Minnesota Vikings 2012: Can This Team Compete in a Tough NFC North?

Matthew Gille@@matthewggilleContributor IAugust 3, 2012

Success potential for the Vikings lands squarely on Ponder
Success potential for the Vikings lands squarely on PonderHannah Foslien/Getty Images

At first glance, the Minnesota Vikings look destined for another dismal season, but could they surprise people in 2012?

Las Vegas has the Vikings finishing dead last in the NFC North for the third straight season, and most people would believe that. The Vikings have questions at nearly every position, and some experts have the Vikings finishing the season with the worst record in the NFL.

Personally, I don’t think the Vikings will finish with the worst record in the NFL, and I’ll tell you why.

First, the Vikings have a very favorable schedule to start the season. They open at home against a re-building Jacksonville Jaguar team followed by a road game at Indianapolis. Both games are very winnable, and a 2-0 beginning is not that big of a stretch.

Week 3 brings the 49ers to Mall of America Field and the return of the mercurial Randy Moss. Week 4 has the Vikings traveling to Detroit to face Matthew Stafford and Megatron. Both games look like losses on paper, and 2-2 after four games seems logical.

Over the next five weeks, the Vikings face Tennessee, Washington, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Seattle, in that order. Three of the five games take place on home turf with the Vikings squaring off against Washington and Seattle on the road. Each game is winnable, and with a stroke of good luck, the Vikings could be 7-2 at this point.

A 7-2 record and a five-game winning streak is very optimistic for a team that finished 3-13 in 2011, but each team mentioned during the streak may have a young and inexperienced quarterback at the helm of its offense, making each game winnable for the Vikings.

Week 10 is when the nightmare truly begins for the Vikings. Detroit pays a visit to Minnesota in week 10 to very possibly hand the Vikings a loss and second consecutive sweep of the season series as the Vikings head into a Week 11 bye.

After the bye, the schedule brutality continues for the Vikings as they travel to Soldier Field in Week 12 and Lambeau Field in Week 13. The Vikings rarely win at either stadium, so chalk up two more losses.

The 7-5 Vikings return home in Week 14 to face the Bears before hitting the road for two more weeks against St. Louis and Houston, respectively. The Vikings most likely win one game in this stretch against either Chicago or St. Louis and lose to a loaded and possibly Super Bowl-bound Houston Texans team, leaving the Vikings with an 8-7 record at this point.

Week 17 for the Vikings has the hated Green Bay Packers coming to Minnesota for the final game of the season, which begs the question of whether the game will have meaning for Green Bay. Will the Packers have the division wrapped up at this point? If so, this game is winnable for the Vikings because the Packers will be resting their players, and 9-7 could be good enough for a wild card spot in the NFC.

So, to answer the question of whether the Vikings can compete in the NFC North in 2012, the answer is yes. Many things have to come together for the Vikings in order for this to happen, but the NFL is a funny league and each season we watch previously bad teams rise above and challenge for the playoffs. The Vikings could be one of them.

Pluses for the Vikings include a favorable early schedule for a youthful squad, in which they could gain confidence, a very strong defensive line anchored by Jared Allen and a Week 11 bye week providing much-needed rest for players.

Cons include big holes at two of the linebacker positions with the departure of Ben Leber in 2011 and E.J. Henderson in 2012, a defensive backfield filled with inexperience and a very tough division.

A lot has to happen in order for the Vikings to be able to compete in the NFC North in 2012, and a more likely scenario has the Vikings finishing anywhere from 5-11 to 7-9. But, with a little luck, the return of Adrian Peterson to full health and strong play from Christian Ponder, the Vikings could sneak up on people.