It's been a tough week for Leslie Frazier and the Vikings coaching staff, which had to review the film of the team's giveaway loss to Tampa Bay before getting ready for a Detroit team that has lost its past 14 games at the Metrodome.

But this Lions team is 2-0, unlike the Vikings, who are 0-2. Detroit is favored by 3 1/2 points here, which might be a first in the series' long history.

One thing Frazier and the coaches have emphasized this week is the fact that the Vikings could very well be 2-0 -- even with their lack of offense in the second half of both games -- had they not committed penalties giving their opponents second chances.

However, one reason that Frazier still is optimistic the Vikings will contend for the NFC North title is that he believes this will be a very unpredictable year in the NFL because of the lockout, the long negotiation period between players and owners and the short training camp.

As an example, Frazier pointed out the Ravens beating a good Steelers team 35-7 in Week 1 before losing Sunday to the seemingly mediocre Titans 26-13, after Tennessee lost to an ordinary-looking Jaguars team 16-14 the week before.

"I really do believe that all of the things that happened this offseason, it's going to be an unpredictable year," Frazier said. "We'll see as time goes on, but what you see in September may not be what you see in December.

"I think it's an unusual year. Statistics may say this is theoretically what usually happens, but this is a different year. I don't want to panic by the fact that we started 0-2. I still think we have a chance."

Frazier won't blame the poor start on the fact that, as a new head coach with a new staff, the Vikings didn't get a chance to develop the way they would have liked because of the short training period.

"It's tough for every new coach this year with the way the offseason went," Frazier said. "But every new coaching staff has the same problem that we have. We just have to be able to overcome it and I think we'll be able to overcome it.

"We've been two different teams in both halves of both of our games. We have to get it fixed to where we can play good for four quarters. We're doing real good coming out of the gate, but we're not finishing."

Need two good halves

What have Frazier and his coaches done this week to correct the fact that the Vikings, who have been one of the NFL's best teams in the first half, are one of the worst, if not the worst, in the second?

"We're just taking a look at how we run things and preparation and what we're doing at halftime in the locker room," he said. "We're just trying to evaluate: Is there anything that we need to do different? And if there is, we'll do it. If not, we just have to make plays in the second half."

Frazier still has confidence in veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb after two losses in which the offense didn't produce the way it ought to.

"He's really improved from the first game and he continues to improve," Frazier said. "We've had some chances in the second half of these games to make some plays, and we didn't. We have to be able to put together a drive and score with it and then we have to be able to come up with another big play in the second half on defense, and maybe it's a different season at this point."

Frazier is confident the return of defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who was suspended by the NFL for two games, will make a big difference in the pass rush and the overall play of the defensive line.

"Having Kevin back will make a big difference," Frazier said. "He's one of our leaders. He understands how to win in this league."

Big game for Gophers

After Saturday night's home game with North Dakota State, the Gophers football team opens Big Ten play on the road at Michigan and at Purdue.

So a victory over the Bison is a must.

And coach Jerry Kill knows that the many NDSU players who were not recruited by the Gophers will go all out to show that they made a mistake. Kill said he has heard about it almost every day.

Certainly the Gophers program can't afford another loss like the 41-38 loss to South Dakota last year, a loss that no doubt resulted in Tim Brewster getting fired five weeks later.

And rest assured, the Gophers were reminded of the 27-21 loss suffered at the hands of North Dakota State at the Metrodome in 2007, Brewster's first year. The Gophers haven't faced the Bison since.

"North Dakota State has made a living off [recruiting] Minnesota kids for a long time," Kill said. "I played against them when I was at Pittsburg State when [coach] Rocky Hager was there. I was an offensive coordinator and we both were running split back veer. We were the ones that opened the [Fargo] Dome."

That was 1993, a 35-16 Bison victory. The season before, Kill's Gorillas beat visiting North Dakota State 38-37 in the second round of the Division II NCAA playoffs, a game the Bison tried to win in overtime on a two-point conversion but came up short.

Talk about wanting revenge. You have the case of NDSU senior tight end Matt Veldman, whose grandfather, Pete, was a great heavyweight wrestler for the Gophers.

Sportswriter Jeff Kolpack of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported that when Matt was at Becker High School, he was a guest of the Gophers during a game and hoped to get a scholarship. But the best the Gophers offered was a walk-on role.

"It's definitely a bigger game for me," Veldman said. "The generic response is all games are important but this does have a little more significance growing up in the shadow of the Dome."

But I believe the Gophers will be ready to play their best game of the year. These days, they are really dedicated to Kill and his problems, and they won't let him down.


• Despite rumors to the contrary, the North Dakota State game is not a sellout, with at least 1,000 or more seats in the student section available as a guest pass at $50 plus a $4 fee. For some reason, the Gophers students who bought 10,000 tickets the last two years at the Metrodome aren't buying them on campus at TCF Bank Stadium.

• Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia is in British Columbia this weekend to watch his son Mario play for the Penticton Vees. Mario Lucia, the former Wayzata High School standout and a Wild draft pick, still hasn't decided where he will go to college. In addition, brothers Connor, Ryan and Mike Reilly, all Gophers recruits, play for Penticton. ... Former Gophers winger Josh Birkholz was sent back to Everett of the Western Hockey League by the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. •