How are the Vikings going to fare in 2012? It depends a lot on who you ask. Given the strength of the NFC North – where the Packers had the best record in the league (15-1), the Lions have enjoyed a franchise resurgence and made the playoffs for the first time since Barry Sanders was the centerpiece of the offense and the Bears were 7-3 before they lost QB Jay Cutler – there aren't many media types jumping on the Vikings bandwagon.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway summed up those sentiments by saying, "Nobody thinks we're any good."
But not everyone sees the Vikings' rebuilding as a long-term project, especially the guy who is going to be critical for the success of the franchise moving forward.
Quarterback Christian Ponder believes that the Vikings will rebound quickly from a franchise-worst 3-13 record in 2011. While the conventional wisdom (based on past history of teams climbing out of a franchise low point) says it takes two or three years, Ponder said the Vikings aren't looking at their rebuilding that way because they already have several key component pieces in place.
"I don't know if you set a timeline," Ponder said. "Obviously we want to win now. We're putting that pressure on ourselves. We want to do a lot better than 3-13. We want to make the playoffs and be competitive in the NFC North. I don't know if you really put a timeline on it. We expect to go out there this year and do well."
Ponder has made claims that the Vikings could be a playoff team this year – a projection that has almost universally been met with skepticism. However, he backed up his statement on the final day of training camp by pointing out that the Vikings had the opportunity to win several games, especially early in the season, that could have turned things around significantly last year and not resulted in the bottoming out of the franchise.
"In our minds, we have a good team," Ponder said. "Obviously we've still got a lot of things to do to get better at in these next two weeks, but obviously we know it's tough. It's a tough division. If you look at last year, we were in so many games. We could have easily been 10-6 rather than 3-13. That's a good sign. We were close last year and we're only going to be better this year."
It's been a while since the Vikings have found themselves in the role of being a spoiler, but it's something he relishes. While expectations are high inside the organization, they clearly aren't as positive around the league. Every year there are teams that rise up seemingly from nowhere and become a force in the league. Ponder believes the Vikings can be one of those teams this year and being underestimated may well play in their favor.
"The underdog position is kind of a good position to be in," Ponder said. "A lot of people don't expect much out of you and maybe that gives you an advantage of teams going out there and not expecting it to be a tough game. People are counting us out, but internally we have high expectations."
Whether Ponder's optimism will be borne out will be determined over the next four months, but, while the Vikings may be flying under the NFL radar, Ponder and his teammates are convinced the Vikings are heading in the right direction. The only remaining question is how long will that process take?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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