With the Minnesota Vikings in the midst of their organized team activities at the team's Winter Park headquarters in Eden Prairie, there is an air of hope for an increase in wins for 2012, as the excitement for the upcoming season is already at a very high level.
The opening of the season is still more than three months away, yet Vikings fans are eager to get a look at many of the new faces on the Vikings roster.
The unexpected retirement of cornerback Asher Allen leaves the Vikings with 88 players listed on their roster. With so many new faces on the practice field, it confirms the Vikings are indeed in the rebuilding mode. The good news is that the revolving door of veteran quarterbacks seems to be closed with Christian Ponder penciled in as the Vikings starting quarterback.
This is the greatest time of the year for Vikings fans. There are no heartbreaking losses to division rivals to lament about, and the savior of the franchise will no doubt emerge from one of the 10 draft picks taken in the draft.
There is also hope from how quickly other teams have turned around their losing ways. Last year, there were six teams that improved their record by at least four wins.
The 49ers had the greatest turnaround, winning seven more games in 2011 than 2010 and finishing with a 13-3 record and the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, since the league expanded to eight divisions in 2002, the NFC has had an average turnover of a 61 percent of teams earning a playoff berth. Over the last nine seasons, four times the NFC playoff field had at least four new teams in the tournament that did not make the playoffs the previous year.
Don't start reserving your playoff tickets just yet.
While the Vikings, only three seasons removed from their last NFC Championship game, will be improved in 2012, the season will still hold plenty of challenges.
The Vikings have the eighth-toughest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents have a combined 131-125 record from last season, with seven games against quality opponents—defined as teams with at least nine wins.
They will also get a shot at the two teams who drafted ahead of them this year, with the chance to prove who was really the worst team in NFL.
With the final 53-man roster nowhere near being set, here's a way too early look at how the Vikings will fare in 2012.
One note: Take this prediction with a grain of salt. After all, I predicted the Vikings would finish 7-9 last season. Of course, if the Vikings had not blown halftime leads in their first three games, my prediction would have been a little bit closer.
This is about the best possible scenario for the Minnesota Vikings to open the season.
The Vikings have won three of the four meetings with the Jaguars. The last time these two teams played each other was in 2008 in Jacksonville. The last time at the Metrodome was in 2004—both wins by the purple.
The average score has been 27-17 in favor of the Vikings.
It will be the showdown of second-year quarterbacks when Blaine Gabbert leads the Jaguars against Christian Ponder and the Vikings.
Last season, the Jaguars finished 5-11. Their offense was last in the NFL in total yards, while their defense ranked ninth against the run.
With the home crowd making some noise in the Metrodome, the Vikings continue their dominance over the Jacksonville.
The Vikings start the season on the right foot.
Vikings Record: 1-0
The Vikings will get a shot at NFL's top draft pick in 2012.
The Indianapolis Colts will open the 2012 season with rookie Andrew Luck as their starting quarterback. The last time they opened a season with a rookie quarterback, it turned out pretty good.
In 1998, the Colts made quarterback Peyton Manning the top pick in the draft after finishing the previous year with a 3-13 record. Manning started every game for the Colts since then, until a neck injury caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.
During that time, the Colts went 141-67, making the playoffs in all but two seasons—the only two losing seasons Manning ever had.
The good news for the Vikings might be the fact that one of Manning's losing seasons was his rookie year when the Colts finished again with a 3-13 record.
There will be a lot of pressure for Luck having to follow in the footsteps of one of the best NFL quarterbacks to ever play the game.
In only his second NFL start, Luck will face one of the toughest defensive lines in the NFL with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison.
The Vikings prevail before Luck gets in a groove.
Vikings Record: 2-0
The Vikings have a 20-18-1 record against the San Francisco 49ers. The last time these two teams played was in Week 3 of the 2009 season in the Metrodome.
In a stunning fashion, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre pulled off one of his improbable comebacks in the fourth quarter to beat the 49ers, 27-24.
San Francisco is the team the Vikings most would like to emulate. It had the biggest turnaround of any team in 2011, winning seven more games than in 2010 and earning its first playoff berth in nine seasons.
Unfortunately, the Vikings won't have Favre, and the 49ers are a better team this time around.
The 49ers had the best defense against the run last season and the second stingiest in giving up points.
This time, it won't even be close, as the 49ers prove that the 2011 season was no fluke.
Vikings Record: 2-1
With a 66-33-2 record against the Lions, there was a time that the Vikings could count on two wins each season. Over the 12 seasons between 1998 and 2009, the Vikings were 21-3 against the lowly Lions.
Having dropped three of the last four games, those days are gone.
Last season, the Lions made their first playoff appearance since 1999, finishing second in the NFC North with a 10-6 record.
Lions receiver Calvin Johnson led the NFL with 1,681 receiving yards and caught 16 touchdowns. This test will determine if the Vikings have improved their defensive secondary.
This one will not even be close, as the Vikings face their second straight playoff team, this time on the road.
Vikings Record: 2-2
Since the Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee, the Vikings have won three of four meetings.
The last time the teams met was in 2008, when the Titans defeated the Vikings, 30-17, at LP Field.
This will be a rematch of the two best running backs in the NFL—Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, both who sport the 28 jersey.
Both Johnson and Peterson are coming off the worst seasons of their respective careers. Johnson's total of 1,047 rushing yards was the lowest in his four-year career.
Peterson, who was limited to only 12 games due to injuries, finished with only 970 yards, the first time he failed to exceed 1,000 yards rushing. Despite missing a quarter of the season, Peterson still finished tied for third in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns.
This one will be close, but the Titans, most likely behind the leadership of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, will prevail.
Vikings Record: 2-3
Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier owns the Redskins.
While the Vikings have a losing record against Washington, Frazier is 2-0 against it, winning both on the road. Against the rest of the NFL, his record is 4-16.
Last season in Week 16, the Vikings defeated the Redskins, 33-26. But they lost more than they gained.
Not only did running back Adrian Peterson suffer his devastating knee injury, the win also took the Vikings out of the race for the top pick in the NFL draft.
I can't say exactly why or how, but Frazier continues his winning ways over the Redskins.
Vikings Record: 3-3
This will be the fifth consecutive year the Vikings and Cardinals have met in the regular season. The Vikings hold a 3-1 edge from the previous four meetings.
Last year after the Vikings opened the season with four straight losses, Adrian Peterson put the team on his back and led the Vikings to a 34-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
While Donovan McNabb completed only 10 of 21 passes for 160 yards, Peterson almost matched that with with 122 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns to give the Vikings their first win of the 2011 season.
The Cardinals finished 2011 with the 21st defense in yards allowed the ground. The Vikings will take advantage of a healthy Peterson and beat the Cardinals for the third straight year.
Vikings Record: 4-3
With a winning record, and surpassing the win total of 2011, many people will start talking about the possibility of earning a playoff berth, but it will be very premature as the Vikings begin the toughest stretch of their schedule.
On paper, it should be a pretty even matchup between the Vikings, who finished 3-13 in 2011, and the Buccaneers at 4-12.
Just as with Detroit, there was a time when a game against the Buccaneers was a guaranteed victory. As members of the NFC Central, the Vikings won 30 of 47 games against the Bucs.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has a five-game winning streak against the Vikings since their second meeting of 2001 season.
This includes the 24-20 win in Week 2 last year, when the Vikings gave up a 17-point halftime lead. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman passed for 243 yards and a touchdown, and running back LeGarrette Blount added two touchdowns on the ground.
Just as I cannot explain how the Vikings continue to beat the Redskins, there's no explanation why they continue to lose to the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay makes it six straight wins over the Vikings.
Vikings Record: 4-4
Seattle won the Flynn sweepstakes when it was able to complete a three-year deal worth $26 million for the former Green Bay backup. With only two starts over the previous two seasons for the Packers, Flynn has a 101 passer rating with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Even though the Vikings have won three of the last four meeting since 2003, the Seahawks win at home, with Flynn showing he is the real deal.
Vikings Record: 4-5
Over the last seven games of the season, the Vikings will play five games within the division.
In the Lions' three consecutive victories over the Vikings, they have not allowed a Viking running back to rush for 100 yards in a game.
The Lions will come to Minnesota battling for a playoff spot. They will also prove that last season was not an aberration.
They will leave Minnesota with a series sweep for the second straight season, and the Vikings with a three-game losing streak.
Vikings Record: 4-6
The Vikings will be using the bye week to regroup and determine how to end their losing streak.
One thing Vikings fans can count on is that the Vikings cheerleaders will always look good, despite the outcome on the field.
The Vikings have a 52-48-2 record against the Bears. However, the Bears have won the last five meetings dating back to the Monday night overtime win in 2009.
Their only victory over their final six games came against, you guessed it, the Minnesota Vikings.
Last season, the Bears defense was fifth against the run and 28th against the pass. Unfortunately, the Vikings offense was better at running the ball than passing.
With this game in Chicago, the Bears make it six straight over the purple and drop the Vikings into a four-game losing streak.
Vikings Record: 4-7
Since 2003, the Vikings-Packers series has been one of streaks. The Vikings lost three in a row, then won three in a row, then lost five in a row before winning three in a row.
The current streak has the Packers winning the last four meetings, sweeping the Vikings in 2010 and 2011.
The Packers, the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, matched the Vikings' futility of 1998 when they went 15-1 and failed to even make it to the Super Bowl.
By the time these two teams meet in December, the Packers could have the division wrapped up and be left playing for their playoff seeding.
The Vikings, on the other hand, will once again be looking for improvements over the season's final weeks.
The Packers just don't lose at Lambeau, and the streak over the Vikings will extend to five straight games as the Vikings lose their fifth straight.
Vikings Record: 4-8
Only two weeks removed from their first meeting of the season, the Vikings will finally end their losing streak.
Playing at home in the friendly confines of the Metrodome, things will click on both sides of the ball at a time when it may do more harm than good.
At 4-9, the Vikings could be in the position for another high draft pick; at 5-8, they could be in the middle of a pack of mediocre teams.
Vikings Record: 5-8
This will be another battle between the NFL's bottom feeders from 2011. Both teams will be looking for a modicum of respect with a victory.
Since moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis, the Vikings are 3-4 against the Rams. The average score for those games have been Vikings 29.5 and the Rams with 33.1.
This should be another high-scoring game, as the defenses were ranked 21st and 22nd in yards allowed in 2011.
The Vikings show they are just a bit better than the Rams and win one on the road.
Vikings Record: 6-8
The Vikings and Texans have only met twice, with the Vikings winning both times. Their first meeting was in 2004 in Houston when the Vikings won, 34-28. The second was at the Metrodome in 2008, and the Vikings won that one, 28-21.
The Texans are coming off only their second winning season and their first playoff appearance in 2011. Sure, the Texans took advantage of the misfortune of the Colts to win the AFC South, but they are for real.
This time around, the results will be different.
The Texans could be playing to improve their playoff seed, while the Vikings may be auditioning players to earn a chance to play in 2013.
The Texans get their first win over the Vikings.
Vikings Record: 6-9
The season will come to a merciful end, as this game will be meaningless for both teams.
The Packers will be fine tuning their backups in case they are needed for the playoffs, and the Vikings will be playing for some respectability.
The Packers will be a team on a mission wanting to erase their playoff failures of 2011 and look to make their way back to the Super Bowl.
It won't be close, as Aaron Rodgers picks apart the Vikings early and lets whoever is backing him up finish them off.
The Packers will make it six straight over the Vikings, matching their longest consecutive winning streak since winning six straight from 1961 to 1963.
Vikings Record: 6-10
The Vikings will be better than 2011, matching their win total from 2010.
Whether or not the improvement in wins is enough to save head coach Leslie Frazier's job for another season will largely depend on the promise shown on the field by the players.
The Vikings will finally win a division game and finish 1-5.
Within the NFC, they will go 4-8.
Against the AFC, they split four games, going 2-2
They will finish with the same record at home as on the road at 3-5.
Of course, like I said in the beginning, it is way too early, and if I were any good at prognostications, I wouldn't be writing about them; I'd be cleaning up off of them.