Hartman: Tough schedule ahead for Vikings

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 10:13 PM

I've been covering the Vikings since their inception and I am sure that the club never had to finish the season with six tougher games than they have this season, starting with next Sunday's big divisional game in Chicago against the Bears.

It's certainly possible that they could finish 0-6 as they close the season, and they might not be favored in a single game.

The combined record of their final six opponents, counting the Bears and Packers twice, is 37-16-1. In addition to the two games against the top two teams in the NFC North, they also play the Houston Texans, who have the best record in the AFC at 8-1. Their lone sub-.500 opponent is the St. Louis Rams, who are 3-5-1. That might seem like the easy game of the schedule, but the Rams are 3-2 at home, with their only losses coming to the Packers and the New England Patriots.

Trying to find weaknesses among the Vikings opponents down the stretch can be difficult.

The Bears (7-1) boast the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL, giving up 307.3 yards per game. Their scoring defense is second at 14.8 points per game, ranking only behind the 49ers. Most notably, they have forced 30 turnovers, tops in the league, and have returned seven interceptions for touchdowns. The hope for the Vikings is that next week, they will get to face Jason Campbell at quarterback instead of Jay Cutler, who suffered a concussion last week and won't play against San Francisco on Monday night. Chicago has the 27th-ranked offense in the NFL, so it will surely help the Vikings' chances if Cutler is out.

The Packers (6-3) have last year's NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers, who has a 107.4 QB rating, which ranks behind only Peyton Manning's 108.0 for the top mark in the league. Rodgers has thrown for 2,383 yards with 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions. And after a slow start to the season, Green Bay has won four in a row.

The Houston Texans have star running back Arian Foster, who has rushed for 872 yards this season, third in the NFL and first in the AFC. The Texans defense is second in the NFL at 281.6 yards per game, and their scoring defense is third at 15.9 points per game.

The Rams are the one team that the Vikings have a chance to be favored against. But still the Rams defeated both Washington and Seattle in St. Louis, two teams the Vikings couldn't defeat, and they tied the 49ers last weekend in San Francisco.

Yes, the Vikings, who have played above expectations to reach their 6-4 record at the bye week, have a very tough road ahead of them. For the club to earn a playoff position, they will have to continue exceeding expectations.

No surprise

The University of Minnesota chartered two planes to Lincoln, Neb., for Saturday's football game with the Cornhuskers. One was for the team, the other was for the donors and boosters.

What the donors saw was how much better the athletic facilities at Nebraska are than at Minnesota, and they should have realized this is why Nebraska has won at least nine games each of the past five seasons while the Gophers have struggled. It's also a big reason why Nebraska has won 16 consecutive games against the Gophers dating to 1963.

Well, the Huskers were a 20-point favorite, and I thought the Gophers did a good job to even make the score respectable at 38-14, especially given how poorly they played in the first half.

Taylor Martinez, the great Nebraska quarterback, completed 17 of 22 passes for 221 yards in the first half. The winners had 444 yards in offense to 177 for the losers. First downs were 25-11. Actually, this was the Gophers' closest loss to Nebraska since a 17-14 loss in 1968, 12 games ago. Their average margin of defeat over the 16-game streak is 31.5 points.

Now the Gophers get Michigan State next week. The Spartans have to win to qualify for a bowl game after losing at home to Northwestern on Saturday.

Seat licenses common

Twins President Dave St. Peter sees nothing wrong with the Vikings talking about selling personal seat licenses. Prior to the opening of Target Field the team limited PSLs to 3,000 in the Legends Club, with licenses selling for $1,000 to $2,000. The Twins raised between $5 million and $6 million this way, earmarked toward ballpark enhancements.

Speaking of tickets, the Twins have renewed more than 80 percent of their 2012 ticket base and are again on pace to exceed more than 20,000 full-season equivalents.

There were two potential future Twins who participated in the Arizona Fall League with Peoria: pitcher Kyle Gibson, who went 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA after seeing full-time action for the first time since his elbow ligament replacement surgery, and Class A outfielder Nate Roberts, who led the league in batting at .446.

Peoria won the league title Saturday, beating Salt River 4-3, and Roberts closed out strong by going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

SID'S JOTTINGS

• With all the talk about the Vikings selling seat licenses at their new stadium, if you're a fan who sits on the floor-level press row at Williams Arena, you pay $7,000 per seat, which includes a contribution to the university.

If John Gagliardi is going to retire and St. John's is interested in hiring Mike Grant, the Eden Prairie football coach and former Johnnies player hasn't heard from school officials.

Ryan Grant, the son of Mike and a linebacker on the Gophers football team, will travel to Australia after the Gophers season is over to continue his graduate studies. Speaking about Grant, linebackers coach Bill Miller said, "I would give the highest recommendation to anybody who wanted to hire Ryan."

Former Gophers hockey player Nico Sacchetti has seven goals and five assists in nine games for HYS the Hague, a team in the Netherlands pro hockey league.

• Riley Dearring, a 6-5, 180-pound guard out of Minnetonka, has signed to play basketball at Wisconsin. Dearring is the lone Minnesotan who inked with Bo Ryan this year.

The Dakota County Technical College Blue Knights men's basketball team, coached by former Minneapolis Community College coach Jay Pivec, in its second year in action, is ranked sixth in the nation.

Former Armstrong and Wisconsin wide receiver David Gilreath was signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers' 53-man roster last week after being a member of the team's practice squad this season.

The Gophers baseball team got a nice commitment out of Nampa, Idaho, when Toby Anderson, who pitches for Skyview High and was a first-team all-state selection last year, signed Thursday. Anderson also had offers from Nebraska and Oregon State, among other programs.

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