When coaches and players look back on the 2003 season, they may want to point to the fact that, coming off a 6-10 season in 2002, most experts figured them for a middle-of-the-road team with an 8-8 record. When fans look back, they'll remember four losses to teams with 4-12 records. Why the difference? The coaches and players know this year wasn't anything unusual.
Ever since the Vikings lost to the Giants in the 2000 NFC title game, the descent into the abyss has been pronounced. Even that was a game many thought the Vikings would win -- despite being a road game. Since then, the wins have been harder to come by, especially those that are deemed as locks.
This year was excruciating for the Vikings, who lost games to the four worst teams in the NFL -- the Chargers, Raiders, Cardinals and Giants. In April's draft, the first hour will be spent by teams that beat the Vikings restocking their depleted shelves. But should this come as a surprise?
In 2002, the Vikings and then-new coach Mike Tice had high hopes for the team. The schedule makers had done them a favor. Their first five opponents appeared to have no chance for the playoffs -- none of them finished above .500 -- and the Vikings could get some momentum going before hitting the tough part of their schedule. The result? The Vikings went 0-for-September, including losses to the Bears (4-12), Carolina (7-9) and the Seahawks (7-9), with the losses to the Panthers and Bills coming at home.
Let's not forget 2001 either, when the Vikings' initial slide into medicority began. Memories are a little short, but that season two of the Vikings' losses came to Carolina and Detroit -- teams that finished 1-15 and 2-14, records that included going 2-1 vs. the Vikings and 1-28 vs. the rest of the NFL.
The good news for the Vikings is that they have turned the corner vs. quality competition. In 2001, the Vikings had a 2-7 record against teams that made the playoffs that year. In 2002, their record was 1-5 vs. playoff teams. This year, that improved to 4-2 -- a better record than all playoff teams except the Patriots.
If the Vikings can find a way to beat the worst of teams, they have a good shot at becoming one of the best of teams. But until that happens, they remain a mystery.
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