At this time of year, every team is convinced that it is going to have the horses to make a Super Bowl run. From the outside, it may not look that way in a lot cities – selling 2016 Super Bowl dreams in places like Cleveland, Tampa, Tennessee, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles is kind of hard sell at the moment – but every team has the same ultimate goal. The difference between a bad team and a good team, as well as a good team and a great team, isn’t all that much.
For the 2016 Minnesota Vikings, they’re heading into the 2016 season with as much positive steam as they’ve had since Brett Favre was around. The buzz around Mankato – spoken loudly by face-painted fans and dodged at times and embraced at times by players and coaches – is that they are looking at a group of players capable of playing well enough to get to the playoffs and make the three- or four-game early-2017 run that could bring the Lombardi Trophy home for the first time.
At this point, the question isn’t how many games will the Vikings win? It’s how many games should they win?
At this time last year, the biggest concern the Vikings had looking at their 2015 schedule was the slate of teams they were scheduled to play, feeling that they couldn’t have drawn a worse pole position.
The NFC West and the AFC West awaited.
The NFC West had produced the last three conference champs – Seattle and San Francisco – and the best team in 2015 (Arizona) wasn’t among them. Even the Artist Formerly Known as the St. Louis Rams could win 13-12 games if needed.
The AFC West was no picnic either. Denver ended up winning the Super Bowl. Check out (in the event you forgot) what Kansas City did after losing to the Vikings on Oct. 18. Oakland and San Diego were viewed as dangerous.
Flash forward one year.
Take a hard look at the Vikings schedule and ask yourself, “Are they better off than they were a year ago?”
Oh, heck yeah!
If one could cherry-pick the mandatory half-schedule “soup-n-sammich” a team could draw, those haughty enough to claim “NFL expert” status would say the confluence of good things couldn’t get much better than landing the NFC East and AFC South for their eight non-divisional games that the NFC North all get this season.
Ask four people who will win the NFC East and you’ll likely get four different answers. Why? They’re all valid choices. But nobody is saying there is a 12-4 team coming out of the NFC East. As recent history has taught us, winning that division typically comes in Week 17 in a last-team-standing match and is often accompanied by a home loss in Week 18.
The AFC South? When’s the last time the South was feared? Apparently J.J. Watt has contracted JCS – Jadeveon Clowney Syndrome – and Houston is holding its breath he’ll be 100 percent by early October when they come to The Bank. The Vikings get Andrew Luck and the Colts at home. Getting Tennessee in Week 1 is a good thing, because they may be better by year’s end than they are at year’s start. Don’t be too quick to dismiss a road game at Jacksonville in December. A road win two weeks before Christmas at Jacksonville may have much more significance than it might appear in early August, because both teams may be looking for a division title in mid-December.
To look at the 2016 schedule, the conventional wisdom is that the Vikings should be on pace to win double-digit games. The bigger question should be how many games are the Vikings going to lose?
If you take the word of the boys in Vegas, where point spreads are set, of their eight home games, the only games in which they may not be favored are when they host Green Bay and Arizona – and neither of those is a guarantee at this point. They may well be favored every time they take the field in front of their home fans. Of their eight road games, the only likely guarantees with all things being equal is that, at the current time, the Vikings will likely only be underdogs at Carolina and at Green Bay.
While the numbers at this point look pretty lofty – Minnesota likely being favored in 12 or more of their 2016 games – no win in the NFL comes easy. If it did, the Vikings would have gone to the Super Bowl in 2010 and Brad Childress would have been given a contract extension rather than a pink slip.
There are a lot of factors that will come into play between now and the end of the year when playoff seeding is done, but one thing that appears clear at this point is that, if the better team wins more times than not in the NFL, the Vikings are going to be given every opportunity to be a heavy hitter in the NFL this season – due in no small part to the teams that the league is lining up against them.