Weren't the Vikings supposed to be looking for a new coach by now? After some of his players were caught in the love boat scandal on Lake Minnetonka in early October and the team got off to a 2-5 start, how was Mike Tice going to keep his job? Well, five straight wins is one way. With a 21-16 victory at Detroit on Sunday, Minnesota is 7-5, a bona fide NFC wild-card contender and still only two games behind Chicago in the race for the NFC North title. The Vikings are even dreaming of a meaningful Jan. 1 game with the Bears in the Metrodome. "Don't think I haven't thought about that," says the embattled Tice, whose team lost to Chicago, 28-3, the first game back from the bye-week debauchery. A play-it-safe quarterback, Brad Johnson, has been a godsend after Daunte Culpepper threw 12 interceptions in the first five games and then blew out his right knee against Carolina on October 30. And Minnesota's defense, toothless in the first seven games, has forced 16 turnovers and had 14 sacks in the last five. While misdemeanor charges against some players were still possible as of Monday, on the field the Vikings have already rehabilitated themselves.
Kyle Orton versus the Steelers' pass defense
Bears rookie Orton is the NFL's 32nd-rated passer (60.2) and is averaging 132.5 passing yards per game. The prevailing wisdom is that if Chicago doesn't improve through the air the team will be bounced from the playoffs early, no matter how great its defense plays. In a 19-7 win over the Packers on Sunday, Orton had a 3.6 passer rating at halftime and completed six of 17 passes on the day. Making the QB situation more interesting, former starter Rex Grossman, who broke his left ankle in August, appears ready to play. Don't expect Chicago to make a change unless Orton has one or two more horrible outings--which is possible.
1 Buffalo's debacle in Miami on Sunday--blowing a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose 24-23 and drop out of playoff contention--doesn't bode well for fifth-year G.M. Tom Donahoe. With a 30-46 record and no playoff appearances, plus a sketchy draft record and an impatient 87-year-old owner looking over his shoulder, Donahoe could be in trouble.
2 Attention NFL owners: You can have USC coach Pete Carroll, but it'll cost you. Carroll will want full control of football operations and probably $6 million a year to return to the pros.
3 Good job by commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Monday in announcing the goal of playing some 2006 late-season Saints games at the Superdome. I've said it before: The NFL cannot abandon the Louisiana--Gulf Coast region.
Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, every week at SI.com/football.