Last year, the Minnesota Vikings were sitting at 6-6, the playoffs a distant dream. The final four games had three on the road and a finale with a pretty hot Green Bay Packers club at home. It seemed an impossible task. The impossible became reality. Aside from the defense improving its rankings, a guy by the name of Adrian Peterson suddenly donned his Superman cape, and Ponder had somehow come out of his midseason slump. The playoff season was a speedy exit, but the season had exceeded all expectation.
This season expectations were high; another playoff season, perhaps a divisional crown…a Super…nah, better not. Sixteen games is a long season, and with two in the books, the naysayers, doubting Thomases and otherwise negative Nancys are thumping at the door demanding answers.
The Vikings currently sit at 0-2, with two tough road losses to division rivals, no less. In order for the Vikings to realize postseason ambitions, they are going to have to turn it around quickly. According to Len Pasquarelli of ESPN, "Only 13.75 percent of 0-2 teams have gone on to make the playoffs." True, that does not bode well for the Vikings, but at least it’s not zero percent. A surprise note about a 0-2 team is on the last slide.
Right now there are only three teams undefeated in the NFC: the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints. There are five teams sitting at 0-2, including last year’s NFC East-winning Washington Redskins and the New York Giants with Eli Manning, who is playing rather poorly right now. Here is the good news: The Vikings are the only 0-2 team not to lose at home. The remaining eight teams are 1-1, so all is not, nor should be, doom and gloom in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Relax!
The following slides break down the remainder of the season in quarters. I know, pretty clever, huh?
So, if you’re game and haven’t sold your collection of Vikings memorabilia yet, hit the ol' Next button
The defense needs more consistency.
Well, it’s halftime of the first quarter of the season and the Vikings are already down 0-2. With their home opener against a Cleveland Browns team searching for its identity under new head coach Rob Chudzinski, the Vikings should take care of business in Week 3.
Brandon Weeden is questionable, which leads us to Jason Campbell. The last time the Vikings faced Campbell, they rightly showed him that he is a backup and nothing more. The Vikings should be able to rattle and shake the well-traveled veteran.
The following week, the Vikings travel to London to face those nasty Pittsburgh Steelers from Steel Town, USA. The last time Vikings visited England, it wasn’t pretty for the home-team folks, as they plundered and pillaged at will. This will not be the same as 800 A.D., but the 2013 Vikings will somehow wrest away a victory from the Steelers and Big Ben, no pun intended.
First-quarter results: 2-2
Did I say it's a team sport?
After a bye week, the Vikings are at their “real” home against the Panthers. The Panthers seem to be an enigma wrapped in a Fig Newton. I have no idea if the Panthers will be a very good team or another team that has potential but never reaches it because it is limited by its ego.
With the Giants struggling. two things are going to be happening in Week 7 when the Vikings travel east. The Giants will either have righted the ship that is the G-Men, or it will be that seesaw team New York fans love to hate and hate to love. Minnesota has had recent success against the Giants, other than the 2010 game where Eli looked like Peyton times two. The Vikings steal this one on the road.
Here comes the juggernaut game for Vikings fans. The Packers are a legitimate contender with a high-caliber quarterback and an improving defense, but as all NFC North games go, the most talented team doesn’t always win. This is a must-win for the Vikings given they are 0-2 within the division.
The last game of this quarter has the Vikings traveling to the ultimate ego, Jerry’s house. To say Vikings fans dislike the Cowboys is to say the Hatfields and McCoys fought to the death. This will be a very tough game to win on the road. As much as I hate to say this, unless the Vikings win the turnover battle, the game goes the way of the Boys.
Second-quarter results: 3-1
Weeks 10-13 opponents: Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks, at Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears
The Redskins are struggling mightily. In fact, there is a rumor that Barack Obama could play quarterback better than Robert Griffin III right now. Although doubtful, it does go to the heart of D.C.’s politically incorrect football team. Their defense is as porous as the U.S. budget, and the offense is trying to figure out if RGIII can legitimately be a pocket QB. Last year’s loss in D.C. stings the Vikings, and they want to show the Redskins the exit very quickly.
The Seahawks, I have to confess, are a top-five team for me. Ever since the Vikings and Seahawks began to wheel and deal players back in the day, and all the way up to this year, I have had a certain affinity for the Seahawks. If Minnesota had this game at home, I would give them a chance, but in Seattle, well, it’s hard to go against the Hawks at home.
A quick turnaround rematch with the Packers on the road will not be a result the Vikings are hoping for. Unless Aaron Rodgers decides to go into hiding like Ryan Braun, the Pack come out on top.
Bring on da Bears. Pure and simple, the Vikings get revenge against the Bears and win easily. At least I hope easily.
Third-quarter results: 2-2
Team unity? We'll know at this point.
Wow, two teams were in the playoffs last year and the other two look like legitimate playoff contenders this year. If the Vikings are to make the playoffs, they will have to win three of four, if not all four.
There is a good-news, bad-news analysis here. Baltimore might be a shell of its former self at season’s end, and the Vikings benefit from the Ravens' drop-off and steal one on the road.
The Eagles could be a trap game where Minnesota “should” win at home, but the Vikings' recent woes against the Eagles have me worried that some teams just have another team’s number. But by Week 15, pretty much everyone will have the Eagles figured out, if not sooner. And, will it be Michael Vick by then, or Nick Foles, or even Matt Barkley for that matter?
The Vikings' penultimate game has them traveling to Cincinnati, a playoff team the past two years and perhaps the AFC North winner. This one is going to be a dogfight. The Bengals will either already have the division in hand or will be fighting tooth and nail to secure another win. The Bengals will prevail late.
The final week comes full circle, but it will not end how it began. The Vikings will handle the Lions at home.
Fourth-quarter results: 3-1
Final results: 10-6
When it's all said and done, Vikings fans will have plenty of their questions answered but will undoubtedly have more. Suffice it to say, the coach who accepted responsibility for the road blunder at Chicago will need to have better answers for an increasingly agitated fanbase in a day and age of impatient people if he doesn't game-plan better or manage what needs to be managed.
Whether a predicted 10-6 will be enough to make the playoffs is another matter. The NFC is extremely competitive, and not to take anything away from the AFC, because they won last year’s Super Bowl, but the NFC has so many teams that could win the Super Bowl. Are the Vikings in that conversation? Realists say no. Idealists can dream, but the Vikings are building a team that has the potential to represent a playoff team for many years to come.
On the other hand, if the Vikings do not fix their four-quarters-of-play issue quickly, the season could be easily lost and the Vikings could be looking at that no-man’s land record of 7-9 or 8-8.
But let’s end this on a positive note. In 2008, the Vikings started the season 0-2 and wound up going 10-6 and making the playoffs. Remember who the quarterback was? Try Gus Frerotte, and our leading receivers were none other than Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian.
Final note: I am sure I will hear from the Ponder haters who will say that as long as he is under center, there is no way the Vikings get to a Super Bowl, maybe even the playoffs. You may be right, but there are pluses and minuses to the kid right now. My bet is that this year will be a good building year, and that next year, Ponder will have his best season as a pro and will be the unquestioned man under center for the Vikings.
I leave you with two virtues of the utmost importance: patience and trust.