Patience Key to 2006 Success

The start of the 2006 season won't be easy for the Vikings, but if they can survive the early onslaught of quality opponents, once they get past the initial barrage, the Vikings could have smooth sailing in the final two months of the season.

The schedule makers always seem to find a way to mess with NFL teams -- whether it be stacking three consecutive road games or putting quality opponents in bunches.

For the Vikings in 2006, the buzz words may be to hold in September and October and make a big run in November and December. Why? Because as the leaves turn color in October, so may the Vikings fortunes.

Based on last year's records, the Vikings have the fourth-easiest schedule in the league -- ahead of only the Seahawks, Packers and Bears for the league's easiest schedule. The Vikings' opponents were a combined 117-139 a year ago, but to look at the first half of the schedule that might be hard to believe.

In 2005, the Vikings played seven games against teams that made the playoffs, mustering just a 2-5 record. Those two wins came against the Giants (in which the Vikings offense didn't score a point in a 24-21 win) and the Bears (who laid down most of their starters in the regular-season finale). This year, the Vikings play six games against teams that made the playoffs a year ago, but they are bunched together early in the season -- making it critical to have the team stay together and strong during a brutal opening schedule.

The first three opponents on the 2006 slate were all playoff teams a year ago -- the Redskins, Panthers and Bears. After games vs. the Bills and Lions before the bye week, the Vikings return for a couple of tough matchups with the Seahawks and Patriots to close out the month of October. But, once that is done, the sailing gets considerably easier.

From Nov. 1 on, the Vikings play only one playoff team from a year ago (a Dec. 3 rematch with the Bears). Shockingly, the Vikings play nine of their games against teams that lost 10 games or more in 2005, including each of the last four. The distinct possibility exists that if the Vikings can head into November with a 4-3 or even a 3-4 record, they could remain favorites to win 10 games.

While more is expected of teams like the Cardinals, Dolphins, Lions and Rams -- all part of the Vikings' second-half schedule -- if the Vikings can get on a roll early and post a solid record coming out of the bye week, few teams have a schedule that lays out better than the Vikes do for the second half of 2006.

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