EDEN PRAIRIE -- Bye weeks have been good to Minnesota coach Dennis Green.
The Vikings (3-0), who are 17-2 before and after byes during Green's nine seasons, moved into first place in the NFC's Central Division without even playing Sunday.
But the end of the bye marks the beginning of an important six-game stretch, starting Sunday at Detroit, that includes five games against Central Division opponents.
"We've got Central Division opponents all lined up in a row," Green said Monday. "That's why it becomes very important to focus on who you're playing that week."
By focusing first on the Lions (3-1) before a Monday night, Oct. 9, matchup with Tampa Bay (3-1), Green hopes his Vikings will have at least a two-game lead in the loss column on the rest of the Central Division before hitting the remainder of the stretch. The six games also include Chicago (Oct. 15), Tampa Bay again (Oct. 29), Green Bay (Nov. 6) and the AFC's Buffalo Bills on Oct. 22.
"We know we've got a great opportunity," Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "We've just got to take advantage of it."
With a victory over the Lions, Green's record coming off bye weeks would improve to 9-1. The Vikings spent that time off concentrating on their own problems rather than on the Lions.
"I'm not a believer that it takes two weeks to get ready for one team," Green said. "We've taken pride in the way we come out of and go into the bye."
The only problem with this season's bye, Green said, is that it came earlier than he would have liked. In a perfect world, he said, all of the NFL teams would take their weeks off in the middle of the season.
But he said it is never too early to take a division lead.
"Any time you're in first place it's significant," Green said. "If you're in first place, then it's up to you. If we play like we want to be in first place, that's probably where we'll be in the end."
Green said these Vikings, who list no significant injuries, are as healthy as any of his teams have been going into October, with the possible exception of the 1998 squad that went 15-1 during the regular season.
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