There comes a point in any NFL season that defines a team for a given season.
The Minnesota Vikings’ 5-0 start will not define the 2016 season.
Their current four-game losing streak won’t define it either.
The next 17 days will likely be the segment of the season that will be the lasting legacy of the 2016 season.
In the span of four games at the beginning of the season, the Vikings played three 2015 playoff teams, including two division champions (Carolina and Houston) and the Packers, who hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2009. Mixed in the middle were the Giants, whom many believe entered the season as the most complete team in the NFC East.
Given the five games before the bye, 3-2 might have deemed acceptable. 4-1 would have been viewed as overestimating the team’s ability to close out good teams. Predicting 5-0, and there’s a purple moustache on your top lip from drinking the Kool Aid.
Ironically, it was the four games after the bye that was viewed as a time the Vikings could fatten up and pad their record. Philly with a rookie quarterback, the Bears and Lions coming back to back and a road game at Washington – the defending division champion that few believed had the defensive firepower to repeat.
Unlike the prognosticators looking at the first five games before the bye week, the next four games were supposed to be good times for the Vikings. If they were 3-2 in the first five, they’d most likely be 6-3 now. If their record was better than 3-2 before the bye, the sky was the limit.
It hasn’t been.
So here we are.
Under a conservative scenario, the Vikings are who we thought they were at 5-4 – they just took a very circuitous route to get there.
They should realistically be 6-3 and 2-1 in the division. They are not.
With two wins since the bye, they would be 7-2, large and in charge. They are not.
The next 17 days are going to define the Vikings’ 2016 season. The good news is that they have two of the next three games at home. The bad news is that those games are against Arizona, a team that won 13 games last year and is feeling the heat at 4-4-1, and Dallas, a team riding high as anyone this year with a NFL-best 8-1 record.
Sandwiched in between is a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit.
None of those currently look like automatic W’s.
In the next 17 days, the 2016 Vikings will see their fate sealed.
Go 3-0 and all engines are revving full steam ahead.
Go 2-1 and they likely are still in charge of their own playoff destiny.
Go 1-2 and they probably have to run the table in the final four and catch some breaks if they want to repeat as division champions.
Go 0-3 and all bets are off.
Three games. 17 days. What is past is prologue. The next 17 days will make or break the remainder of the Vikings’ season – for better or worse.