This time of year brings the greatest amount of promise for football fans. The deficits of last season are minimized, and the promise that comes with a new crop of draft picks provides nothing but a bright future for one's favorite gridiron gang.
For fans of the Minnesota Vikings, the future is much brighter than the recent past.
After finishing last in the NFC North for the second consecutive season and tied for the most losses in franchise history, many are hoping the team has hit the bottom and are poised to make the climb back to respectability. Perhaps even a playoff position could be in the picture with improvements to the roster being made on both sides of the ball.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Vikings heading into the 2012 season.
Here are the top 10 reasons to believe that 2012 will be better than 2011.
Last year at this time, the Vikings were heading into the offseason with a new coaching staff, and after drafting Christian Ponder with the No. 12 pick in the first round of the NFL draft, a new starting quarterback.
Then, with the lockout wiping away all of the team's minicamps and OTA's, there was only a short time frame to bring Ponder up to speed. The Vikings dipped into the veteran well once again and acquired veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to open the season as the starter.
A plan doomed from the beginning since McNabb was never going to be the long-term answer, it took seven weeks before Ponder got his first start.
This year, the Vikings coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to assess the talent they have before having to make roster cuts during training camp.
On the positive side, the Minnesota Vikings opened the 2011 season with three losses by a combined total of only 14 points—the problem was, they blew halftime leads of 10 points against the Chargers, 17 points against the Buccaneers and 20 points against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings were this bad, it was under the direction of Les Steckel in 1984, his only season to ever be a head coach in the NFL.
The following year, the Vikings brought back Bud Grant, and they finished the 1985 season with a 7-9 record.
With an improved roster, there's no way the Vikings cannot improve—right?
When Leslie Frazier was named the interim head coach in 2010, it had been 15 years since he was the head coach of Trinity College from 1988 to 1996, the last time he was in charge of the whole operation.
With a full season under his belt in 2011, along with having a complete offseason to prepare, Frazier should be better prepared to make in-game decisions.
The only change from last season will be the addition of Alan Williams as the defensive coordinator as Fred Pagac returns to the position of linebackers coach.
Requiring knee surgery to repair both the ACL and the MCL of his left knee after suffering a devastating injury in Week 16 against the Redskins, Adrian Peterson has the ambitious goal of making his return the opening week of the 2012 season.
He just might make it.
During the start of the offseason strength and conditioning program, Peterson impressed his teammates by finishing first in four separate wind sprints.
After signing a seven-year deal before the start of the 2011 season that made Peterson the highest-paid running back in the NFL, he had his worst season since joining the league in 2007, failing to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
Having had the opportunity to interview Peterson before his devastating injury, I have no doubt that he will have extra motivation to prove to himself, his teammates and the rest of the league that he is still the best running back in the NFL.
About the only positive with Adrian Peterson missing four starts in 2011 was that the Vikings got a good look at Toby Gerhart.
The second-year running back had his first 100-yard rushing game in Week 16, when Peterson suffered his major knee injury.
He also had two games filling in for Peterson with 91 yards against the Broncos in Week 13 and 90 yards against the Lions the following week.
He rushed for 531 yards on 109 carries, a 4.9-yard average, and scored four touchdowns, one rushing and three receiving.
Having proved he is capable to fill in for Peterson, head coach Leslie Frazier has indicated there will be a bigger role for Gerhart in 2012.
With all three division opponents finishing .500 or better, the Minnesota Vikings will have a tough road to recovery.
Heading into the 2012 season, they have the eighth-toughest schedule, with their opponents having a .512 winning percentage from last season.
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook will change to No. 20 in hopes of a new start in 2012.
The Minnesota Vikings will open the season with a little better stable of cornerbacks over last season.
Currently, they have 10 cornerbacks on the roster.
Antoine Winfield will be looking to prove that he can still play cornerback effectively at the age of 35, and Chris Cook will be looking to put the past behind him and focus on playing at the level of his potential.
Gone is Benny Sapp, who was signed to the team after the Vikings lost both Winfield and Cook last year.
New additions will include veteran free agents Chris Carr and Zachary Bowman and rookie Josh Robinson from Central Florida.
Holdovers Asher Allen, Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will have some competition to retain their roster spots.
It will be interested to see which corners are left on the roster when the season opens.
The Vikings are in need of a No. 1 receiver to line up on the outside as a deep threat—something they have not had since Sidney Rice led the team with 1,312 yards on 83 receptions in 2009.
They drafted a pair of wide receivers from Arkansas in the fourth round, selecting Jarius Wright with the No. 118 overall pick and Greg Childs with the No. 134 pick in hopes of finding that deep threat.
In 2009 as a sophomore, Childs led the Razorbacks in receptions with 48 and touchdown catches with seven.
Two years later, Wright led Arkansas with 66 receptions, 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At 6'3", Childs has the size to be the downfield threat the Vikings need. Early in his collegiate career, he was projected to be a first-day draft pick, but a knee injury in 2010 limited his contribution and caused him to fall to the Vikings in the fourth round.
Even without pads, Matt Kalil looks like a force the Vikings need at left tackle.
With their first pick in the draft, the Minnesota Vikings addressed one of their most pressing needs when they selected USC tackle Matt Kalil.
Despite the release of last season's starting guards, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, the addition of Kalil provides an instant upgrade to a line that gave up an average of three sacks per game.
With Kalil slated to start at left tackle, Charlie Johnson can move inside to guard.
The Vikings signed former Carolina guard Geoff Schwartz, who will take over at right guard and play next to Phil Loadholt.
For the Minnesota Vikings, the quarterback situation appears more stable than it has been in years.
There is no quarterback controversy heading into 2012.
There are no washed-up, over-paid veterans to worry about.
There are no flights planned with the team jet to lure anyone out of retirement.
After only winning two of 10 starts last season as a rookie, the starting quarterback position is Christian Ponder's to lose.
With an improved offensive line in front of him, a balanced running game behind him and an improved receiving corps, Ponder is set for a breakout season.
Yup, it's a great time of the year to be a Vikings fan.