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Confident Vikings return to work

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--The Vikings returned from their annual in-season hiatus Monday undefeated, alone atop the NFC North Division and still boasting the stingiest scoring defense in the league.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-The Vikings returned from their annual in-season hiatus Monday undefeated, alone atop the NFC North Division and still boasting the stingiest scoring defense in the league.

They are 5-0. Or as pragmatic and unsatisfied coach Mike Zimmer prefers their record: five-and-oh, never mind.

"It's 0-0 now and we start a new season. We just forget about what's happened in the past and we start moving on," Zimmer said. "For us, it's an 11-game season and we'll see where we're at then."

If only the old ball coach spent his bye weekend reveling in his team's start by pouring whiskey over his head and trolling Packers fans. That would be the GIFT that keeps on giving.

Alas, Zimmer and the Vikings remain all business. They got back to it on Monday, preparing for Sunday's clash with the suddenly skidding Eagles that features more quarterback intrigue than competitive balance.

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Sam Bradford returns to Philadelphia playing for the Vikings like the franchise quarterback the Eagles thought they had acquired from the Rams two years ago. Rookie Carson Wentz lost two straight after winning his first three NFL starts as Bradford's successor and now has to face Minnesota's ravenous defense.

Six weeks does not define a season, but the sample size has revealed plenty about the Vikings and their potential for greatness.

Their nine remaining opponents were a combined 25-25 entering Monday night's Cardinals-Jets game. Only four of the teams have winning records.

"I'm not trying to compare ourselves to any other team. We're the Vikings," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "Our biggest thing is to keep doing what we've been doing-playing smart, Vikings ball - and win."

There are few gimmes in the NFL. The surging but unproven Vikings are not flawless enough to whistle past any challenger. That said, their schedule is riddled with opportunity.

The Eagles (3-2) have fizzled. The Bears (1-5) are imploding. The Lions (3-3) always take the field with a doomsday clock ticking. Minnesota gets two cracks at Chicago and Detroit.

Green Bay (3-2) has not flat-lined, but pressure is mounting on coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers to resuscitate a passing game that was dead on arrival this year.

Rodgers ranks near the bottom among starting quarterbacks in completion percentage coming off a 2015 season in which he bottomed out in accuracy, yards per pass and passer rating.

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The Vikings already have defeated Green Bay, and their Christmas Eve rematch at Lambeau Field might very well end with them hanging a black wreath on the Packers' crusade to reclaim the division crown.

Defending NFC East champ Washington (4-2) figures to be a stiff challenge, especially at notoriously raucous FedEx Field. Arizona (2-3 before playing the Jets) and creaky quarterback Carson Palmer might have had their championship window slammed shut last year.

If the Vikings cannot beat Jacksonville (2-3) and Indianapolis (2-4), their credentials should be shredded.

That leaves the Dallas Cowboys (5-1) and a Week 13, prime-time visit to U.S. Bank Stadium that is trending toward a collision of NFC titans.

Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has become too good to bench as veteran Tony Romo rehabs from back surgery and head-long into a quarterback controversy in Big D.

You can bet the Vikings are analyzing that drama for practical and political guidance for their tectonic decision this off-season between franchise quarterbacks Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, who is rehabilitating from major knee surgery.

Meanwhile, Zimmer put his team back to work Monday following a five-day self-scouting mission with his assistant coaches. He preached about tightening pass coverage and eliminating negative plays on offense but overall was pleased with his players' focus and recall.

"That might be one of the best practices coming back from the bye I've been a part of," said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

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The Vikings are confident, deferential and totally self-aware, unwilling to tout their standing as the NFL's top dog but motivated to maintain high standards and eager to see how the story ends.

"We can be special," Griffen said. "But it's up to us."

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