Expect Vikings fans and players to look a lot like this during the 2012 NFL season.
With only about a month until training camp starts for most NFL teams, fans are noticing a lot of optimism surrounding nearly every team. As well they should considering that no games have been played in the 2012 season. Today everybody is 0-0 and the possibility of a Super Bowl title exists for everyone.
Well almost everyone. There are realists out there that know deep in their hearts that their team will not contend in 2012.
Even though the NFL is known for parity and for being the "not for long" league, there is a dark side to that parity. The dark side includes those four or five teams that drop to the bottom of their divisions and ultimately the entire league with more than 10 losses in their 16-game season.
The following teams are not entering 2012 as Super Bowl contenders. After only a few weeks of play, their playoff hopes in 2012 will extinguish and all attention will turn to the 2013 NFL draft, where they will have a viable chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick.
After another 4-12 season in 2011, optimism remains at an all-time low for the Cleveland Browns and their fans. This was now their fourth straight season of 11 or more losses and for the third time in that time span, the Browns finished last in their division.
But that's just the way it's been for the Browns and their fans ever since the team was reincarnated in 1999. In that time span there has been only one playoff berth and one other winning season. It's especially sad considering the rich tradition of success the Browns had prior to the Super Bowl era.
Two major factors that are out of the Browns control have their season in jeopardy before it's even begun. One is that they are in an extremely difficult division. The AFC North was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs in 2011. Two is that in addition to six games against AFC North foes, they also play two more great divisions in the AFC West and the NFC East.
Even with the 4-12 record last year, the Browns actually had good defensive effort almost the entire year. Their pass defense was ranked second in the league while their overall defense was ranked 10th overall. Unfortunately the run offense did not hold up their end of the bargain and they gave up 147.4 rushing yards a game, good for third worst in the league.
Stopping the pass is good but almost meaningless when teams can run the ball at will against you. It's even more pathetic when considering the Browns horribly anemic offense, which was ranked in the bottom 10 for passing, rushing and total yards.
The Browns offense can't be much worse than last year and if Trent Richardson can become an every-down back, he could have a special career. Unfortunately I can't say the same for possible starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has basically no receiving weapons for his rookie season.
With a brutal schedule and a terrible offense, the Browns could be 3-13 or even worse than that next year. Should they get the No. 1 overall pick, there will no doubt be lots of speculation as to whether they keep Weeden or they decide to draft USC's Matt Barkley.
Like the Cleveland Browns, the Minnesota Vikings have a tough road to experience success in 2012. They are in a absolutely loaded division in the NFC North. All of the other starting quarterbacks are potential Pro Bowlers with prolific passing offenses.
Then there's poor Christian Ponder who is facing an enormous amount of pressure for his second NFL season. Last season he got tossed in the starting lineup after the Vikes 1-5 start and for the most part struggled through the season. Over these 11 games, he threw for 1,853 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Those numbers will not cut it in the NFL. It's a little unfair because like Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, Ponder has very few reliable targets to get the ball too. Their best receiver, Percy Harvin, is disgruntled, and although he should stay in Minnesota, there's not much depth behind him.
It also hurts Ponder that Adrian Peterson is coming off a gruesome knee injury. Toby Gerhart is good but he's not in the discussion of best running back in the league like "All Day" is.
Then there's the defense. Minnesota had an awful secondary last year that gave up 251.2 yards a game. That's a major part of the reason they went 0-6 in the division in 2011, and it's hard to feel good about their pass defense which, despite the acquisition of Harrison Smith, hasn't been sufficiently addressed yet.
There's just too many weaknesses on the team for them to compete. Lezlie Frazier will have to fight to keep his players playing hard for him as they fall out of contention early in the season. If not, the Frazier era and possibly the Ponder era could be coming to early ends.
Last year an 0-7 start put the Miami Dolphins on track for the worst record in the NFL and more importantly, first in the "Suck For Luck" contest. That did not materialize as the Dolphins gained some fight and went 6-3 down the stretch. This resulted in a 6-10 record and no shot at Andrew Luck taking his talents down to South Beach.
The Dolphins then went on to get spurned by both Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn during the first few weeks of free agency. So the Dolphins did the most logical step and drafted Ryan Tannehill eighth overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
But despite getting Tannehill early, it could be argued the Dolphins did not fix their quarterback situation, at least not in the short term. Most experts and even the Dolphins owner think that Tannehill isn't ready to start in the NFL yet. So instead it'll likely be a backup type player like Matt Moore or David Garrard that will be under center for Miami on opening day.
It's been said before that a team with two (or more) quarterbacks has no quarterbacks. None of the Dolphins current quarterbacks are in a position to be the franchise's savior in 2012. It's possible Tannehill gets there in future seasons, but he'll need to put in a lot of work for that to happen.
It's undeniable that the Dolphins are a team in major transition for this coming season. Brandon Marshall, their former go-to receiver is gone and they have replaced him with unattractive names like Chad Ochocinco and Legedu Naanee. Their also trying to make Reggie Bush their every-down back, which could be problematic given his difficulty staying healthy.
Change is inevitable in Miami with their new coach Joe Philbin trying to implement a new culture. There's also going to be the added pressure of a national audience looking in weekly with the Dolphins appearance on Hard Knocks.
It's a lot of things that have to go right for the Dolphins to finish above .500 in 2012, much less in playoff contention. Year one of the Philbin regime will be a rough one and the Dolphins' only consolation is that they should be lined up for a top five draft pick in 2013.
When it comes to the Indianapolis Colts 2012 season, there is only one question to be asked: Are you feeling lucky?
That's because Indy is now Andrew Luck's team, and since he has been hailed as the best quarterback prospect in decades, the pressure is on for him to succeed early. It's going to be very tough for instant success, though, when you consider this team was 2-14 last year, good for the worst record in the NFL.
There was virtually nothing positive to take away from last year as the Colts made a serious bid for 0-16. This was mostly due to the neck injury that sidelined Peyton Manning for an entire season. But even before Manning left, the defense was on the decline and the running game was a certified weakness.
Any luck the Colts have in 2012 will be without help from Manning's supporting cast. Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Jacob Tamme, Jeff Saturday and Piere Garcon are gone on offense. On defense, there's been fewer losses but still veteran linebacker Gary Bracket has left.
It's a rebuilding year, there is no mistaking it. As a young team with lots of career backups and rookies fighting for starting spots, the Colts will struggle immensely in 2012.
They should improve upon their 2-14 record, but not by much. At this point it's fair to say that the success of the Colts' 2012 season depends on whether they're lucky next year.