The start of the Vikings season hasn’t been exactly what the team imagined coming off a 13-3 record in 2017.

But head coach Mike Zimmer said that when it comes to being 4-3-1 at the halfway mark, he isn’t going to worry about what happened in previous games.

“It is what it is,” Zimmer said. “We have eight more games to go and that will determine what we end up doing.”

Yes, the main reason that the Vikings’ season remains wide open is because they have played only one game within their division, a 29-29 tie with the Packers in Week 2.

One game separates the division-leading Bears (4-3) from the bottom-dwelling Lions (3-4), and over the next eight weeks the Vikings will face five NFC North opponents, starting with the Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

But the biggest problem for the Vikings is that they face six teams with a current record at or above .500 the rest of the way. Their only remaining opponent with a losing record is the Lions, whom they will also face in Week 16.

The combined record of the Vikings’ last eight opponents is 31-26-1. The Vikings are the only NFC North club with a bye remaining, which will come after the Detroit game.

The Bears, on the other hand, have four matchups with teams with a losing record: two with the Lions, and one each with the 1-7 New York Giants and the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers. Their remaining opponents are 27-31-3.

The Packers have a slightly more difficult road starting with a game against the New England Patriots this weekend, but their remaining opponents are 33-34-1.

The Lions are the only team in the NFC North with a more difficult remaining schedule than the Vikings. They have to face the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams and the 5-2 Carolina Panthers while also facing the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills, who are both 2-6. Their remaining opponents are 39-29-3.

The main thing for the Vikings will be taking care of those five division games and seeing if they can sneak out a road win against either the Patriots or Seattle Seahawks in back-to-back weeks in early December.

There’s no doubt that the Vikings expected to be closer to 5-3 or 6-2 after eight weeks, but, like Zimmer pointed out, they’re in perfectly fine position to make the playoffs if they perform at a high level in the second half of the season against their division.

U's Johnson was hoops star

The Gophers’ Tyler Johnson has become one of the best receivers in the nation.

He is tied for 24th in Division I FBS with 86.8 receiving yards per game and fourth in the Big Ten behind Rondale Moore of Purdue (eighth nationally, 104.0), Flynn Nagel of Northwestern (11th, 99.0) and JD Spielman of Nebraska (22nd, 87.0).

But what’s amazing about the Gophers junior is that he may have been even better at basketball coming out of Minneapolis North than he was at football.

How did he pick football?

“The decision basically came down to the opportunity to follow my dream,” Johnson said. “Football I wouldn’t say it’s an easier chance but a bigger possibility of playing in the [NFL] rather than the NBA.”

Johnson averaged 17.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists during his senior season at North. He also played quarterback and completed 91 of 147 passes for 1,557 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also rushed for 621 yards and nine scores.

Johnson had four offers in football, from the Gophers, Wisconsin, Iowa and Iowa State, but many thought he would decide to play basketball as the 25th-ranked combo guard in the country according to 247sports.com.

Did anyone help him make the final decision to play football?

“It was myself, I made that decision,” he said.

It looks like Johnson made the right call and he described how he came off a big injury last year to put together one of the best receiving seasons in Gophers history.

“Went hard in the offseason,” Johnson said. “Every day you know since I broke my wrist I was focusing on the weight room and my footwork and things like that. Once I was able to catch the ball again, I got right to work with the quarterbacks and other wide receivers.”

Now Johnson needs just 318 receiving yards over the Gophers’ final four games to set the school’s all-time single-season receiving record, which was set by Ron Johnson in 2000 (1,125).

Would that be a big honor?

“Honestly I didn’t know that was a statistic, really,” he said. “It would mean a lot, putting in the hard work and things like that, it would pay off.”

ESPN high on Twins

It was surprising on Tuesday to see ESPN rank the Twins as the 11th-best team in baseball heading into the 2019 season in their early power rankings.

That was the sixth-highest ranking for any American League team behind the Astros (No. 1), Yankees (2), Red Sox (4), Indians (6) and Rays (9).

ESPN editor Christina Kahrl wrote this about the Twins hopes for 2019:

“The biggest question in Minnesota is whether new manager Rocco Baldelli can unleash the talent of some of the Twins’ much-touted former top prospects. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are the obvious problem players, but you might as well add Max Kepler to that list after his disappointing .727 OPS. On the financial side of the ledger, the Twins traded away their main free agents-to-be, leaving just Joe Mauer, who might retire. Buying out Ervin Santana’s option for 2019 for $1 million after he missed most of 2018 seems straightforward.

“With a payroll that might be in the $70 million-$80 million range, the Twins can afford to shop, especially given the state of three-fifths of their rivals in the AL Central, but they need to be convinced that some of their purported blue-chippers will play to that level to make any investments worthwhile.”

Jottings

• Owatonna running back Jason Williamson, who has verbally committed to play for the Gophers, rushed for 441 yards and eight TDs in Owatonna’s 63-28 victory over Rochester Mayo on Saturday. On the season Williamson has rushed for 1,841 yards and 28 TDs. He is nearing 6,000 yards for his career. Only two players have surpassed 6,000 career rushing yards in state history, Tyler Evans of McLeod West and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s Kyle Minett. Owatonna, the defending Class 5A state champion, will play Northfield for the Class 5A, Section 1 championship on Friday.