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1-4 Packers Remain In The Hunt For NFC North Title


Only one team, the 0-5 Houston Texans, has a worse record than the Green Bay Packers, but the Packers sit just one game behind the division-leading Chicago Bears.

Welcome to the wacky NFC North.

"You don't want to say it's fortunate we're 1-4 now," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Luckily we're still in the hunt for this division championship."

The Packers and their Sunday opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, both have 1-4 records while the Bears and Detroit Lions have complied 2-3 records. Thus Sunday's game carries great significance for two 2004 playoff teams. They may have started much slower than anticipated but quickly could move to first place in the division.

"They're better than their record indicates, the same as we're better than our record indicates," center Scott Wells said. "They're like sleeping giants."

Much of the reason for the Vikings' dormant start has focused on quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Coming off one of the greatest seasons for any quarterback in NFL history last year with 4,717 yards passing, 39 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 110.9, he surprisingly has slumped this year to a 62.8 rating with four touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

But Culpepper threw for 284 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers in their 31-17 playoff win last year. The Packers know his capabilities.

"Culpepper's still Culpepper," Barnett said.

Some observers have suspected the loss of five-time of Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss has caused Culpepper's performance to dip. The Vikings traded him to the Oakland Raiders during the offseason.

Cornerback Al Harris, who covered Moss during all three games last year, said the absence of one of the game's most feared playmakers will not alter how he or the defense lines up.

"It doesn't change my focus at all," he said.

Anyone's perspective of the division, however, has changed. At this point last year, the Packers also found themselves at 1-4 but trailed the NFC North-leading Vikings by three games instead of the Bears by one.

"We've been lucky in that area -- not lucky in others," head coach Mike Sherman said.

The Packers misfortune includes losing several key players to season-ending injuries, including Javon Walker (knee), Terrence Murphy (neck) and Najeh Davenport (ankle). Other integral players like Mike Flanagan (hernia), Ahman Green (knee/quadriceps) and Bubba Franks (knee) and Na'il Diggs (knee) have missed at least one game.

The Vikings have also lost valuable players. Center Matt Birk (hip) and defensive Kenechi Udeze (knee) will miss the season, and wide receiver Nate Burleson (knee) has also missed time.

"There have been a lot of bad breaks," Barnett said.

Despite the injuries suffered and slow starts by both teams, the Packers know Sunday's game will feature great intensity because both teams are fighting for the very open NFC North crown.

"We've got to be expecting their best shot," safety Mark Roman said. "They're one of our biggest rivals in the division. Whenever we play, it's always a big game."

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