In 2012 the Minnesota Vikings had the best single-season turnaround in franchise history, bettering their 2011 mark by seven games. Don't expect them to overachieve in 2013.
Consider this a sort of public service announcement. It's my attempt to prevent overzealous Vikings fans from becoming too optimistic before the season even begins, only to have their inflated expectations come crashing down when the team underperforms—at least in their eyes.
Let me also state up front, before the comments start about how I must live in Wisconsin or that I hate the Vikings, that I am a lifelong Vikings fan. As such, I have suffered through many of the team's worst moments, including being at the Metrodome following the 1998 season when kicker Gary Anderson missed his only attempt of the season.
It just had to happen in the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons. It made me sick watching the Falcons head coach Dan Reeves and the rest of the Atlanta team celebrate their Super Bowl berth by doing the Dirty Bird at midfield.
The truth is, the Vikings cannot make as big of an improvement in 2013 as they did in 2012.
In order to improve by seven games once again, the Vikings will have to win 17 games this season. Theoretically it's possible, but that would necessitate the Vikings going 13-3 on the season. They would have to finish with the third seed in the NFC, meaning they would have to win the NFC North, and then rattle off four straight postseason wins, making them Super Bowl champions.
There are a lot of fans that believe the Vikings actually have a shot at winning the Super Bowl. Here's a few of them:
Granted this would be a fantastic story, but very unlikely. Simply put, it's not going to happen—sorry Alex, George and Ben.
So let's consider a slightly less optimistic improvement. A 50 percent improvement compared to 2012 would give them between three and four more wins. A great season would be to finish 12-4 in the regular season and actually win a playoff game, or finishing 11-5 and winning two playoff games.
In order for that to happen, the Vikings would have to play as well as they did at home last season and improve their results on the road.
There's no place like dome.
In 2012, the Vikings finished 7-1 under the sterile conditions of the Metrodome. Their only home loss was to the Buccaneers in Week 8.
Since the NFL schedule was expanded to 16 games in 1978, the Vikings have won seven or more regular-season games at home only three times before last season. Twice they went undefeated—in 1998 when they finished 15-1, and in 2009 when Brett Favre led them to a 12-4 record and another trip to the NFC Championship game. In 1988 they matched their 2012 record of 7-1.
Going undefeated at home is even more difficult in 2013 since they gave away one of their home dates to play in London—a Week 4 matchup against the Steelers. This will feel very much like a road game on a short week. A long flight across six time zones, staying in a hotel and playing in an unfamiliar stadium just cannot feel like home.
The Vikings are not road warriors.
In order to win 11 or 12 games, the Vikings will have to finish perfect at the Metrodome and 7-1 overall in their home games to give them the best shot of achieving this. Then they will need to win five games on the road—a feat only matched five times since the schedule expanded to 16 games. If they stumble once at home the odds of wining six road games get longer—something they have only done three times. In fact, the Vikings have averaged only 3.2 wins on the road over the past 35 seasons.
This season, the task of winning six road games will be especially difficult. Their road schedule is as hard as their home schedule is easy. Of their eight opponents, only the Lions (4-12) finished below .500. The combined 2012 record of the other seven teams is 69-43—a .616 winning percentage. To take it a step further, four of these seven teams made the playoffs last year.
There may be a debate whether or not the Vikings are better than last season, but there's no way they have improved enough to win six road games in 2013.
So with nine road games on their schedule, it will be extremely difficult to find three more wins over 2012.
So let's lower the expectations a bit more. How about if the Vikings match their achievement from last season and finish among the top teams in the NFC and make the playoffs? Surely that is not expecting too much?
Most power rankings don't favor the Vikings.
If the Vikings are to make the playoffs again, they will need to finish as one of the best teams in the NFC. In order for that to happen, the Vikings will have to play better than many current preseason power rankings.
According to ESPN, the Vikings are ranked 17th in the NFL and 10th in the NFC. They point out replacing Percy Harvin with Greg Jennings is a downgrade at the wide receiver position. The Vikings are looking up at the Bears (13) and the Packers (5) within the NFC North.
B/R featured columnist Justin Onslow also has the Vikings ranked 17th in the NFL and 10th in the NFC. He points out that quarterback Christian Ponder is the linchpin for the Vikings to improve.
Walter Football has the Vikings ranked just a bit higher at 16th in the NFL but still 10th in the NFC. There's a question about whether Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are enough to make Christian Ponder better.
So with these three all ranking the Vikings just within the second half of the teams in the NFL, it's not a positive sign that many people believe the Vikings are a playoff team.
In all fairness to the drinkers of the Purple Kool-Aid, here's the power ranking from NFL.com. Elliot Harrison is higher on the Vikings than the others, ranking them 11th in the NFL and sixth in the NFC—and in a position to make the playoffs. He, like the others, still has the Packers (5) ahead of the Vikings with the Bears (13) just behind them in the NFC North.
In the end, it's better to underestimate the Vikings.
Of course a lot can happen, and the Vikings may even surprise a lot of people this season. The Vikings have done a fantastic job rebuilding through the draft lately, and they have three first-round draft picks to add to the mix this season.
Still, perhaps it's better to go into the season expecting the Vikings to have their ups and downs and finish somewhere around .500 on the season.
That way when they win nine games and just miss out on the playoffs, it will feel like a pretty good season.