There's no doubt the first half of the Vikings' schedule, in which the team went 5-3, was much easier than the second half will be.
On the basis of the Vikings' performance last Thursday in losing 36-17 to Tampa Bay, the second half looks even more difficult. They play at Seattle on Sunday, then at home against Detroit, home-and-home games with the Bears and the Packers and at St. Louis and Houston, which appears to have the best team in the AFC.
You can see the difference in talent just by looking at the 27-33 combined record of the Vikings' first-half opponents vs. the 38-22 combined record of their second-half opponents.
"For us, it is always one game at a time," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said about the imposing upcoming schedule. "Seattle is a tough football team, that's a tough environment to win in, they're 3-0 at home. It's hard for teams to go out there and have success, so that's where our focus has to be."
Looking back to the loss to Tampa Bay, many focused blame on second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, even though he was being rushed relentlessly throughout the game. But while many criticized Ponder, Frazier didn't find fault with him.
"I think he is coming along and still progressing well," Frazier said. "We have to do some things around him to help him. That's what we worked on in this time we've had off, to try and improve in some of the areas and take some of the pressure off of him."
Although the offensive line had trouble handling some of the Bucs' blitzes and forced Ponder to hurry several throws, Frazier said he thought the line has done a good job overall.
"We want to improve this entire second half," he said. "We want to improve our offensive line and our entire team, that's an area we can improve. [Tampa Bay] had success bringing some pressure but we'll learn from it. I think we'll be better for the things we've learned from it."
Seattle is third in the league in points allowed (16.8 per game), but curiously they rank 27th in the league in third down conversions allowed (43.9 percent).
The offensive coordinator for Seattle is Darrell Bevell, who held the same position with the Vikings for five years (2006-2010), and he certainly knows the Vikings defense as well as anybody. But Frazier doesn't believe the teams' familiarity with each other will give either side much of an edge.
"Yes and no, their personnel is so different than when [Bevell] and I worked together," Frazier said. "Just the familiarity of the person more so than the team, I don't know how much it really helps because the team is so different."
Another former Viking in the game Sunday will be Seattle wide receiver Sidney Rice, who is really producing after having some serious shoulder problems. He is their leading receiver with 28 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
"He's playing very well for them," Frazier said. "We'll have our hands full trying to defend him."
While the Vikings still aren't getting much credit, they are tied with the Packers for the fifth-best record in the NFC.
Rough past vs. Michigan
The Gophers football team will try to defeat Michigan at home this Saturday for the first time since 1977, when the Maroon and Gold scored one of the biggest upsets in school history by beating the No. 1-rated Wolverines 16-0.
That year the Little Brown Jug trophy returned to Minnesota for the first time in 10 years and Michigan was shut out for the first time in 113 games. But the Gophers are 2-28 in the series since that victory 35 years ago. Since then they have gone 0-14 at home and 2-14 on the road. They defeated the Wolverines 20-17 in Ann Arbor in 1986 and their last victory in the series came in 2005 with a 23-20 win on a last-second, 30-yard field goal by Jason Giannini.
In looking back at that 1977 season, I'm convinced no Maroon and Gold team has defeated three top teams such as Washington, UCLA and Michigan in the same season since.
The Gophers had lost at Ohio State and Iowa and defeated Northwestern at home before Michigan came to town unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country on Oct. 22, 1977.
The coaches were Cal Stoll for the Gophers and Bo Schembechler for Michigan. The Wolverines were a three-touchdown favorite.
Paul Rogind kicked three field goals and freshman running back Marion Barber Jr. scored one touchdown. Freshman quarterback Mark Carlson, who was being redshirted up until that game, made his first collegiate start and completed six of 10 passes for 60 yards to help the Gophers pull off their huge upset.
Some might be surprised that Las Vegas oddsmakers have Michigan as only a 12 1/2-point favorite. If the Wolverines' great quarterback, Denard Robinson, doesn't play, that line will go down.
Still, maybe the Gophers have a better chance to win than some people think. Over their past six games at home they are 5-1, and they have won six of their past eight at TCF Bank Stadium.
• This week the Gophers face Michigan, coached by Brady Hoke, who was a top candidate for the Gophers job before Jerry Kill was hired. And the Vikings face the Seahawks, coached by Pete Carroll, who at one time was thought to have the Vikings job before Dennis Green was hired.
• Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf, who lives in New Jersey and operates a big real estate business on the East Coast, said there was no damage from Superstorm Sandy to their homes, except no power or phone service, and little damage to their business.
• Vikings becoming free agents in 2013 include linebackers Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell, offensive linemen Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger and Geoff Schwartz, safety Jamarca Sanford, wide receivers Devin Aromashodu and Jerome Simpson and running back Jerome Felton. Some of the big boys -- including Percy Harvin, Brian Robison and Jared Allen -- become free agents at the end of the 2014 season.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org