Schedule Gazing

Vikings coach Dennis Green and his teams have pulled playoff berths out of poor starts in the past (like a 2-4 start in 1999), but they will have to start winning nearly every home game — and Central Division games take on greater importance.

The Vikings have put themselves behind the eight ball with two unexpected losses early in the season, and then gaining a split against the two tough teams on the schedule so far. They will have to do much better in the remaining 12 games, and probably need to get some help to make the playoffs this year.

The next two games are absolutely crucial to the Vikes. The home games vs. Detroit and Green Bay must be won if this team is to maintain any hope for this season. If they win those two games, they would even their record at 3-3, before heading into a tough stretch of the schedule with road games at Tampa Bay, then Philadelphia after a bye week. A split in those two would leave them at 4-4 midway through the season, which is probably the best Vikes fans can hope for right about now.

After that, the schedule has some tough games but gives the Vikes the opportunity to play the Giants and Titans at home, plus some road games they should win, before the killer set of road games at Green Bay and Baltimore to close the season.

Realistically, the Vikings probably need to win the rest of their home games this year, and win some tough road games to make up for the losses to the Panthers and Bears. They also need to win all the Central Division games they can, as they trail every team but Detroit in the Central right now.

The potentially good news for the Vikes is that both the Packers (vs. Ravens) and Bucs (at Titans) have tough games this week, giving the Vikes a chance to make up some ground this week if they can beat the Lions. If they can't beat the Lions, we may as well call this a rebuilding season from that game forward. The Bears have an easy game this week, and would be 3-1 with a win, but I don't believe the Bears can win the division. If the Vikes beat Detroit, and the Packers lose to the Ravens, the Vikings could pull into a tie with Green Bay if they beat the Pack at the Metrodome. Pretty amazing, considering the difference in the two teams' seasons so far.

The best way for the Vikes to get the 10-6 record they probably need to make the playoffs this year is to win the rest of their home games to go 7-1 at home (no easy task) and split their remaining road games for a 3-5 road record. They have two games that they should win on the road vs. Pittsburgh and Detroit, and then would have to win one of the four games against Tampa, Philly, Green Bay and Baltimore. If they could win two of those four, they could possibly afford to drop another home game. Of course, this is all speculation, but this is what happens when your team is sitting at 1-3 early in the season.

Complicating things a bit in the NFC this year is the resurgence of some teams that have been down lately, namely the 49ers and Bears. The 49ers have rebuilt their defense with young talent over the last couple of years and are playing well right now. They could go to 4-1 with a win at Atlanta this week. The Bears have improved and can hit 3-1 with a home win against the Cards. Adding these two teams to the playoff mix means that there are potentially nine teams fighting for the six NFC playoff spots. The Giants and Philly should both be in the playoffs easily by virtue of playing in the weak NFC East, and the Rams and Saints both look tough in the West this year, along with the 49ers.

Then you have four teams in the Central in the Packers, Bucs, Bears and Vikes. It won't be easy for the Vikes to pull out a playoff spot this year with the struggle they are having, plus the toughest schedule in the league. But don't count them out yet. If they can get their turnover problems straightened out and their running game going — even a little bit — they can still pull this season out of the fire.

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