When the complete NFL schedule comes out, with order of games established, many of us — myself included — try to assess weak points and strong points. With the Vikings in particular, we looked at a five-game stretch in the early-middle of the season as an opportunity for the Vikings to go on a run.
The sentiment was that the Vikings needed to go at least 4-1, maybe 5-0, against the Chiefs, Lions, Bears, Rams and Raiders in order to contend. The Vikings, indeed, went 5-0 — not by thinking of all the games collectively as an opportunity but by espousing the “one game at a time” cliche that really is a necessary mindset on a consistent team.
Head coach Mike Zimmer again Wednesday professed his admiration for teams and coaches that are able to do that — those who are never too high after a win, never too down after a loss, always with the mentality of learning but quickly moving on.
As such, this next stretch of games for the Vikings presents an opportunity on a couple of fronts for Zimmer and his players to prove they are such a team.
Many of us have been pointing to this two-game stretch of home games against the Bears and Giants as exceedingly winnable, almost as though the Vikings had a cushion through that tough Green Bay/Seattle/Arizona stretch because they had these games in reserve. It’s dangerous, of course, to think of winnable games as wins in the bank. The games still need to be played, one at a time, against opponents who are flawed but still dangerous.
The Vikings will be favored in both games and therefore it will be considered that they should win both games, but there is no fast-forward button that gets to Week 17 with a 10-5 record, a playoff berth secured, and a chance to beat Green Bay for the NFC North title.
If the Vikings are too future-forward and have been thinking about these games like we’ve been thinking about these games, they will find trouble on the next two Sundays. They will find double trouble if they are also stuck in the past, unable to shake off their two most recent home games (blowout losses) or the frustrating final 13 seconds at Arizona.
As such, this is a great test of Zimmer’s leadership and philosophy. He believes he has a smart team. He believes he has a good team. He believes they will be focused on nothing more than Sunday.
The Vikings have been good at not letting disappointment carry over from one week to the next so far this season. We’ll find out soon if that trend continues at the most critical time of the year.