The Vikings late bye week has ended, and the team is back to work preparing for the Chicago Bears to kick off the last six games of the season. There has been much talk since the schedules were released about how brutal the last six games are going to be, with four of six being road games, as well as four of six being against the two tougher divisional opponents, the Bears and Packers. There’s no doubt that this six game stretch will be difficult, but the way the Vikings schedule was arranged this season – late bye week with the majority of divisional games packed into the weeks following – may actually end up being a blessing in disguise for the Purple.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Vike’s schedule was not quite as easy as it should have been for a team that was 3-13 last year, but leading up to the bye week the only truly difficult game on paper was week three against the 49’ers. The first ten weeks allowed the handful of rookie starters to feel out the NFL and get into the swing of things, and as of right now it looks like they’ve got it down. Christian Ponder also had time to go through his sophomore slump, hopefully coming out of it for good two weeks ago against Detroit. He should emerge from the bye week ready to go, and will hopefully look a lot more like he did the first five games than he did the following four. Other than Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, and perhaps Letroy Guion (Chris Cook excluded), the team is mostly healthy and should be well rested and reenergized, ready to make a push for the playoffs. Now let’s take a look forward at the remaining six games of the season.
In the next three weeks the Vikings will head to Soldier Field to face the Bears, followed by a trip to Lambeau against the Packers, and then will host the Bears at home in the Metrodome. Nothing about that is easy. Divisional games against the Bears and Packers are always tough, and both teams have been playing fairly well this season, at least well enough to have a better record than the Vikings. The bright side of playing the Bears at this point in the season is that they’ve been struggling lately. After a dominant start to the season, they’ve had a rough few weeks, losing to the Texans and 49’ers, as well as losing Cutler to a concussion. This is as perfect a time as there will ever be for the Vikings to head to Soldier Field where they’ve only won twice since 2000. The Packers on the other hand started off relatively poorly, but have been confidently making their way back to challenge the Bears for the division title. While they’ve looked good as of late, they don’t seem to be anything the Vikings can’t handle.
Other than the four divisional games remaining, there are two tough road games against the Rams and Texans. Neither game will be easy, with the Texans being dominant all season, and the Rams seeming to come alive in the past few weeks despite a slow start. While this six game stretch is not the most ideal way to end a season, it should do well to prepare the Vikings for the playoffs. If they can pull out enough wins to reach the playoffs, they will have earned the right to be there, having beaten enough quality teams under tough circumstances. If they don’t do well in the next six weeks then they probably wouldn’t have fared well in the playoffs anyway. As fans, we’ll just have to take it week by week and temper our expectations. However this coming Sunday against Chicago is crucial, and depending on how the Vikings play, we’ll all have a better idea of what we’ll be seeing at the end of the season and (maybe) into the postseason.