Forget September. The key to the Vikings' season, their coach's future and any stadium momentum hinges on a tough five-game stretch from mid-October to mid-November.
Even if Vikings coach Brad Childress did outfox that novice, Bill Belichick, for the services of the game-breaking Garrett Mills, it's tough to find more than seven victories on the Vikings' schedule.
If Troy Williamson wears his new Nike X-ray vision contacts, Darrell Bevell incorporates this newfangled strategery called the forward pass and Adrian Peterson wears a jersey made of bubble wrap, the Vikings might be able to improve on their 6-10 finish of last year.
In terms of franchise health and coaching job security, seven or fewer victories would be a problem, though. Seven victories would make Childress 13-19 in two seasons following two seasons in which the frequently scapegoated Mike Tice went 17-15 in the regular season and won a playoff game.
That's why potential TV blackouts shouldn't be the Vikings' foremost concern. The most daunting obstacle to franchise health is the stretch of five games beginning Oct. 14 and ending Nov. 11.
Those games could make or break Childress, could advance or negate the possibility of stadium negotiations, could convince owner Zygi Wilf that he is on the right track or that the cause is hopeless.
It's easy to focus on the game Sunday against the Falcons because it is the game at hand. Realistically, though, if the Vikings are merely competent, they should emerge from the first month of the season with two or three victories.
They start at home against Atlanta without Michael Vick and with Joey Harrington, a bad team in turmoil. Week 2 is a game in Detroit against the Lions, whom the Vikings have beaten 10 consecutive times even while fielding mostly mediocre teams.
Week 3 is a trip to Kansas City, a tough place to play, but the Chiefs are not an elite NFL team. In Week 4, the Packers come to town to renew a series that has been remarkably even. (Tice won his last three games vs. Green Bay; Childress is 0-2.)
If the Vikings falter against that competition, they never had a chance to begin with. If they survive September, the real work begins.
After a bye Oct. 7, the Vikings play at Chicago, at Dallas, home against the Eagles and Chargers, and at Green Bay.
The Vikings' problems slow ticket sales, stadium inertia, fan apathy will be exacerbated or solved during this stretch.
After Nov. 11, the schedule becomes manageable. The Vikings finish the season with games against Oakland, the Giants, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Denver.
Remember, this is a team that appeared to quit on Childress last year when the going got tough, which means that key five-game stretch could be his Waterloo.
Why wait for October to break down the five games in question?
Oct. 14 at Chicago: This could be the worst day of Tarvaris Jackson's professional life. Or Kelly Holcomb's. Or Brooks Bollinger's. Or Tyler Thig ... (never mind).
Oct. 21 at Dallas: Wade Phillips might not be a great head coach, but he knows how to run a defense. As for Jackson (or Holcomb or Bollinger): see above.
Oct. 28 vs. Philadelphia: The Eagles check in on their old friend Childress. Maybe they can loan him more of that surplus Philly offensive talent, such as Mike McMahon, Artis Hicks and Billy McMullen.
Nov. 4 vs. San Diego: The Chargers have the best offensive talent in football and a genuine offensive guru in Norv Turner running the show. The Chargers will find a way to get the ball to LT (LaDainian Tomlinson) in space; the Vikings will find a way to get the ball to JD (Jeff Dugan) in a crowd.
|Atlanta - LP: A. Wood||0||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - WP: A. Bastardo||1|
|Cleveland - LP: D. Salazar||5||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: J. Verlander||7|
|Toronto - LP: R. Dickey||0||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: K. Gibson||7|
|Seattle - LP: J. Beimel||6||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: P. Figueroa||8|
|Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - LP: M. Bumgarner||1|
|Colorado - WP: F. Morales||3||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: I. Kennedy||1|
|NY Yankees||10||Top 9th Inning|
|Toronto||5||Bottom 8th Inning|
|Boston||1||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Kansas City||5||Top 8th Inning|
|Chicago||3||3rd Prd 12:43|
|Minnesota||1||1st Prd 2:31|
|Los Angeles||9:30 PM|