Schedule Could Make/Break Season

When Mike Tice took over as Vikings head coach full-time in 2002, the team viewed their early schedule as the starting point for a playoff run. As it turned out, it was just the opposite. The same could be true -- good or bad -- this year.

The Vikings were very upbeat and confident heading into last season. With a bye scheduled for Week 5, Minnesota opened its season with Chicago (a team the Vikings always play tough) and four of the worst teams in the league from the previous year -- Buffalo, Carolina, Seattle and Detroit.

At the time, many thought Minnesota could easily be 3-1 or even 4-0 after the first four games. Instead they were 0-4. The fact that the Vikings went 6-6 the rest of the way didn't really seem to matter because the season was already shot.

This year, there is much the same enthusiasm surrounding the new-look Vikings, and the schedule once again gives the team a chance to make a statement -- for better or worse -- early on.

The Vikings will play their first three games vs. division opponents, letting the world know quickly if the Vikings will be division contenders. What follows will be a very difficult stretch that will include 2002 playoff teams in the 49ers, Falcons, Giants, Packers and Raiders -- five playoff teams in seven weeks and the other two games vs. the Broncos and Chargers (no pushovers).

After the the Raiders game Nov. 16, the Vikings' final six games will be vs. teams that didn't make the playoffs last year, which could again prompt a late-season run.

It seems clear the key to the Vikings' success will be a fast start vs. the division, surviving the middle portion of the schedule and coming on strong down the stretch. The Vikings are going to be better than last year, but the schedule isn't going to do them any favors.

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