The Vikings have reached the midpoint of their season at 5-3 after Thursday night's 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay. Here's a snapshot of where the team stands heading into the season's second half:
THREE PLEASANT SURPRISES
Adrian Peterson: Coming off major knee surgery, Peterson has an NFL-best 914 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns and appears to be getting only stronger. He's on pace to rush for 1,550 yards, and his 5.1 yards-per-carry average is a career best.
Special teams: Percy Harvin's 35.7 yards per kickoff return ranks third the NFL. But the real surprise has been rookie Blair Walsh. He's 17-for-18 on field goal attempts and has produced 31 touchbacks on 42 kickoffs.
The secondary: A year ago, opposing quarterbacks carved up the Vikings pass defense, completing 68.2 percent of their passes for 4,019 yards with 34 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. In 2012, thanks to a starting quartet of Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, opposing QBs have a 62.8 completion percentage for 1,793 yards with 11 TDs and four picks. The opponents' quarterback rating: 88.3 -- not stellar but significantly down from 107.6 in 2011. Worth keeping a close eye on now: Cook's broken arm could be a huge setback, giving Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson heightened roles.
Christian Ponder's consistency: The quarterback's September-to-October statistical regression was undeniable in several key categories. Ponder had a worse completion percentage (.683-.626), took more sacks (11-8) and committed four times as many turnovers (8-2). So how will the 24-year-old deal with the growing fan anxiety and the daily media inquiry into his confidence levels?
The wide receivers: Percy Harvin (60 catches, 667 yards, three TDs) might be an MVP candidate. But the rest of the receiving corps has combined for 43 catches, 546 yards and two scores, leaving the Vikings as one of the NFC's more one-dimensional offenses.
The schedule: Five of the next seven games are on the road, starting next Sunday at Seattle. Five of the last seven are against NFC North foes. Those four division games against the Packers' explosive offense and the Bears' opportunistic defense suddenly seem as daunting as ever.