The thinking was that, if the Vikings could finish that first stretch at 4-3, they could put the hammer down in the second half when the schedule got "easier." As most teams hit the midway point of the season this weekend, the toughest part of the schedule may be yet to come, not in the rearview mirror.
When the Vikings return to action next week, they head into Green Bay to face a Packers team that has legitimate aspirations to go undefeated. They're 7-0 and looking like a team ready and able to repeat as Super Bowl champions. That will be a daunting task, even for a rested Vikings team, to go into Lambeau under the Monday night spotlight and beat the Packers.
The Packers, however, may be just the first of a series of playoff contenders that will cross paths with the Vikings. The Raiders (4-3) come to the Metrodome with their power running game and, after trading with Cincinnati to get Carson Palmer out of retirement for a king's ransom, it's clear they have postseason aspirations.
After Oakland comes a road trip to Atlanta, where the 4-3 Falcons will be at the end of a month-long homestand. Next comes Denver (2-5), where Vikings fans hope Tim Tebow is still the starter and gets an unfriendly introduction to Jared Allen.
The final four games of the season will be a gauntlet, as the Vikings travel to Detroit (6-2), host New Orleans (5-3), head east to Washington (3-4) and close out the regular season when they host the Bears.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared as though there were be several chances for victories in those final nine games. The Vikings did their part with the first of them when they defeated Carolina last Sunday heading into the bye. But in their final eight games only two of their opponents – the Redskins and Broncos – have losing records. It's going to be an obstacle course that may go a long way to determining if the Vikings remain a veteran-laden team or implode the current starting lineup, cherry-pick the young stars they envision as the foundation of the team and move forward with them.
The Vikings are going to play a significant role in determining who does and doesn't make the playoffs in the NFC, since five of the teams in contention (the Packers, Falcons, Lions, Saints and Bears) will all need wins over Minnesota to solidify their playoff position. While the postseason appears to be the longest of long shots for the Vikings, they can start building for 2012 by dashing the playoff dreams of other teams and make their own statement that the Vikings may be down, but they're not out.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.