Vikings’ 7-day stretch critical to survival

When the schedule came out, everyone looked to the first five games as a tough, critical stretch for the Vikings. Injuries and legal issues have added to the challenge, but the next seven days can at least keep the Vikings in the hunt.

The conventional wisdom is that you don’t make or break a season in late September or early October. Teams that win championships are teams that are hot in December.

While there is little empirical evidence to back that up – over the last decade, you’ve been just as likely to win the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Piling up wins in September and October aren’t necessary ingredients to a championship stew.

But pile up too many losses in September and October, and January likely becomes irrelevant. For that reason, the next seven days are likely going to be the most critical in the Vikings’ 2014 season – for better or worse.

A week from today, the Vikings could be 3-2.

A week from today, the Vikings could be 1-4.

The difference between those two possibilities is as big as it gets.

The last two Vikings opponents have been playoff teams that were on the ropes. Bill Belichick teams don’t start 0-2. Sean Payton teams don’t start 0-3. In order to survive, those teams had to get past the Vikings to salvage their early-season downturns.

The Vikings don’t necessarily have to beat Atlanta Sunday to save their season. If they win Sunday, they don’t necessarily have to beat the Packers next Thursday.

If they lose to the Falcons on Sunday, they have to beat the Packers Thursday. Therein, in a nutshell, is the Vikings’ season.

The Vikings have yet to establish an outdoor home-field advantage at TCF Bank Stadium. It’s a temporary home. Perhaps the wisest thing Minnesota legislators demanded was a fixed roof stadium to keep an indoor advantage … as well as a calling card to the well-heeled that will help pay back the organizational contribution.

The Falcons are a good team but not necessarily desperate at 2-1. Armed with a high-octane passing game, Atlanta is a team that can be had on the road, but it won’t come easy. Four days later, the Vikings will make their annual pilgrimage to Green Bay, which, if recent history speaks to you, will likely be a blowout.

So far there have been four Thursday night games and it hasn’t been “Must See TV.” All four games have been decided by 20 points or more and each has been more lopsided than even the final score would indicate. One team has dominated on the short week, and heading into Lambeau Field, where dreams have gone to die in the past, won’t be an easy hurdle to overcome.

The Vikings are without their franchise player and have had a slew of key injuries that changed the face of both the offense and defense. The team has a coaching staff that is primed to take both sides of the ball to the next level. The next seven days will go a long way to deciding whether that process will be one that has a short timetable or is a long-term solution to the recent Vikings woes.

Two games. Seven days. The Vikings’ 2014 season may well hang in the balance.

A week from today, if the Vikings are 3-2, look out! If they’re 2-3, they’re still very much alive as the killer end of their schedule takes a breather. If they’re 1-4 with three straight conference losses, the mettle of the players and coaches with be severely tested.

Playoff berths aren’t won in September and October. They can be lost in that span and that is what will make the next seven days as critical as any seven days the Vikings will likely face this season.

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