Posted on Fri, Sep. 22, 2006

[size=13pt]Vikings know 2-0 start brings no guarantees[/size]

BY DON SEEHOLZER
Pioneer Press


The Vikings are aware of the numbers. They're just not putting any stock in them.

Since the NFL adopted its current 12-team playoff format in 1990, 65.9 percent of the teams that started the season 2-0 (83 of 126) have gone on to make the postseason.

That's good news for the Vikings and the Chicago Bears, who will bring 2-0 records into Sunday's NFC North showdown at the Metrodome, but Ben Leber isn't ready to start icing the champagne.

"I've been in situations before where we started off great," the Vikings' starting strong-side linebacker said Thursday. "I think in San Diego one time we were 7-2 and we ended up finishing 8-8 and not making the playoffs. I can see how things can swing in your favor, but you can't take anything for granted at this time of year."

The Chargers actually started 4-0 and 6-1 in 2002 en route to that 8-8 finish, so Leber knows firsthand that a 2-0 record guarantees nothing.

So do those Vikings who were around in 2003, when they started 6-0 and missed the playoffs at 9-7.

If nothing else, though, this year's team can take some solace in the fact it didn't open 0-2.

Since 1990, only 13.3 percent of the teams that have done so (17 of 128) have gone on to make the playoffs.

As far as this 2-0 start and possible playoff ramifications go, the Vikings aren't ready to start handing out the party hats.

"It's definitely too early for that," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "You don't care about the percentages because it can all go bad in the next three or four weeks. You just take it week by week."

Udeze to right end?: Kenechi Udeze worked at right defensive end during the open portion of Thursday's practice and is expected to start there Sunday in place of the injured Erasmus James, with Darrion Scott opening at Udeze's left end spot.

Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin wouldn't confirm the switch, but he didn't rule it out, either.

"We'll leave no stone unturned to produce our A game on Sunday," Tomlin said. "We'll explore all those options."

James, who was put on season-ending injured reserve this week after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, said he would rehabilitate for the next three weeks before undergoing surgery in Denver.

Dr. Richard Steadman, who handled Udeze's microfracture knee surgery last season, will perform the operation.

Helping hands: Right tackle Marcus Johnson had a long day Sunday against Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, who beat him for three sacks. But Johnson is in line to get some help from a running back or tight end this week against the Bears' Adewale Ogunleye.

"There's some things that we can do to help him out, and we'll do that," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He was going up against probably one of the best defensive ends in the league. He did OK on some plays, and some plays he gave up a sack, but he was fighting and he was competing and we have confidence in him."

Injury update: Wide receiver Troy Williamson (shoulder), right guard Artis Hicks (shoulder) and wide receiver Marcus Robinson (hamstring) made it through another full practice and remain questionable for Sunday.

While Williamson's sprained left shoulder isn't expected to keep him from starting, it seems unlikely the Vikings would risk him on kickoff returns.

Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said that would be a game-time decision and that Mewelde Moore probably would return kickoffs if Williamson can't.

Special weapon: The Vikings' punt coverage unit will have to be at the top of its game Sunday.

Bears rookie Devin Hester ranks fifth in the NFL in punt returns with a 13.9-yard average and had an 84-yard return for a touchdown in the season opener against Green Bay.

"He's a great returner," Ferraro said. "I really think he's the best punt returner to come out in the last two years."

Ticket update: A limited number of single seats remain for Sunday's game, which will extend the Vikings' streak of home sellouts to 88.

Sean Jensen contributed to this report. Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]