As an 11th-year veteran coming off a six-week absence caused by a fractured foot, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield(notes) looks at the unusual situations shared by the Colts and Saints as a golden opportunity.
From Winfield's point of view, while being 13-0 affords those teams the chance to make history, that's a secondary concern. To him, the opportunity to be rested and healthy for the playoffs is a greater luxury.
"If I was the coach of one of those teams, I'd probably rest who I need to rest," Winfield said by telephone Monday, a day after helping the Vikings (11-2) roll to a 30-10 victory over the Bengals. "It's a long season, and guys are banged up. It's important to keep people fresh for the playoffs, when you really need them at their best."
Of course, some of this may be wishful thinking on Winfield's part. Whereas the Colts have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Saints must still fend off the Vikings for the top overall seed. With New Orleans set to host the desperate Cowboys on Saturday, wouldn't it be wonderful if Sean Payton started erring on the side of resting his key players?
"That would be nice," Winfield said, laughing. "But I don't think that'll happen. Those guys are fighting to hold onto the No. 1 seed, and they know we're coming."
Thanks to Winfield's return, the Vikings are coming with a vengeance. The 5-foot-9 cornerback may be, pound for pound, the league's most ferocious tackler. "I consider him one of the top five run defenders in all of football," Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre(notes) told reporters Sunday after Winfield led the team with nine tackles in his first game since breaking his foot Oct. 18.
Winfield made an immediate impact, blowing up a screen pass to Bengals running back Brian Leonard(notes) to force a punt on Cincinnati's second possession. Late in the first half, he threw all of his 180 pounds into the 230-pound Leonard and forced a fumble, setting up a Ryan Longwell(notes) field goal that put the Vikings up 16-7 as time expired.
His most entertaining moment came earlier in the second quarter: Upon dropping what looked to be an easy interception, Winfield dropped to the Metrodome turf and did 10 push-ups, per the team's practice ritual.
After finally earning his first career Pro Bowl selection a year ago, Winfield will have a hard time pulling off an encore, because of the games he missed. A first-ever Super Bowl appearance, of course, would dwarf all of that, and he believes any role he plays in helping Minnesota get to Miami will have been partly facilitated by his extended absence.
"A lot of guys have played all 13 games, and everybody's banged up," Winfield said. "I feel fresh. To me, it's like the season has just started. And that's good, because I'm always gonna go all-out."
He'd be willing to make an exception if the Saints are locked into No. 1 seed and the Vikings clinch the conference's other first-round bye. In that case, Winfield is all about rest, especially given that his team has the league's oldest quarterback.
"Yeah, I think the coaches will do that if we get into that situation," Winfield said. "It's such a long season, and guys are beat up. If you can get an extra week of rest, you've got to do it, no question."
Speaking of questions, here are the usual 32, beginning with the league's two perfect teams and concluding with some perfectly awful ones:
1. New Orleans Saints: If Jerry Jones hated watching one former coordinator take down his team on Sunday, how might Sean Payton's scheme torture him Saturday?
2. Indianapolis Colts: If Jim Caldwell doesn't win Coach of the Year, what would he have had to do to capture the award?
4. San Diego Chargers: If Norv Turner gets a contract extension, fails to reach the Super Bowl and loses three of his first five games next year, what percentage of Chargers fans will call for him to be fired?
5. Philadelphia Eagles: When radio commentator James Lofton blurted out "Don't kick to him! Kick it out of bounds" a few seconds before DeSean Jackson's(notes) 72-yard punt return for a touchdown Sunday night, wouldn't it have been great for Giants fans if Tom Coughlin had been secretly listening via an old-school transistor earphone?
6. Arizona Cardinals: Was this Red Hot Chili Peppers tune blasting in the visitors' locker room at Candlestick Park before Monday night's game – and did Ken Whisenhunt's team leave the stadium with strategically placed socks on their person?
8. Cincinnati Bengals: After the NFL apparently scared Chad Ochocinco(notes) away from blowing Ragnar's horn, is there any way Roger Goodell could threaten to fine Ragnar for the same offense (at least at Vikings home games I attend)?
9. Dallas Cowboys: Will this defunct Showtime series be the next 3D offering on the Cowboys Stadium video boards – and if they show clips before the home team's field-goal attempts, how loudly will fans boo?
13. New York Giants: Is Bill Sheridan the Ray Handley of defensive coordinators?
19. San Francisco 49ers: If the Cardinals rally to win the NFC again, how many Niners players at South Florida Super Bowl parties will puff out their chests and rightfully proclaim, "We own those guys."
21. Houston Texans: Doesn't this team always play better when it matters least?
22. Carolina Panthers: How crazy is it that defensive tackle Hollis Thomas(notes) has scored more points in 2009 than No. 2 receiver Muhsin Muhammad(notes) and No. 3 receiver Dwayne Jarrett(notes) combined?
25. Washington Redskins: How awesome would it be if Jim Zorn really did ask Joe Theismann, in all humility, to return punts against the Giants on Monday night (and Lawrence Taylor signed up for coverage duty)?
26. Buffalo Bills: Can they do to the Patriots what the Browns did to the Steelers?
27. Oakland Raiders: How surreal was this scene at Ricky's Sports Theater and Grill in San Leandro last Saturday night – and eight years from now, how long will Tom Cable have to wait for a table in similar circumstances?
30. Cleveland Browns: When Eric Mangini, after months of stiffing Joshua Cribbs(notes), says he imagines the all-purpose threat will get the new contract he was promised, is he also imagining that he'll still be employed after the season?
31. Tampa Bay Bucccaneers: Did Raheem Morris really blame the latest Sunday debacle on a Friday fiasco?
32. St. Louis Rams: How touching would it have been if rookie quarterback Keith Null(notes), after throwing one of his five interceptions on Sunday, had requested the ball from the official and sent it to his former college position coach?