EDEN PRAIRIE -- When the Minnesota Vikings, preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, were salvaging their roller coaster season, it stood to reason that they'd eventually face the St. Louis Rams, who came out of nowhere to gain the conference's top seed with a 13-3 mark.
The Vikings didn't see Sunday's divisional playoff matchup with St. Louis as two high-powered trains on a collision path, however.
''That's just unrealistic,'' wide receiver Cris Carter said. ''We were just trying to get back to .500, finish the season strong.''
Quarterback Jeff George said the Vikings (11-6), the fourth seed in the NFC, couldn't afford to look ahead to the playoff possibilities because they were too concerned about qualifying for the postseason, period.
''I don't think you look ahead,'' George said. ''I know we weren't too concerned with who we were playing two to three weeks from now because we were already in a hole and trying to dig ourselves out.
''But now that it's here,'' George added, ''I think it's a good matchup.''
It's probably the most intriguing matchup of the playoffs, two teams that are mirror images of each other, with strong offenses, opportunistic defenses and electrifying special teams.
''It's a matchup that everybody wanted to see, mainly because of the offenses,'' George said. ''But we give most of our credit to our defense, these last four or five weeks, creating the turnovers that they have and giving us the chance to score in the red area, getting huge turnovers at good times. Our defense has been playing well.
''But obviously this is the matchup that everybody wanted to see.''
The Rams and Vikings didn't meet this year.
''All I know about St. Louis is they've been scoring a lot of points and winning a lot of games,'' running back Robert Smith said. ''It's obviously going to be tough to play on the road in a city that has had its share of rough luck with teams and those guys are going to be all fired up.''
The Rams are early seven-point favorites over the Vikings, who have won four straight games.
But Vikings coach Dennis Green said his team is playing its best defense, has its most balanced offense and is accustomed to playing in domes and on turf.
''And then hopefully the fact that we've already played a postseason game, a playoff game, we're hoping that will help us also,'' he said.
The Rams had last weekend off to rest up because they earned the top seed and homefield advantage in the NFC.
All week the Vikings are going to be reminded of their painful past, with questions about whether the Rams are this year's version of the 1998 Vikings, who had a record-breaking regular season only to lose in the NFC championship at home and as a big favorite.
''They could be the Vikings of '98, but some bad things happened to the Vikings of '98,'' receiver Randy Moss said. ''So, I don't think people down in St. Louis would like that comment.''
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