There has been a paucity of good news for the Vikings in recent months. The franchise figuratively limped to one of its worst seasons ever, while its franchise player literally limped off the field with a major knee injury. There was an alarming lack of talent and depth at several positions, and it showed in a batch of frustrating losses.


But this is January. The 2011 season is over (for the Vikings), and 2012 is the next big thing. If you want to go full Kool-Aid on next season, here's a big reason to take a huge gulp: the schedule.

Yes, the structured but still rather arbitrary nature of the NFL schedule has swung back in the Vikings favor. While the exact order has yet to be hammered out, we know who the Vikings will play at home and on the road. And while we acknowledge that many of these teams are also looking at the Vikings on their schedule and thinking "win," please do consider many of these to be potentially winnable games for the purple. Outside of the six division games (which, granted, hardly figure to be a picnic), the Vikings have:

Home games against Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Arizona, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

Road games against Washington, St. Louis, Seattle, Houston and Indianapolis.

If you squint just right, you can see a quick-healing Adrian Peterson (or at least a steady Toby Gerhart), an improved Christian Ponder (or at least a running wild Joe Webb), an upgraded offensive line and a couple of key free agent/draft pickups in the secondary returning the franchise, record-wise, back to respectabilty. And if you really want to throw on the rose-colored glasses, you might even see ... dare we say it ... the potential for 9-10 wins and an outside shot at the playoffs?

OK, that might be a little much. But considering the Vikings lost nine games by 7 points or fewer this season, and considering plenty of those opponents figure to be stuck in rebuilding mode for another season, it is not crazy at all to think about approaching or hitting .500 next season.

Or, if you prefer the doom-and-gloom of bottoming out further: The Vikings' strength of schedule figures to be so bad that there's no way they can win any draft tiebreakers.

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