When the 2012 NFL schedule came out and listed the Vikings not playing the Packers and the Bears until the final six games -- in a stretch that included road contests at St. Louis and Houston -- nobody in their right mind thought a team that was 3-13 last year would go 4-2 in those final six games and make the playoffs.
And if somebody who knows something about the NFL had told you that without star wide receiver Percy Harvin, the Vikings would finish the season with victories over the Bears, Rams, Texans and Packers, it would have been hard to believe.
The Vikings announced that the reason they put Harvin on injured reserve on Dec. 6 was because of a bad ankle, and that is probably accurate. But people close to Harvin believe the team's second-best player might not be happy being a member of the Vikings in the future, and that his relationship with management is such that Harvin will be traded before the draft next year if the right offer is received.
But now that the Vikings have proven they can win without Harvin, there is more reason to believe that if his relationship with management doesn't improve, Harvin could be involved in some blockbuster deal.
After Harvin was hurt in a 30-20 loss in Week 9 to the Seahawks, the Vikings were 5-4 and he was accounting for 34 percent of the team's receptions (62 of 182) and 37.5 percent of their receiving yards (677 of 1,806). He also had three receiving touchdowns, 96 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, one kick return touchdown and a 35.9 yard return average on 16 kickoffs.
So there was legitimate concern that the Vikings receiving corps was in big trouble, especially after the Vikings beat the Lions and then went 1-2 in three games -- a road loss and a home victory against the Bears and a road loss to the Packers. In those three games, the Vikings had 45 receptions for 369 yards and 13 of those receptions went to running backs or fullbacks.
But in the final three weeks of the season -- all must-win games -- the Vikings receivers started to come around, with a number of players contributing.
Jerome Simpson caught 11 passes for 98 yards. Michael Jenkins had six receptions for 89 yards. Jarius Wright grabbed nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Rudolph was also effective at tight end, catching eight passes for 81 yards and a score.
So the regular season ended with Harvin still the team leader in catches and receiving yards, but there's no doubt the Vikings would have lost their final three games if the team's other pass catchers hadn't come through in big moments.
Contract almost up
Harvin has one year left on his contract, and he'll likely be looking for a larger amount of money to sign another one. If the Vikings are unable to re-sign Harvin in 2014, they could make him a franchise player. But the club could get two No. 1 draft choices if another team makes Harvin a better offer and he chooses to leave. If they kept him, the year after that he would be a free agent and the Vikings would get no compensation.
What makes it appear that Harvin is having some problem with management is he hasn't been around the team after going on IR. Most injured players still like to be around their teammates when they are making such a great playoff drive, as the Vikings have in the last part of the season, but Harvin has been absent.
When asked about Harvin not being around the team, coach Leslie Frazier said: "It's up to him. If he wanted to be around, he could be around. But the guys are working hard, doing everything they can. I know he wants the team to do well and that is important. But we have some other guys on IR as well, so it doesn't concern us."
Still, Harvin has a lot of friends on the team. For him not to be around when things are going so well for the team seems to speak to some kind of problem.
Asked to comment in Green Bay about Adrian Peterson, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he told Peterson after Sunday's game that, "He is incredible. I just told him after the game, he's the best. He is incredible to watch. I obviously don't like playing against him but he has had a great season back from an injury that I also suffered and I know how difficult that rehab is. I did it at 20 years old and he was a few years older than that. ... I give him a lot of credit as a fellow player. You can't help but watch him play and just be really impressed. I think he probably might have won the MVP [with his performance Sunday]. Hopefully we can win the playoff game [Saturday]."
Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh was asked if his performance in Week 1 against the Jaguars -- in which he made a tying 55-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, then booted a 38-yarder to win it in overtime -- took the pressure off kicking a 29-yard game- winner on the last play against the Packers on Sunday. "You can never take pressure off other kicks," Walsh said. "They each have their unique set of pressures. You just go out there and try to hit it. I knew everything else around me was going to be perfect -- the blocking, the snap and the hold -- and if I just did my job, it would go through."
Charles Woodson, one of the best defensive backs in the NFL, is healthy and will play for the Packers in Saturday's wild-card playoff game against the Vikings after being out since Week 7 because of a broken collarbone. On the other hand, there is a question about whether the Vikings' best cornerback, Antoine Winfield, will be able to play. His broken hand swelled up Sunday when he tried to play, and he had to come out. He is a big question mark for Saturday.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway gave the offense a lot of the credit for winning the Packers game: "Offensively, obviously, we did an unbelievable job of putting some points on the board and keeping us in the ballgame. I can't say enough about [Peterson] and [Christian Ponder]."
By losing to the Vikings (10-6), the Packers (11-5) fell to the No. 3 seed in the NFC. However, since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, 12 No. 3 seeds have reached the Super Bowl and six have won it.
Looking back to Sunday's game, the Packers did a good job containing Peterson in the fourth quarter -- holding him to 14 yards on seven carries -- until he broke loose for the 26-yard run that set up the winning field goal.
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