Last year, the Vikings needed to rebound from a 1-3 start and fight their way to a 10-6 record, winning the division and earning the first playoff appearance of the Brad Childress era. So far, the only loss for the Vikings this year was a 27-17 defeat to the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers in Pittsburgh. The fact that the Vikings had a great opportunity to win that game in the fourth quarter before two turnovers that were returned for touchdowns left the team with confidence that it can play with anyone.
"Man, this confidence is so high. I can't even lie about the feeling in here," cornerback Benny Sapp said Monday before leaving for Florida. "Everybody is talking trash every day – good trash. I know I'm a trash-talker and when you've got 52 other guys talking trash, it's like, wow."
Vikings coach Brad Childress continues to talk about what a great group of players he is working with, citing their ability to enjoy each other and work hard. But winning breeds confidence more than anything, something that Percy Harvin knows well from his National Championship days at the University or Florida. He, too, is feeling good about where the Vikings stand in his rookie season.
"Tremendously (confident). We lost one game to a team we felt we could have had that game. We're 7-1, so we'll come back and hopefully finish it strong. But we're tremendously confident and feel we can play with anybody," he said. "I won't say we think we're the best (team). We know we're a powerful team and we know we're good. With all that said, I don't get into whether we think we're the best or anything, but I know we're a confident team right now."
The Vikings came into the season with high hopes on both side of the football. They had the defending NFL rushing champion in Adrian Peterson and a future Hall of Fame quarterback coming to solidify that position. Brett Favre's presence there has only helped accentuate the talent of the wide receivers.
On defense, the Vikings returned all but one starter (Darren Sharper) from a defense that finished first against the run last year and had one of the league's best pass rushes.
However, preseason confidence can often be smacked by reality. But this year, the Vikings have won every game they've been favored to win and upset Green Bay Sunday in Lambeau Field, although some Vikings fans would debate the wisdom of placing a 4-2 Packers team as favorites over a 6-1 Vikings team, even if it was in Green Bay.
"It was a huge win for where we're trying to get," defensive end Jared Allen said of beating Green Bay. "Huge, especially coming off a loss. You don't want back-to-back losses. You look at a team like the Giants right now. They started out great and I think they have three consecutive (losses). You don't want to hit that slide. You want to learn from your shortcomings and really move forward."
The win over Green Bay gave the Vikings a 2½-game lead over the Packers and Chicago Bears, and Minnesota essentially has a three-game lead over Green Bay because they swept the season series.
With every win comes a little bit more confidence.
"We had confidence at the beginning, but it's built over the last five or six weeks. It's gotten even better," said receiver Sidney Rice. "Even with the loss to Pittsburgh, we learned more about each other. We're not going to lay down for anybody. We understand it's a team sport. Things will happen on the defense and sometimes we'll have to pick that slack up for them. And sometimes the offense won't produce and we'll have to depend on our defense. We really understand now that it's a team sport. In order to be successful, it's going to take all three phases of the game."
So far, the Vikings have found success on offense, defense and special teams. The offense is ranked 10th in the NFL (12th in both rushing and receiver) and the defense is ranked 19th (seventh against the run and 23rd against the pass). They also have the best starting position in the NFL following kickoffs (the 34.9-yard line) and the second-best average on kickoff returns.
The defense has survived the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield for the last two games and the passing game on offense is coming together nicely with Favre calling (and throwing) the shots on the field.
"I knew we had the potential to be a real good team. But with everybody getting on the same page, having the communication that we have now, it's much better than I thought it would be," Rice said.
"I feel like we can play with any team in this league. There are a lot of great teams in this league and I feel like we're right up there with the best of them. We're going to continue to work. We still want to get better. We noticed a lot of things we can work on. … I'm just hoping that everybody comes back focused with the same mind frame that we have when we leave."
Sapp echoed the confidence and, like Rice, knows that the focus after the players return from bye has to continue if they want to reach their highest goals.
"I think we're one of the (teams) that's at the top right now. We're playing good ball right now," he said. "Hopefully we go back home, get the appropriate rest and come back and go on another eight-game streak."
MORE HISTORY AT LAMBEAU
Some stats from Elias Sports Bureau after Favre's win at Lambeau Field:
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.