Vikings need to capitalize on early schedule

The Vikings’ first three games could see them as favorites and set the tone for the season.

While it isn’t always an accurate predictor of season-long success, when an NFL team gets off to a strong start, it tends to have a carryover effect. Sure, there are the occasional collapses of a team that starts of 5-2 or 6-2, but most of them that start off hot tend to maintain it – or build up enough equity to hold onto their hot start and carry it through the season.

The difference between good teams and bad teams isn’t all that different – even within the same the season. The Vikings of 2014 were both in the same year. Coming out of the gate, they won the opener at St. Louis, but proceeded to lose five of their next six games and put themselves in no position to make a playoff run.

Yet, they finished the season 5-4 in the last nine games with a patchwork offense and a rookie quarterback – with three of those losses coming by three points or less.

Last year, the Vikings proved they wouldn’t quit on Mike Zimmer. This year, they’re looking to show he they can win as a team throughout the season and, from the looks of things earlier, the potential is there for the Vikings to get out of the gate strong.

When the schedule came out two months ago, the first thing that jumped out was that the Vikings would open the season on Monday night at San Francisco. To many, that was seen as a bad thing and likely a loss. But no team has had more turmoil this offseason than the 49ers. Getting rid of their head coach, free agent losses, retirements and releases have been the norm. Rarely has a team that has enjoyed recent success been as gutted as the Niners. If anything, the arrow is pointing in the right direction for the Vikings and the wrong direction for Niners. Winning that game won’t be as difficult as it may have appeared when the schedule came out.

That game will be followed by a pair of homes games against the Lions and the Chargers. Any Vikings fan knows that Detroit has always struggled on the road against the Vikings. Detroit comes to Minneapolis and almost always heads back to Detroit with a loss.

The Chargers are a team that is known as much for being notoriously slow starters as they are a team that turns it up late in the season and comes through the back door to make the playoffs on a semi-consistent basis. Add to that the game will be played at noon local time – 10 a.m. local time for the Chargers – and that aspect can’t be underestimated.

Regardless of where you live, when you start crossing time zones, your body clock needs time to adjust. According to the Chargers players, who are used to playing the late games – 1 p.m. local time in San Diego – playing at 10 a.m. isn’t something they’re accustomed to or typically very successful at. That isn’t merely a theory. West Coast teams who travel east to play the early games on Sunday have a dismal track of record of success.

There is a possibility that the Vikings will be favored to win each of their first three games for the reasons that have been outlined here. San Francisco is going to have a vastly different look. The Lions have never been a successful road team – inside the NFC North and out – and the Chargers are heading east and have a team accustomed to starting slow in September.

Three games do not a season make, but the first three games of the season are going to set the tone for the Vikings. If they start on an early roll, it could well carry through the rest of the season. If they start slowly as they did last year, a decent finish will only improve their record, not make them a playoff contender.

Teams always try to push the positives of their franchise, but with the NFL buzzing about the potential of Teddy Bridgewater, the return of Adrian Peterson and a young, active defense with a year of experience in Zimmer’s defense under its belt, the first three games of the season could well be the defining moment of the 2015 season.

If the Vikings get out of the gate 3-0, the Packers will be put on notice that their stranglehold atop the NFC North may legitimately be in jeopardy. That’s why as the preseason predictions start coming out, don’t be surprised to see the Vikings emerge as a trendy wild card pick – most won’t go on record picking them to win the NFC North, but if they get off to a 3-0 start they will be well on their way and all signs point to that being a distinct possibility.

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