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 EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -While the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints vigorously study upcoming opponents and fine-tune schemes in pursuit of the playoffs, one important factor toward success looms. Not in the locker rooms, but in a federal judge's chamber.
Word could come any time that Minnesota's standout defensive tackles, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, and valuable New Orleans veterans running back Deuce McAllister and defensive end Will Smith, are back to being suspended.
They tested positive for a controversial diuretic banned by the league, but the players union is fighting the punishments in court.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said he wouldn't rule on the case until he could properly digest all the information submitted by lawyers for both sides.
He didn't set a timeline for himself.
'll have their mighty linemen for Sunday's game at the Arizona Cardinals. But their guess is often as good as the fan's who puts down $20 on them every Sunday to cover the spread.
``I have said it before: The National Football League in general, one thing you are certain about is uncertainty week to week,'' coach Brad Childress said.
Because of the fickle, fluid nature of the sport at this level, it's hard not to believe at least some of what players and coaches contend when they claim no distraction by waiting games such as these. Being ready for unexpected roster moves seems as fundamental to NFL success as blocking and tackling.
``That's the attitude everyone in the locker room has, that we're going to have them for each game until we're told differently,'' safety Darren Sharper said.
At the other end of the Mississippi River, McAllister claimed no continued anxiety about his status - reminding reporters his positive test popped up all the way back in August. If this is weighing on him as the Saints sit one game out of the second wild-card spot, the eight-year veteran hid his concern well.
``True enough, it's your livelihood,'' McAllister said, ``but there's more important things going on.''
and Pierre Thomas. Smith plays a critical part in the pass rush, however, and he would be the fourth defensive starter lost for the season if the suspensions are ultimately upheld. Charles Grant, a third Saints player hit with a doping suspension, was already finished for the year because of a triceps injury.
The Chicago Bears (7-6) have a stake in the situation, too. They're chasing the Vikings for the division championship, and they host the Saints on Thursday night.
``We're preparing that everybody is going to be playing,'' left tackle John St. Clair said. ``Anytime you've got those caliber-type players playing, it definitely helps your team. The Williams brothers and Smith, they're top-caliber players and the team definitely needs them.''
Even for guys not directly involved, the age of instant information and oversaturated media makes blocking out such matters nearly impossible.
``I try not to do it, but you can't help it,'' St. Clair said. ``It's all in the papers. ESPN is running it across the line, the updated news. You can't help but see it. Every time you turn around, somebody's getting suspended or something. It's crazy. It's been a crazy year for that.''
To a lesser extent, uncertainty lingers in Atlanta's locker room, too.
starting defensive tackle Grady Jackson is waiting to hear from the league regarding his positive test for the same substance.
Jackson was asked for additional information last week when the others were issued their suspensions, but he's expected to play in Sunday's critical home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4). Asked about the situation Wednesday, Jackson said he had no update - or concern.
``I'm just looking at it like I'm not even worried about it,'' Jackson said. ``I can't let that distract me right now. I've just got to keep on playing.''
The 35-year-old, listed at 6-foot-2 and 345 pounds, did acknowledge he would be disappointed if a suspension came in December and forced him off the field for the remainder of the season.
``But you know, I don't even think about it,'' Jackson said.
Teammate John Abraham echoed that sentiment.
``We'll let it take it's course,'' he said. ``Right now, he's with us. We'll act like he's with us until we hear something different. Then we'll worry about it.''
---
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Metairie, La., Paul Newberry in Flowery Branch, Ga., and Andrew Seligman in Lake Forest, Ill., contributed to this report.

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