It's time to put up or shut up.
When the season began, most people seemed to feel that if the Vikings went 8-8, it would be cause for celebration. They were considered a rebuilding team with a young and unproven quarterback, a couple of elite offensive players and a defense trying to get younger.
Then they beat the San Francisco 49ers to kick off three straight wins, and the bar was raised.
So, here we sit at 6-5 and coming off a disappointing loss to the current divisional leaders, the Chicago Bears.
Now, they must get ready for a very tough final stretch of schedule. There is this week's match against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, then a second game against Chicago followed by trips to St Louis and Houston before finishing up against the Packers again at the Metrodome.
This is the proving ground the Vikings have in front of them, and how they handle the games will go a long way towards chalking this season up as a success or not.
Notice I didn't say "how many they win." Winning is good and could get them into the playoffs. However, winning isn't the only barometer to measure this team by. In fact, it might not even be the most important thing.
Given the uneven way this team has played, a strong showing in each of the next five games is at least as important as winning.
You can't have walked away from the loss to Chicago with anything but a bad taste in your mouth, as across the board, there was little to be positive about. The worst aspect of it was how lackluster the team was.
It's a divisional game, in a hostile venue, with a piece of first place on the line and they come out that flat?
This team can still make the playoffs, but really, it's more important to play hard, regardless of outcome.
While the team certainly is rebuilding, it has already made great strides, which is why it even has a shot at a playoff slot and an outside chance to win the division.
The downside is that it finds itself perhaps playing with more pressure than it is ready for. Yes, guys like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield and Jared Allen are veterans who can help steady the team, but Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond are young and perhaps not quite ready.
The inconsistency you see in the Vikings is largely because huge chunks of the team haven't been in this position in the NFL before.
So we get these growing pains, these flat games when the team doesn't handle the pressure well.
Well, it's time to see if the team is as good as we thought early on. It's time to see if the Vikings are ready to try for the next step.
It's time to see if guys like Ponder can step up and lead this team under difficult circumstances. Let's see if they can fight through a whole 60 minutes, even in a losing effort, and not mail it in as they have in some games this year.
This last five games will tell us a lot about the 2012 Vikings.
It may tell us even more about the 2013 Vikings.
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