Late-season road woes a point to fix

The Vikings will have to adjust to playing home games outdoors, and that will include the chill of December for the next two years. Their track record over the past decade-plus hasn't been good in those conditions.

There are several factors that will be involved as the Vikings prepare for the start of free agency next week, one factor that can't be dismissed is that the team is going to be playing its next two seasons outdoors. You can bet that the weather will be a factor when the Vikings start making decisions on who to invest money in.

When it came to playing in the Metrodome, the indoor conditions factored heavily into the players the Vikings selected. Knowing that they were going to play more than half of their games indoors regardless of the schedule, the Vikings developed a roster accordingly. Players with speed were coveted and the assurance of playing in climate-controlled conditions helped in the decision-making process.

Will the same apply as the Vikings prepare to play the next two seasons outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium? Given the Vikings' struggles outdoors late in recent seasons, it should be.

Last year the Vikings lost both of their outdoor road games in December (at Baltimore and at Cincinnati). But that isn't anything that unusual. When the Vikings ran the December table in 2012, neither of their road games were outdoors. They earned their two critical road wins at St. Louis and Houston – both of whom play in domed stadiums.

In 2010-11, the Vikings played just two outdoor road games in December and won them both – at Washington in 2011 and at Philadelphia in 2010, which ended a long December/January outdoor road drought. From 2001-09, the Vikings played 14 outdoor road games in December and lost 13 of them. It didn't matter if the team was up or down – in 2009, three of the Vikings four losses in their 12-4 season came in three December road games.

While the Vikings likely aren't going to change how they approach the draft based on playing outdoors for two years, it very well could impact how they approach free agency, especially at it pertains to the players that will be signed to short-term contracts.

The NFL is a game of percentages and the percentages don't sit in the Vikings' favor. Including the postseason in January, since 2001, the Vikings have a record of 4-19 in 23 outdoor road games in December or later – a winning percentage of just 17.4 percent.

If the Vikings are to get back into playoff contention, winning games outdoors late in the regular season or in the postseason will be critical. Few teams took advantage of their home-field advantage quite like the Vikings. When they have been a playoff contender, they have done so by being dominant in the Metrodome and playing well on the road, despite December struggles.

For the Vikings' players, they're going to get much the same sensation as being on the road as they play in their new stadium. Home games outdoors haven't happened (barring the 2010 dome collapse, when they lost at TCF Bank Stadium) in more than 30 years. It's something they are going to have to adjust to and, as they prepare for free agency, the players they're looking for are going to be brought in not just to make the Vikings a postseason contender, but to help kill the outdoor late-season struggles that have plagued the team for more than a decade.

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.

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