Season's second half filled with contenders

The Vikings will be challenged in the second half of the season as much as they were in the first half. The next eight games will be filled with playoff contenders, presenting a stiff challenge for the Vikings.

When fans and media analysts looked at the 2011 Vikings schedule, it was thought the first seven weeks would be the toughest portion of the schedule. The rationale made sense. In those first seven games, the Vikings were going to face five teams that won 10 games or more the previous year (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Chicago and Green Bay), as well as a Lions team many believed was a franchise on the rise.

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.

NOTES

  • There was some thought that Bernard Berrian might land a job with a team as injuries continue to take a toll on NFL rosters. It may have come as a surprise to both Berrian and Terrell Owens that, when the Raiders filled an opening in its receiver corps, they went with former Palmer teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh and bypassed the speedier Berrian and more physical Owens. One can only imagine if Big Al Davis was still in charge, the Raiders would have signed him instead of the plodding Housh.

  • The Vikings continue to deal with the Chris Cook situation internally. He has already missed two games and, under the new collective bargaining agreement, a team can only suspend a player without pay for up to four games. That means that Vikings will have until the middle of the month to decide whether to welcome Cook back, hope the NFL gets involved with its own suspension (unlikely given the in-house suspension and lack of a verdict in the legal process) or simply release him. Leslie Frazier said a decision on Cook is likely to be announced on Monday. While the evidence has yet to be fully heard, if there is a lot of truth to what was brought out in the criminal complaint against Cook, the Vikings may have to swallow hard as they did with Bryant McKinnie and move on without their first pick of the 2010 draft – as hard as that may be to do given the lack of depth and injury history at the cornerback position.


    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.


  • Viking Update Top Stories

    \r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n","mobileBody":" When fans and media analysts looked at the 2011 Vikings schedule, it was thought the first seven weeks would be the toughest portion of the schedule. The rationale made sense. In those first seven games, the Vikings were going to face five teams that won 10 games or more the previous year (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Chicago and Green Bay), as well as a Lions team many believed was a franchise on the rise. 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.
  • There was some thought that Bernard Berrian might land a job with a team as injuries continue to take a toll on NFL rosters. It may have come as a surprise to both Berrian and Terrell Owens that, when the Raiders filled an opening in its receiver corps, they went with former Palmer teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh and bypassed the speedier Berrian and more physical Owens. One can only imagine if Big Al Davis was still in charge, the Raiders would have signed him instead of the plodding Housh.
  • The Vikings continue to deal with the Chris Cook situation internally. He has already missed two games and, under the new collective bargaining agreement, a team can only suspend a player without pay for up to four games. That means that Vikings will have until the middle of the month to decide whether to welcome Cook back, hope the NFL gets involved with its own suspension (unlikely given the in-house suspension and lack of a verdict in the legal process) or simply release him. Leslie Frazier said a decision on Cook is likely to be announced on Monday. While the evidence has yet to be fully heard, if there is a lot of truth to what was brought out in the criminal complaint against Cook, the Vikings may have to swallow hard as they did with Bryant McKinnie and move on without their first pick of the 2010 draft – as hard as that may be to do given the lack of depth and injury history at the cornerback position.
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