first career kickoff return for a touchdown last week, a 99-yarder.
"NFC Player of the Week. It's rare that a guy can down three (punts) inside the 5-yard line and then to have the capabilities to return," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "A lot of times you will see a guy with the capabilities to return, but it's a lot of work to get down there and gun, and get down there and be able to keep the ball from going into the end zone. So they are punting it good, and then they have a guy like that that is exceptional. He is a three-name guy. I get confused with all of those hyphens and whatnot, but he's a good player."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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