What a Difference a Game Makes

Many of the year-end reports around the NFL are cautioning people to watch out for the Vikings as a sleeper success story in 2003. But, as many teams learned in the NFL, one game can make or break a season.

There were some quiet concerns around the NFL that the first year of the eight-division format would have its problems. The biggest concern was that a team with an 8-8 or possibly 7-9 record could win a division, while an 11-5 or 10-6 team doesn't make the playoffs.

That didn't happen in 2002. The closest you had to that was 10-6 Indianapolis having to go on the road to the 9-7 Jets. However, after a 41-0 drubbing, it doesn't look like the Colts belonged anyway.

One of the teams some insiders are looking at for success next season is the Vikings. With their offensive house in order and a lot of money to spend in free agency, the Vikings could make a big transition in a hurry and, in the NFL, it's proving to be easier to turn a loser into a winner.

Of the 12 teams that qualified for this year's playoffs, only six of them were in the postseason a year ago. And it seems more than ever that one game can change a team's destiny.

If Indy doesn't get a 54-yard field goal to send its game at Denver into overtime and then get a 51-yarder to win it, Denver makes the playoffs and Indy is forced to fight it out with Cleveland for the final wild card spot. One game affected three playoff destinies.

But the Vikings may have made the biggest immediate playoff difference despite not being close to the big dance. If the Vikings beat the Giants at the Metrodome, New York doesn't make the playoffs. If Green Bay beats the Vikings at the dome, their banged up starters get a week to rest and bring a worn-out team into Lambeau Field. If New Orleans beat the Vikings at home, they're in the playoffs. If Miami beat the Vikings, they win the division and the Jets don't even make the playoffs, much less advance to the final eight.

One of the problems the Vikings had in 2002 was playing a full 60 minutes. If they can just turn that stat around in 2003, they could be returning to the playoffs, because, more and more, the turnover of successful teams is getting more pronounced and a playoff fate can be determined in one game.

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