Title: X-tra Large Opener

First off, I haven't been this excited about a Bengals game since ... well I'm only 19 so I wasn't old enough to remember the Bengals in 1990. I truly feel this could be it. And I think it might start this Sunday. So what do you think? I know, according to the Bengals, every game is a must-win game but really how important could this game be?
**-Charlie, Bardstown

CHARLIE:** Not to get too Broadway about it or anything, but you could make a case this is the biggest game in the Marvin Era for a variety of reasons when you're working under the premise that Year Three is the move year.

They range from setting tone at home (no Bengals playoff team has lost more than three at home in a season) to the fact that the last two Bengals' playoff seasons started 3-0 and 6-0, to the kind of team that Minnesota has.

If the Bengals are going to go 10-6, you figure they have to win six home games, and now's not the time to be getting in a hole with three of the last four home games against the Colts, Ravens, and Bills. Plus, after the Vikings' game, they go on the road three times in the next four weeks, so they need a pad.

Plus, it'd be a big boost to beat a returning playoff team like Minnesota. I'd argue they're a quality team. Yes, they only went 8-8 last year and, yes, Tampa Bay buried them in the opener, and yes, Randy Moss is gone, and the coach's future is in doubt. But they've got a Pro Bowl quarterback, big receivers, and a revamped defense full of playmakers.

The Vikings defense looks like it can be something special, and if the Bengals offense wants to be in the AFC elite it has to prove it can handle a team with big tackles and a top level secondary a la Baltimore, and Buffalo, and teams that have enough of those elements, like New England, Pittsburgh and Denver. A secondary with excellent cover corners in Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield, and a 37-pick career man in safety Darren Sharper is an excellent test for the Bengals' highly regarded group of wide receivers. Ditto Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams for the Bengals offensive line. The big guys that have really concentrated on getting out of the gate early should have a pretty good feel where they are after Sunday.

This is the kind of team you have to beat early. You don't want anything to do with the Vikes late in the year. Right now, it looks like the Vikings are in transition on both sides of the ball as a new offensive coordinator grapples with the loss of Randy Moss and the defense gets used to at least one free agent addition at each position.

How big is this one? Given they've only been 2-0 in 1995 and 2001 since that 3-0 start in 1990, it's even bigger than Daunte Culpepper, the guy they must get on the ground and not bounce around.

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