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Leslie Frazier said a good indication of how good the NFC North was this year is that you have the division champion Bears facing the wild-card Packers for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
"Oh man, I'll tell you, that's something else. It just tells you how strong the NFC North must be, for the two top teams in the NFC North to end up playing in the championship game, that would be something else," the Vikings coach said Sunday, before Chicago beat Seattle. "That just tells you we've got a lot of work ahead of us to get back to being NFC North champs. That would be two years in a row you'd have someone from the NFC North playing in the championship game."
The Vikings played the Saints last year in the NFC Championship Game.
Asked about Green Bay's blowout of the top-seeded Falcons on Saturday night, Frazier said: "I watched some of it, and what a game by the Green Bay Packers, to come in there on the road and play the way they played, you have to take your hat off to them. Atlanta is a tough place to play, so just a great job by Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers looked real good yesterday, he played lights out. He's probably the main reason they won that game. He played a great, great game, just really hard for Atlanta to defend them."
The Vikings' three division rivals all appear to be set at quarterback, with Rodgers in Green Bay, Jay Cutler in Chicago and Matthew Stafford in Detroit. "We've got to find a quarterback," Frazier said. "You look at the playoff teams and none of them really have an issue at quarterback, they have their starting quarterback and most likely for years to come. We've got to find us a quarterback that we can build our franchise around, and if we do, it's going to stabilize a lot of things for our team and our organization."
Frazier said he is close to getting his coaching staff set.
"We're getting close to getting some things done," he said. "I feel real good about the direction where we are and hope to have an announcement here really soon.
"We have a number of guys on our staff that are going to be with us next season that have been with us in the past, but we are going to add a few new faces at certain places. I think it'll be good for our team."
Frazier said one of the things he is involved in is checking college football players to see who's available in the upcoming draft.
"We're not certain what's going to happen with the rest of [the NFL] after March 1st, but it looks like we'll have a draft," he said, referring to the possibility of a lockout. "We've already started working on the college players and we go down to the Senior Bowl next week, so we'll get a chance to see the college players in person and see who might help us."Iowa provides test
The Iowa men's basketball team came into Williams Arena 0-4 in the Big Ten and had lost by 23 to Purdue and 19 to Northwestern. But the Hawkeyes gave the Gophers a test Sunday.
One of the reasons was that Blake Hoffarber, who scored 26 points against an outstanding Purdue team on Thursday, had an off night Sunday, scoring nine points on 2-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-4 from three-point range.
With every game the Gophers have played this year, it has been apparent how important Trevor Mbakwe is. Against the Hawkeyes, the 6-8 junior wound up scoring 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor and 6-for-9 from the free-throw line, and more important, he grabbed 12 rebounds.
"[Mbakwe is] important in a lot of ways," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "He gives you that interior defender when the penetration comes. He gives you the second shot guy, but he can also score off the post-up action. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways, like I said both as a shot blocker and as a scorer. Any time you have a guy that big and strong, when they have a motor like that and can keep running and can get out and run, they do that a few times.
"He's one of the better big guys in the Big Ten."
Mbakwe said the Gophers' story all year is how they have played in spurts, like they did Sunday when they trailed Iowa in the second half after leading by 11 at the break.
"I think we're getting better at it and we're playing consistent for the most part," Mbakwe said. "This is the Big Ten and every game is going to be tough whether you're home or away. We just have to play consistently, bring the intensity and play with energy in hard times."Jottings
• Looking back to the 2005 NFL draft, the Vikings had seventh choice in the first round and took wide receiver Troy Williamson. They had the 18th pick and took defensive end Erasmus James. Neither one did anything of note for the Vikings. With the 24th pick, the Packers took Rodgers, who had been discussed as a possible No. 1 overall pick but fell after the 49ers took quarterback Alex Smith instead. At the time, the Vikings still had Daunte Culpepper, who in 2004 finished second in NFL MVP voting to Peyton Manning, so the Vikings weren't looking for a quarterback.
• Nick Punto, who spent seven years with the Twins, is still an unsigned free agent, but apparently the Twins don't have any plans to bring the infielder back. "There's been some discussion [about Punto], but we've got [Matt] Tolbert and [Trevor] Plouffe and Luke Hughes," said Twins General Manager Bill Smith, "and I guess we're working through some of that to see what's the best fit for 2011." ... Asked how closer Joe Nathan was doing after missing last year following elbow ligament replacement surgery, Smith said: "Nathan is doing very well. He has thrown off the mound here in the last two weeks, and he's got a daily program down at Tennessee. He's going to come up for TwinsFest in a couple of weeks and we're going to get him to throw one of his bullpen sessions at one of the cages at Target Field."
• A number of Twins have been playing in winter baseball leagues since the end of the regular season. In the Arizona Fall League, Chris Parmelee, who has been invited to spring training, was one of the best hitters with a .339 average, 13 RBI, 11 doubles and two triples in 29 games. Joe Benson, the Twins' minor league player of the year in 2010, hit .236 with one home run and five RBI in 17 games. Ben Revere, the Twins' 2007 first-round pick who made his major league debut in September, hit .295, led the league with 13 stolen bases in 28 games and was named to the AFL's rising star team. ... In the Caribbean Leagues, Alexi Casilla hit .303 in the Dominican Republic with two home runs and 18 RBI in 40 games. ... Deolis Guerra, the last remaining player in the Twins organization from the Johan Santana trade, had a 3.12 ERA in seven starts in Venezuela and struck out 36 in 43 1/3 innings. ... Jose Mijares appeared in 15 games in the Venezuelan league and had a 1.00 ERA with five saves and 10 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org