The Minnesota Vikings can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning Sunday at St. Louis.
They can also claim it by beating Green Bay or Indianapolis in the weeks that follow. Or they could tie any of these teams and still remain home for the holidays, as long as the New York Giants don't finish like gangbusters.
Knowing this, there's no point in the Vikings becoming impatient.
Dwayne Rudd and Orlando Thomas know this in their heads, even if their hearts are begging to differ.
They know they are needed against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, a dangerous team for the Vikings despite their three-game losing streak. Kurt Warner is still last season's MVP, even if he flopped in his return from a broken finger that forced him to miss five games, and the Rams are still the highest-scoring team in the NFL even though they were held to three points Sunday by Carolina.
The Vikings could use Rudd, their best coverage linebacker, and Thomas, their veteran free safety, but they will be better off without them in the long run.
"If the Super Bowl or playoffs were this week, I'd be playing," said Thomas, who has missed five games because of a broken shoulder bone.
Thomas is most likely to return against Green Bay on Dec. 17.
Rudd probably will miss his second game because of a sore shoulder.
Final decisions will be made Wednesday.
"It's just a fear in the organization that it could possibly worsen and that I could miss the playoffs," Rudd said. "I'm definitely going to let them know I'm ready to play, but coach (Dennis) Green makes better decisions than me."
The Vikings were happy with defensive end Bryce Paup's return to the defense against the Detroit Lions last Thursday. He was held out for six games because of a fracture in his right knee.
"We were very patient with Bryce Paup's development," Green said. "We think we'll have the same success if we're patient with Dwayne Rudd and if we're patient with Orlando Thomas."
Church vs. NFL
Christmas Eve Mass will go on as scheduled at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church -- no thanks to the National Football League.
The pastor of the church standing directly across the street from the RCA Dome asked the NFL to move up the scheduled 4:15 p.m. kickoff of the Indianapolis Colts-Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve. That way, about 1,000 parishioners could make their way to the church for its 5:30 p.m. family Mass, one of its best attended of the year.
The NFL said no.
"You have to understand that the schedule is like a giant jigsaw puzzle," league spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday. "Making what might seem a small change in one game could have a ripple effect that makes the entire schedule unplayable."
The prospect of traffic and parking congestion caused church leaders to consider canceling the Mass, the Rev. Thomas Murphy said.
Then business leaders stepped in with a plan to reserve 400 nearby parking spaces for the churchgoers.
Murphy is grateful for the compromise, but doesn't like scheduling sporting events on religious holidays -- it keeps fans, players and team employees away from their families.
The NFL has 11 games scheduled on Christmas Eve and a normal Monday night game on Christmas Day. It moved its normal Sunday night game to Saturday to avoid having a late game on Christmas Eve.
"We will try to avoid certain holidays if we can avoid it," Aiello said. "Sometimes it is unavoidable."
NOTES: Green said the Vikings have yet to play their best game. He also said he isn't sure they are the best team in the NFL. "We have shown maybe the best intestinal fortitude," Green said. "We think we have the potential to be the best team in football." ... Green blamed the cold Carolina weather on the poor performances Sunday by Warner and the Rams receivers. Warner threw four interceptions and Rams receivers dropped about 10 of his passes. "That is not going to happen in the Trans World Dome," Green said.
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