This has been a lost season since the Vikings started 0-4, and it's sad to say the past six games haven't help us find many answers. If there's any wish over the final six games -- in which the Vikings don't figured to be favored in any, since all but one are against teams with at least a .500 record and the other is a road game -- it's to gain some clarity in three big areas:

1) Is Christian Ponder the QB of the future? Our gut says he can be, and the Vikings' investment in him says he will be. Right now, he's playing behind a tattered offensive line and throwing to a group of pass-catchers who rarely get open more than 5 yards down the field (more on that in a minute), so his evaluation becomes more tricky. He also seems to be eager to learn and able to adapt. Our hope for Ponder in these next six games, then, is this: Don't get killed or develop bad habits because of the offensive line/receivers; and learn on the fly about which risks are worth taking and which are not. He's shown enough so far to intrigue us; taking another step in these next six games would be a big boost going into 2012.

2) Is Leslie Frazier the long-term answer as head coach? We wrote last week that this year's team -- Frazier included -- is paying for years of roster neglect at some positions (again, more on that later) and for loading up on veteran talent for a run at the Super Bowl under Brett Favre. Again, we can't fault that strategy because it almost worked. But the reckoning has come and the talent level just isn't where it needs to be. While Frazier gets a pass on that, there are still some troubling things on the field -- missed assignments, poor organization, careless penalties, curious clock management at times -- to make fans want to see more growth from Frazier in the next six games. He should consider it a second audition. He took his six games at the end of the season last year and turned them into a full-time job. We're not saying he needs to set the NFL on fire to keep it, but his grip on HIS team down this stretch will be telling for Vikings fans looking for reasons to be optimistic heading into 2012.

3) Use the next six games as a battle at several positions and make a rock-solid plan in terms of off-season upgrade priorities. By some combination of the draft and free agency, the Vikings need an overhaul at several spots. At this point, our priority list goes like this: A) Offensive line. B) Secondary. C) Wide receiver. D) Linebacker. If the Vikings spent all their draft picks on nothing but those spots -- heck, even the first three ... shoot, even the first two -- we would not complain at all. They cannot properly evaluate Ponder in Year 2 without giving him better protection and upgraded targets. Right now, it's a vicious cycle. If more players are sent out on receiving routes, fewer are available to block and Ponder has less time; if more players are kept in to pick up blocking duties, fewer are available to run routes and Ponder makes bad decisions to force throws. Fixing the offensive line is the bigger priority, in our mind, because better protection can make receivers better more easily than good receivers can make protection better.

Your thoughts on all of this, as usual, in the comments.

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