I suspect a small percentage of the more unreasonable Vikings fans eagerly lap up the team's company line about 2012 not being a rebuilding season. Reasonable fans, who comprise the vast majority of the jaded Vikings nation, know better. One year after going 3-13 is not the time to be thinking playoffs – even in today's "worst-to-first" NFL.
Sure, the last nine seasons have produced at least one first-place team that finished last in its division the year before. In 2011, six teams made the playoffs that were not in the postseason in 2010. In fact, the last 16 straight seasons have produced at least five such teams that have gone from non-playoff to playoff teams in the next year.
So go ahead, Vikings fans, dare to dream.
It's a nice goal to have for those imbibing heavily on the Purple Kool Aid. But even if the Vikings go to Indianapolis on Sunday and defeat the Colts, it's an unrealistic no matter what Leslie Frazier or any of the players might say.
"Progress, not perfection" is a saying my wife uses frequently, and the idea fits the Vikings' situation. Only it might be better stated as "Progress, not playoffs." For progress is the real goal of the Vikings this season; and let's be honest, there's not much room for regression after last season.
We saw some definite signs of progress in Week 1, but the Jaguars are a team the Vikings had to beat at home. You don't lose a game like that – as the Vikings came about 20 seconds away from doing – and expect to make a serious run at the postseason. Similarly, this Sunday's game in Indianapolis is of the "must win" variety whether you envision a Vikings postseason game this season or are willing to settle for progress.
While Sunday's game against Andrew Luck and the Colts feels like a game the Vikings really should win if they want anyone to take them seriously, it's far from a slam dunk. The Colts have won their last two home games – in Weeks 15 and 16 last year. And remember, that team didn't have Luck under center. Moreover, the Vikings have never beaten the Colts on the road. Yes, you read that correctly. The Vikings are 0-10 in franchise history outside of the state of Minnesota against the Colts (0-2 in Indianapolis and 0-8 in Baltimore).
No, a win on Sunday in Indy cannot be taken for granted. The Vikings have not been particularly good on the road for the past decade. As this SportsData infographic
shows, 21 teams have won more road games than the Vikings over the last 10 seasons. Thus, be satisfied if the Vikings pull one out against the Colts on Sunday. Road wins, even against a team like the Colts, have not been easy for the Vikings to come by.
But that's all it will be: one win in September against a team that they should beat. The schedule gets much tougher after this Sunday for the Vikings, starting with next week's game against the 49ers – a game that could feature two first-place teams.
Think about that for a second: a very real scenario exists in which the Vikings are in first place by 11 p.m. on Sunday.
All it would take is a Packers win over the Bears tonight (which seems like a pretty safe bet) coupled with the 49ers beating the Lions in San Francisco Sunday night (which seems quite certain) and the Vikings beating a team that has won just two of their last 17 games.
Don't get out over your skies, purple faithful. Even if they are a first-place team after two games, Vikings fans should be content with progress rather than playoffs in 2012.
Beat the Colts and then beat the Niners… then we'll talk about playoffs.