Playoffs or Bust?

What is the benchmark of a successful season? Finishing 9-7 coming off a 6-10 season in 2006? Or is it a matter of "playoffs of bust" for the 2007 Vikings? Team members share their opinions on the level of success the 2007 Vikings have enjoyed and whether 2007 can be viewed as a success -- even if the team doesn't make the playoffs.

At the beginning of the 2007 season, there were a lot of people who didn't believe the Vikings would be anywhere close to the playoff chase. Many of the industry experts predicted the Vikings to finish last in the NFC North and most of those foresaw double-digit losses. When the Vikings got out of the gate 2-5, there was little reason to disagree with that early assessment.

But, as the Vikings prepare for their final regular-season game Sunday at Denver, they still have playoff hopes. While the team missed a golden opportunity last Sunday to clinch a playoff spot, the hope remains that, with a little help from the Cowboys, the Vikings can still make the postseason.

Clearly the Vikings have taken steps in the right direction, but will the 2007 season be viewed as a success if the team doesn't make the playoffs? That depends on who you ask.

"We came into this season looking to make the playoffs," safety Darren Sharper said. "If we don't, I'm not sure you can call the season a success. We will have failed to reach our goal. Are we a better team that we were in 2006? I don't think there's any doubt about that. But unless we make the playoffs, I don't see this season as being successful."

Part of the improvement the Vikings enjoyed this season came from an influx of young talent. Not only did the team have an outstanding rookie class that included significant contributions from Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Marcus McCauley, Brian Robison and Aundrae Allison, but also from second-year man Chad Greenway – who missed all of his rookie season due to injury.

For a player who was forced to watch the 6-10 Vikings from the sidelines, seeing the improvements the 2007 season has brought, the promise for the future has Greenway noticing the steps the Vikings are taking and the foundation that is being built, which, in his mind, would qualify as making 2007 a successful season.

"We are obviously much improved from last year in many areas," Greenway said. "The way we started this year is much different from the way we have finished. If we can win this last game, we have a shot at the playoffs, which I don't think too many people other than us thought was possible a couple of months ago. From that perspective, I'd say we've improved, but all we're really concerned with right now is beating Denver."

That sentiment is shared by wide receiver Bobby Wade, who was signed during free agency to help a struggling Vikings receiver corps. While the passing game would best be described as an ongoing work in progress, the improvement from 6-10 to 8-7 at this point has the season looking like a success in his eyes.

"First and foremost, we've been able to improve from last year's record," Wade said. "I didn't come here with any personal expectations in terms of numbers (for receptions and yardage), I was just trying to find a role to play on the team. More importantly, when it comes to the number of wins we have, you have to view it at that level as being a success. If we can win Sunday and make the playoffs, I would say there would be no question that this season will be viewed as a success."

But not all players share the sentiment of a better record than the previous year being a sign of success. Regardless of how the Vikings got to this point, for many of them, anything short of meeting the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs would be viewed as a failure.

"Making improvements and making strides in the right direction are important, but if we don't make the playoffs, me and everyone else on the team will be disappointed," linebacker Ben Leber said. "With the talent we have on this team and as good as I think we are, if we don't make the playoffs, I don't view this as a successful season – even if we finish 9-7."

The issue for players like Leber was the belief that began during the first minicamps of the year – that the Vikings had added enough component parts to reach a realistic goal of making the playoffs, whether as a division champion or a wild card. The playoffs were the goal and, falling short of that, while technically an improvement, isn't enough to brand the season a success.

"We may be a better team than we were a year ago, but came into this year knowing we had the talent to be a playoff team," Leber said. "We can finish with a better record and show improvement in that way, but with the players we have if we don't make the playoffs, it will be viewed more as a disappointment than a success."

So, as the Vikings head into Invesco Field at Mile High for their final regular-season game, getting a win is the only goal that matters. While it may be their final game of the season, they remain optimistic that 9-7 will be enough to get the Vikings into the playoffs, where everyone goes to 0-0 and anything can happen.

"With the talent we have in here, I'd say it's playoffs or bust," Ferguson said. "Our goal wasn't just to make it to the playoffs, it was to finish 1-0. We want to end our season on a winning note regardless. We definitely want to get into the dance and, if not, we didn't accomplish our goals."

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