When the Vikings' schedule was released last week, eternal optimists saw a window of opportunity, a seemingly soft itinerary and a sudden opening on the path back to NFL relevance. After all, the Vikings' first two games -- vs. Jacksonville on Sept. 9 and at Indianapolis the following Sunday -- come against teams that went a combined 7-25 in 2011.
Here we come, quick start. And what about that stretch of winnable October home games against Tennessee, Arizona and Tampa Bay?
You can hear those 8-8 bells ringing now.
Of course, the great equalizer in all this hopefulness is the reminder that the Vikings still reside in the NFC North, a powerful division that very well could produce three playoff teams in 2012. Keep in mind, the Vikings have lost 11 of their 12 division games the past two seasons.
So just what might Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago do in the draft to enhance their power? Here's a look:
Draft summary: Doesn't seem fair. A team that went 15-1 last season has 12 overall picks and six in the top 135.
Top pick: Selecting 28th in the first round, the Packers might covet Boise State's Shea McClellin, a versatile player who could flourish as an outside linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 defense. Keep in mind, the Packers need to enhance their pass rush after allowing a league-most 412 yards per game in 2011 while compiling only 29 sacks (fifth worst in the NFL). Translation: Clay Matthews needs help applying pressure. Keep an eye on McClellin plus a pair of defensive tackles -- Michigan State's Jerel Worthy and Connecticut's Kendall Reyes -- as possible early targets.
Other needs: With Matt Flynn now in Seattle, Green Bay will have to decide whether it is comfortable with Graham Harrell as Aaron Rodgers' backup or whether it would like to find a better No. 2 option this weekend. Safety Nick Collins was released after a serious neck injury, and General Manager Ted Thompson might seek help at that position as well.
Draft summary: For only the third time since 2001, the Lions don't own a top 10-pick. Overall, they have seven selections.
Top pick: Detroit likely will grab a defensive back at No. 23. Eric Wright's departure to Tampa Bay via free agency leaves an opening for a starting cornerback, and there's an obvious need to upgrade a secondary that allowed 466 passing yards in a playoff loss to New Orleans. Alabama safety Mark Barron is on the Lions' radar. Corners Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) and Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) also would be fantastic gets if still available.
Other needs: An aging offensive line needs to be addressed, especially with left tackle Jeff Backus recovering from biceps surgery. The Lions also need to find some complementary parts on offense, and they likely will seek a running back in the middle rounds to provide insurance for Jahvid Best's questionable durability. Receiver help would be a plus, too.
Draft summary: The Bears have seven picks, one each in the middle of every round.
Top pick: At No. 19, Chicago might hope Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd falls that far. But if he doesn't, look for the Bears to target a promising defensive end -- maybe Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, North Carolina's Quinton Coples or Syracuse's Chandler Jones -- defensive tackle Michael Brockers of LSU, or an offensive tackle like Stanford's Jonathan Martin.
Other needs: The Bears added offensive firepower and depth in free agency, landing Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall plus talented backups at running back (Michael Bush) and quarterback (Jason Campbell). But the biggest lesson learned in 2011 is they have to find ways to refurbish their O-line to keep Jay Cutler healthy. Also, finding valuable reinforcements at defensive tackle, linebacker and safety will be on the wish list.
|San Diego||10/23/14 7:25 PM|
|Detroit||10/26/14 8:30 AM|
|Buffalo||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Minnesota||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Seattle||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Miami||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Chicago||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Philadelphia||10/26/14 3:05 PM|
|Oakland||10/26/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||10/26/14 3:25 PM|
|Green Bay||10/26/14 7:30 PM|
|New Orleans||6:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||8:30 PM|
|Arkansas State||10/21/14 7:00 PM|
|Connecticut||10/23/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina|
|Miami-Florida||10/23/14 7:00 PM|
|So Florida||10/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||10/24/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||10/24/14 8:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||10/24/14 9:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|UAB||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Rutgers||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Minnesota||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Memphis||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|North Carolina||10/25/14 11:30 AM|
|San Jose St||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|(25) UCLA||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Akron||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ohio U||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/25/14 1:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Miss State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Michigan||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Boston College||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|UNLV||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||10/25/14 4:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona||10/25/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Wyoming||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Syracuse||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas State||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|(3) Ole Miss||10/25/14 6:15 PM|
|(4) Alabama||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(13) Ohio State||10/25/14 7:00 PM|
|(20) USC||10/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(14) Arizona State||10/25/14 9:45 PM|
|Nevada||10/25/14 10:59 PM|
|Aug 8 - vs. Oakland||7 pm||X||10-6|
|Aug 16 - vs. Arizona||7:30 pm||X||30-28|
|Aug 23 - at Kansas City||7 pm||X||30-12|
|Aug 28 - at Tennessee||7 pm||X||19-3|
|2014 regular season|
|Sep 7 - at St. Louis||Noon||X||34-6|
|Sep 14 - vs. New England||Noon||X||30-7|
|Sep 21 - at New Orleans||Noon||X||20-9|
|Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta||3:25 pm||X||41-28|
|Oct 2 - at Green Bay||7:25 pm||X||42-10|
|Oct 12 - vs. Detroit||Noon||X||17-3|
|Oct 19 - at. Buffalo||Noon||X||17-16|
|Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay||Noon|
|Nov 2 - vs. Washington||Noon|
|Nov 9 - Bye|
|Nov 16 - at Chicago||Noon|
|Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay||Noon|
|Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina||Noon|
|Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets||Noon|
|Dec 14 - at Detroit||Noon|
|Dec 21 - at Miami||Noon|
|Dec 28 - vs. Chicago||Noon|