The Minnesota Vikings are rested from their bye week and will have Daunte Culpepper back at quarterback when Denver comes to town.
The Broncos are coming off a tough win over Pittsburgh, preceded by a tough loss in Kansas City. Steve Beuerlein will start at quarterback for Denver Jake Plummer broke his foot at home Monday after missing last week's game with a sore shoulder.
That's one reason the undefeated Vikings are favored by 3 1/2 points, although the Broncos are easily the toughest opponent Minnesota has had this season.
But typically in a season when everything is going right, the Vikings are getting the Broncos at the right time. Not only is Plummer out, but the Broncos have lost linebacker Ian Gold, who had been playing at a Pro Bowl level for one of the best defenses in the NFL. He's out for the season with a knee injury and will be replaced by second-year man Donnie Spragan.
''If you lose too many key players, you can give all the 'rah-rah' speeches in the world, but it is hard to replace them,'' coach Mike Shanahan says. ''Still, we've replaced some great players in the past and found out that we had some great players that we didn't know about.''
Maybe that will work this week. More likely to work is the law of averages Minnesota has to lose sometime.
Tennessee (plus 1 1/2) at Carolina
If anyone can break down unbeaten Carolina's defense, it's Steve McNair, who can do it with his arms and his legs. Again, the law of averages favors the visitors.
Kansas City (minus 3 1/2) at Oakland (Monday night)
The law of averages doesn't apply to the third unbeaten team against an aging opponent ravaged by injuries. Even off the field, things are bad: Al Davis is being sued instead of suing.
New England (plus 5 1/2) at Miami
Bill Belichick's defensive schemes are making the Patriots' injuries irrelevant. This will be close.
Dallas (minus 3) at Detroit
Bill Parcells doesn't allow letdowns against bad teams.
Green Bay (plus 4) at St. Louis
Brett Favre plays poorly in domes.
Tampa Bay (minus 3 1/2) at San Francisco
The 49ers are having trouble closing out games. They won't get close enough this week.
Philadelphia (plus 2 1/2) at New York Giants
These two were supposed to be at the top of the NFC East, not the bottom.
Washington (plus 3) at Buffalo
Both teams are sinking, but the Bills' offense is out of sight.
Baltimore (minus 2) at Cincinnati
Marvin Lewis takes on his old defense.
New York Jets (minus 3) at Houston
David Carr picks on a makeshift secondary.
Chicago (plus 10) at Seattle
Seattle keeps rising.
San Diego (plus 6) at Cleveland
The second straight win for the Browns against the soft half of the AFC West.
New Orleans (minus 1 1/2) at Atlanta
The Falcons CAN'T be as bad as they were Monday night.
Or can they?
LAST WEEK: 8-6 (spread); 10-4 (straight up)
48-38-2 (spread); 55-33 (straight up)
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