Weak NFC North Offers Strong Hope

The Vikings and Daunte Culpepper have struggled mightily in their first five games this season, but with a 1-4 record they are hanging their hat on being within a game of the NFC North lead.

As bad as things have been for the Vikings through five games there is still hope. Only in the unbelievably weak NFC North could this be the case.

The Vikings and Packers both will carry 1-4 records into their first meeting of the season on Sunday at the Metrodome. Yet, they trail first place Chicago and Detroit by only one game and follow a trip to Carolina on Oct. 30 with a home game against the Lions the following week. In other words, first place still isn't a complete pipe dream despite their ineptitude.

The Vikings only victory came in their last home game, on Sept. 25 against New Orleans. Since then they have been beaten soundly by Atlanta (30-10) and Chicago (28-3).

That victory against the Saints marked the only game this season in which Daunte Culpepper had a quarterback rating above 70 (72.4) or threw more than one touchdown pass (three). Culpepper, in fact, has thrown only four scoring passes all season, including none in three games, and has been intercepted 12 times.

His other QB ratings have looked like this: 66.7 vs. Tampa Bay; 56.8 at Cincinnati; 67.6 at Atlanta; and 54.2 at Chicago.

Despite the fact he threw two interceptions and did not lead the Vikings to an offensive touchdown for the second time this season Sunday at Soldier Field, coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator Steve Loney felt Culpepper played three solid quarters of football.

If Culpepper is going to get back to coming close to resembling the MVP candidate of 2004, Sunday would be the time to do it. The Packers defense played well in its last game against New Orleans before having a bye in Week 6, but the unit is far from intimidating and has sieve-like qualities.

The Vikings desperately need to get their focus back on the field, having dealt with the fallout of alleged sexual escapes by certain players on a pair of boats during a bye week outing early this month. That controversy has only served to cause more distractions to a team that can ill afford any.

Tice talked this week about his team needing to have more fun but smiles have been few at Winter Park as players have spent time answering questions about either what happened on the boats or why a team that was expected to be a Super Bowl contender hasn't even seemed competitive most weeks.

The Packers are easily the Vikings biggest rival and usually bring out the best in Minnesota. Tice is hoping the usual focus that goes into this game will help his team tune everything else out on Sunday.

He had better hope that's the case or he will be spending time answering more questions about his future next week.

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