The Vikings won 11 games last year. Well, 11 ¾ if you factor in a certain missed field goal.
They employ a coach who has taken them from five victories before he arrived to seven in his first season, and an NFC North title in his second.
They feature a fast-improving defense and have upgraded their most notable weaknesses — offensive line and receiving. They feature a promising quarterback entering his third season. They will play in a new stadium that even players say seems to dovetail with their heightened expectations.
They failed to beat a quality Seattle team in the playoffs last season only because of a missed 27-yard field goal.
The perception within and outside the organization is that the 2015 season was the first major step on a ladder that will stretch to the Super Bowl, perhaps when Minneapolis plays host to the big game following the 2017 season.
The optimism is justified by analyses of a talented young roster and Zimmer’s coaching chops.
The optimism is not supported by Vikings history.
Since the franchise was born, the Vikings have won 11 games in a season 12 times, including last year. Ten of the 11 previous times, the team’s win total dropped the next season — the Vikings won 12 games in 1969 and again in 1970.
There are circumstantial reasons to wonder if the Vikings fan base may be setting itself up for another dose of chronic disappointment.
Winning NFL teams sometimes assume their success is caused by tangible, controllable factors, but luck plays a major role in a league where parity is promoted, if not always attained.
The health and availability of key players can be pivotal — especially the health of quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater started 16 games last season. His backup, veteran journeyman Shaun Hill, did not perform well when called upon. The Vikings might be one injury away from wishing they had Christian Ponder.
Referees wield great power, especially when asked to make difficult decisions on what is a reception and what is pass interference.
Then there is human nature. The Vikings are a confident bunch. They also are playing in a division featuring Chicago Bears coach John Fox, known as a fixer of struggling franchises, and the perpetually dangerous Green Bay Packers, who may again have the services of star receiver Jordy Nelson.
While the Vikings hope to rely on Adrian Peterson to carry their running game again, he is 31 and coming off his highest carry (327) and rushing (1,485 yards) totals since he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012. Peterson never has posted consecutive 1,400-yard seasons in the NFL.
To believe that this Vikings team can become the first to ever improve on a season of 11 or more victories, you have to believe that …
• Bridgewater is a rising quarterback who had an uneven 2015 because of awful offensive line play and limited receivers.
• Zimmer’s strength — teaching players how to improve using refined techniques — will be even more in evidence after two full seasons on the job.
• Alex Boone, Andre Smith and a healthy John Sullivan will upgrade the offensive line.
• Laquon Treadwell, a healthy Charles Johnson and a better-used Cordarrelle Patterson will make more big plays than did the disappointing Mike Wallace.
• Zimmer’s defense has yet to peak.
The last time the Vikings won 11 or more games was 2009, when Brad Childress and Brett Favre glared at each other during a 12-victory season. The following year the Vikings finished 6-10, Childress got fired and Favre appeared to regret playing his final season.
The 2016 Vikings bear no resemblance to the 2010 squad. Their coach is revered. Their roster is young. Their quarterback has room to improve.
Their arrow appears to be pointed up, but in the NFL, those arrows are known to spin like weather vanes in high wind. That, at least, is what Vikings history tells us.