One of the things about the NFL playoffs that make them both exciting and sadly realistic is that they let teams know pretty much exactly where they stand as a franchise.
Recent playoff regulars like New Orleans, Pittsburgh, both New York teams, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia all got the word in December. Over the weekend, four playoff teams got their ticket cancelled and sent home.
It can be argued that the better teams won all four games of wild card weekend. The Vikings made a huge leap to go from 3-13 to the playoffs, but the Packers were at home and playoff-tested. The loss of Christian Ponder and having Joe Webb throw the first pass of his 2012 season in 2013 was a recipe for disaster. However, the Vikings made significant strides when all things are considered. They're in pretty good playoff company.
The Colts went from the first pick in the 2012 draft in April to clinching a wild card spot in Week 16 of the regular season. Washington used the second pick on Robert Griffin III and he helped guide the Redskins to playoffs. Cincinnati started out with a new quarterback in 2011 and Andy Dalton has led the Bengals to two straight playoff appearances. Unfortunately for him, both of those meetings have been on the road in Houston and the result has been the same both years.
In the case of Cincinnati, they were one of the upstarts of the 2011 playoffs and they made a return. The Vikings, Colts and Redskins are in a similar position heading into the offseason. Are they prepared to take the next step in what all three hope is a climb to the top of their respective divisions?
In the case of Cincinnati, both the Ravens and Steelers have run roughshod over the AFC North for the last several years. But, both got old at the same time and are in the middle of rehab projects of their own. The Bengals are primed to take the next step with a team that was very young two years ago and becoming a team that will be viewed by many as the favorite to win the AFC North next year (and avoid their annual playoff visit to Houston).
The Colts and Redskins potentially could be factors for years thanks to Andrew Luck and RG3. They have the centerpieces of their offenses and can now start tweaking on offense and focusing on defense. Both exited the playoffs this weekend, but have bright futures.
The Vikings were the fourth member of the one-and-done fraternity Saturday, but they made as big of a forward leap in 2012 as any team in the league – Indy and Washington included. Now what?
Whether Vikings fans believe Christian Ponder is the answer, the only visual evidence against an in-house solution is game tape of Saturday's playoff game with the Packers. In the 16 games Ponder played, the Vikings won 10 of them. It can be argued they won a couple despite him rather than because of him, but the fact remains that he was the quarterback of a 2012 playoff team. He may not have the acumen of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, but he can take off his beanie – he's in the fraternity whether he played or not.
This offseason will be the most interesting in the last few years – Favre Watch withstanding. Will the Vikings be aggressive in free agency? What's the story with Percy Harvin? Will the team target specific positions in the draft or go "by the book" as Rick Spielman consistently claims the team does and take the highest guy on the board regardless of position during draft weekend? Who will stay and who will go off the roster of players vacating Winter Park today?
Those questions will be answered incrementally over the next six months. The bottom line of the story is that, a year ago at this time, fans of the Vikings, Colts, Redskins and Bengals were wondering if their teams were going to make the playoffs again any time soon. Now, despite all losing over wild card weekend, their respective fan bases are looking at 2013 as the start of something potentially good and lasting. So are the players and coaches – which could make 2013 a big year for all of the first four out of the 2012 playoffs.
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.
One-and-dones have hope for future
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