Getting off to a good start is critical in the NFL and the Vikings will be trying to gain theirs on the road. Between now and Oct. 26, they will have only two games at the Metrodome.
No sport is a game of momentum more than the NFL. It can be argued that, with a hot goalie, an NHL team can make a shocking run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but, because the NFL has just 16 games, the prospect of losing two straight is the equivalent of a 10-game losing streak in the NHL or NBA and a whopping 20-game losing streak in Major League Baseball. Suffice it to say, a bad start in the NFL often is a portent of bad things to come.
It's not impossible to be a playoff team with a brutal start, but it takes a lot to dig out of that hole if the shovel is planted early. Naysayers to that theory will point to the Redskins, who started the 2012 season 3-6 and made the playoffs. But they had to win their final seven games. One loss and they would have been bounced from the playoffs … and Lovie Smith would probably still have his job in Chicago.
The reality of the NFL is that every game counts and the earlier teams put themselves in position – good or bad – the more likely it is that their success or failure will continue. Since 2007, the Vikings have won their first road game of the season just once. That came in 2009. We all know how that season went. What the Vikings face in 2013 is something few teams outside of when Arizona played outdoors that an NFL team has been forced to endure – three of their first four games on the road.
The Vikings open their 2013 season Sunday at Detroit. They follow that up with a road game at Chicago. After playing a home game against Cleveland in Week 3, they play another de facto home game … in London. The only advantage the Vikings will have in that "home" game is that they will be able to acclimate themselves to the time change better than the Steelers because they will show up earlier and have three days of getting used to their internal clocks being set to a time none of them are used to.
But when the Wilfs stepped up to volunteer the Vikings to play one of the two London games this season, they did so knowing they were taking away a huge home-field advantage that the Vikings would have had with Pittsburgh at the Metrodome – even though there would have been thousands (perhaps even 10,000) Terrible Towels being waved under the roof above Mall of America Field.
The bottom line is that when Vikings fans filed out of the Metrodome last Thursday, they did so knowing it would be one of the few times over the next two months. Between then and the prime time Sunday night home game against the Packers on Oct. 27, the team will play at home – really at home – just once in late September and once in mid-October.
If the Vikings are going to find their way back to the playoffs, they're going to have to earn their way back. September started two days ago. By the time there are two days left in September, we will be a lot closer to knowing whether that goal is readily attainable or not.
It can't be a good sign for the long-term future of suspended Vikings offensive lineman DeMarcus Love that recently signed offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb, claimed off waivers from the Bears Sunday, was given Love's jersey No. 73. The last time we saw a situation like that, where a player was given the jersey number that had been the property of a player who technically was still on the Vikings, was when Christian Ponder held up a No. 7 jersey. Prior to that, it was the number worn by Tarvaris Jackson and it sent the clear message that, when the 2011 lockout ended, T-Jack wasn't in the plans for the future. Perhaps Love may face the same fate. The Vikings will have four weeks to evaluate their own talent on the 53-man roster and the practice squad. When those four weeks are up – which coincides with the Vikings bye week – they may be saying Bye Bye Love.
A similar situation exists with DE D'Aundre Reed. He was placed on injured reserve over the weekend, but DT Chase Baker switched from No. 62 to Reed's No. 91. The Vikings are hoping to reach an injury settlement with Reed, which would make him available to other teams when healthy.
The Vikings cut two Burtons Saturday among their final cuts (Stephen and Brandon). Neither was unemployed for long. WR Stephen Burton was claimed by the Jaguars and will likely help fill in while Justin Blackmon is on suspension. The Buffalo Bills claimed CB Brandon Burton.
With Jerome Felton suspended for three weeks, head coach Leslie Frazier said the job of being the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson on the plays they use a lead blocker will be handled by Zach Line as well as tight ends Rhett Ellison and John Carlson.
There is going to be a lot of jockeying between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers all season – just as they did during the offseason by matching big signing for big signing in the NFC West arms race. Before the Seahawks could assemble their eight-man practice squad, the 49ers plucked fourth-round rookie draft pick Chris Harper to their active roster. Make no mistake about it, while the 49ers need receiver help, Harper's knowledge of Seattle's read option offense could be more of a reason why he was signed – given his knowledge of the terminology used by the Seattle offense. This is going to be an ongoing battle all season by the two teams favored to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
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.