THE ROAD AHEAD
Week 12: at Chicago
Vikings are 1-8 at the new Soldier Field but could catch a break if Jay Cutler's concussion problems persist.
Week 13: at Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers is rounding back into MVP form. WR/returner Randall Cobb might be Percy Harvin 2.0.
Week 14: vs. Chicago
Ponder best be sharp against a defense that has 30 takeaways and seven TDs in its first nine games.
Week 15: at St. Louis
Of all the road games left, this is the one Vikings absolutely have to have if a wild-card berth is to materialize.
Week 16: at Houston
Led by end J.J. Watt, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the Texans might be the class of the AFC.
Week 17: vs. Green Bay Would there be anything better than a regular- season finale with stakes high for both teams?CENTRAL CASTING
A snapshot look at the Vikings' five most prominent cast members this season:
Freak. Of. Nature. The way Peterson is running you get the feeling his goal of posting a 300-yard rushing game isn't that far-fetched. After all, how many other running backs have had reconstructive knee surgery, yet returned the following season to rush for more than 1,100 yards in the first 10 games? Yep, Peterson's success is a testament to his drive and positive energy. He's not only averaging a career-best 5.8 yards per carry, but he also has rushed for 629 yards and five touchdowns in the past four games. If that keeps up and the Vikings stay in playoff contention, the MVP chants can't be far off.
You could call Harvin the Scottie Pippen to Peterson's Michael Jordan. Except that Peterson believes Harvin is like Jordan, too. That comparison may be a slight stretch, but not by much considering Harvin has 773 yards from scrimmage in nine games and remains a dangerous weapon on kickoff returns. Now the Vikings have to hope the dynamic receiver can bounce back from a sprained ankle that kept him out of action last weekend.
He has been extremely calm and collected at times, and he has been flustered and erratic at others. Welcome to the existence of a second-year quarterback. Who knows what Ponder's long-term potential is. But that he seemed so patient and focused in last week's victory over the Detroit Lions is a big step. That performance helped Ponder settle the disquiet surrounding his recent slump. Doing so before the bye week was critical.
With apologies to Jared Allen and Chad Greenway, Winfield is the indisputable defensive MVP. His eight tackles for loss are proof of his hustle and savvy. The defensive back also has two interceptions and seven passes defensed. At 35, he is also providing plenty of veteran guidance. Winfield missed 11 games in 2011 because of neck and collarbone injuries. It's obvious now what the Vikings missed without him.
Well, he has already doubled the win total from 2011 and has the Vikings ready to play meaningful games into December. Frazier has shown that he and his coaching staff have the patience and aptitude to develop young talent. Just as important, the coach has proven he's not too stubborn or rigid to avoid making tweaks to flawed schemes. Frazier's ability to rally his players should not be undervalued. Barring a disastrous collapse and an accompanying mutiny, it's likely he will be back in 2013.