The predictions were as precarious as ever. While many in the national media didn't believe the Vikings would be a playoff team, the opinion was nearly unanimous on what they would have to do if they were going to buck that expert analysis. Winning in September would be the key for several reasons.
The Vikings entered the season tied for 18th in the league's strength of schedule rankings. Their opponents in 2007 averaged a .500 winning percentage in 2006, and September appeared to provide the Vikings with one of the easiest stretches of their schedule.
A season opener against the Atlanta Falcons not only pitted the Vikings against a 7-9 team from last year, but they would also be missing their star quarterback, Michael Vick, because of legal troubles. The Vikings proceeded to knock off the Falcons with a 24-3 victory, but it all went downhill from there.
While Detroit was one of the dregs of the league last year with a 3-13 record, they were able to down the Vikings by taking advantage of a missed 52-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell in the fourth quarter and a fumbled snap in overtime that led Detroit to their game-winning field goal.
Despite a 9-7 record in 2006, the Kansas City Chiefs were winless when they hosted the Vikings on Sept. 23, but they took advantage of a Vikings team frustrated by a questionable call in the first half that took away a touchdown. In the second half, the Chiefs ran away from their first-half rushing attack and connected with enough passes to take down the Vikings, 13-10, while erasing a 10-3 halftime deficit.
Green Bay had an 8-8 record in 2006, but they were riding high when they entered the Metrodome on Sunday. If the Chiefs could exploit the Vikings' pass defense, surely quarterback Brett Favre would be able to do that as well. He did enough of that by throwing for 344 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-16 win to keep the Packers undefeated at 4-0.
While the Vikings' first four games were supposed to be the easy part of their schedule, their opponents' records this year compared to last year further demonstrate how quickly teams can turn around their fortunes from one season to the next. Minnesota's four opponents to date are now a combined 10-6.
"It's disappointing to be 1-3, but we're only a quarter into the season and teams have come back from worse records than we have right now, so that's a positive. That's our attitude right now," safety Darren Sharper said earlier this week.
There is reason for hope. The Vikings' three losses were by a combined 13 points, and they have actually outscored their opponents 67-59 thanks to their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the season.
While the manner in which they lost to Detroit and Kansas City was especially frustrating, it also tells the players that the old axiom of "a few plays make or break a game" is especially true in their case.
"I think that we definitely know that we are closer, and also we are close as a team. If you look at the games that we've lost – a loss is a loss – but to lose in situations where a play here or there and you're on the other side. Sometimes it's not even plays that you make, but a referee's call that can change the aspect of the game," Sharper said. "At the end of the day, it's still a loss and you need to find ways to win those close games. This bye coming right now is at a good time where we can kind of look back and come back. A lot of times from what I've seen it just takes a win to get some momentum going and some energy going and you just take off as a team."
They might have a chance to rectify their record in the coming weeks. Earlier this year, their upcoming four-game stretch looked like the most difficult part of their schedule, but recalibrating that thinking into this year shows a more positive outlook.
They begin with two road games, but with the Vikings coming out of the bye week and the Chicago Bears struggling with issues of their own, that could be a divisional game Minnesota could win despite the Bears being a preseason favorite to win the conference. Right now, the Bears are also 1-3 and they have been outscored 95-60 while struggling in the running game (ranked 27th in the league) and are starting a new quarterback in their 30th-ranked offense.
The Dallas Cowboys are certainly on a roll at 4-0 and considered one of the best teams in the league this year, so that will be a balanced team and an immense challenge for the Vikings, no doubt.
After that, Brad Childress and Company return home for games against the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles and the 1-3 San Diego Chargers, both teams considered preseason contenders but now suddenly struggling.
Preseason predictions are often wrong, and that appears to be the case when analyzing the toughest and easiest parts of the Vikings' first half of 2007. The first four teams that were supposed to be bad are now 10-6. Their next four opponents that were supposed to be contenders are now a combined 7-9 with three teams that have a 1-3 record.
Preseason Predictions Prove Wrong
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