However, the Vikings will have to ramp up their "A" game if they intend to three-peat as NFC North champions because they're going to be facing one of the most difficult schedules in the league this coming season.
In 2009, the Vikings played just five games against teams that made the playoffs the previous year. Their record in those games was less-than-stellar, finishing with a 2-3 record in those games. They lost to Pittsburgh, Arizona and Carolina and needed a missed field goal by former Viking Steve Hauschka to get a win over Baltimore. While they pounded the Giants in the regular-season finale, it was clear the Giants were resting players who were injured and didn't exactly put their best foot forward. When it came to playing the league's top teams from the previous year, the Vikings were far from dominant. The bad news there is that it gets worse in 2010. Much worse.
Of the 16 opponents on the Vikings' schedule for 2010, eight of them are going to be against teams that made the 2009 playoffs. Even more troubling than having half of your opponents among the 11 other teams that made the playoffs, five of those eight games are on the road.
The Vikings will play three games against playoff teams from this past season at the Metrodome – Green Bay, Dallas and Arizona – but their road slate includes a whopping five playoff opponents – Green Bay, Philadelphia, New England, the New York Jets and New Orleans.
When you include teams that many believed would be playoff teams in 2009 before injuries took a toll on their teams – Chicago, the New York Giants and Miami – the 2010 schedule is a veritable Murderer's Row of opponents.
There were some who questioned the Vikings' true power in 2009 due to the lack of consistent quality opposition. In their first five games of the season, the Vikings had games with Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and St. Louis – teams that were all but eliminated from playoff contention by Thanksgiving. After their bye week, the Vikings played only one team (Arizona) in their final eight games that eventually made the playoffs.
Although the dates for the 2010 schedule won't be released until early April, when half of your schedule is against teams that made the playoffs, it will be virtually impossible to avoid playing elite teams on a near-weekly basis. In 2009, the Vikings played just six games against teams that finished the season with records above .500 and five games against teams that lost 10 or more games. Based on the records from this year, in 2010 the Vikings will play eight games against teams that had winning records (seven of those with 10 or more wins) and just four games against teams that lost 10 or more games.
Defending division titles is never easy (unless you're the Colts), but the Vikings may be facing one of the most difficult challenges in recent history as they attempt to lock down their third straight division title. If they do, they will truly have earned it, because there will be a lot of land mines in between them and a title trifecta.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.