Over the next five games, the steps the Vikings have taken to improve their roster will face its acid test. The 49ers come into the Metrodome Sunday and will provide the first playoff-quality test for the Vikings. But, after that, the hits just keep on coming.
The Lions will be next in Detroit, where the Vikings have enjoyed their share of success, but where the Lions have established a significant home field advantage over the last year-plus. The next three games will be against Tennessee, Washington and Arizona – all teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2011, but have high hopes to make the postseason this year.
The Titans missed the playoffs last year due to losing out on a tie-breaker with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Redskins finished last in the NFC East, but Robert Griffin III has energized the fan base and brought a distinctive new look to the Washington offense. The Cardinals finished 8-8, but they won seven of their last nine games. Given their 2-0 start this season, the Cardinals have won nine of their last 11 games – tied for the best record in the NFL in that span.
With five division games in the final seven games of the season, the Vikings won't be able to take their foot off the gas the rest of the way, but, as difficult as those games may be, it can be argued the stretch of games between now and the last week of October may be as difficult as any they will face.
If the Vikings have made the progress those within the organization believe they have, these next five games will be the test to see how far that progress has advanced. It's unclear how the Vikings will fare in those games – two wins in those five might be viewed as a moral victory for the franchise – but the one thing that seems clear is that the easy part of the Vikings schedule is over.
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.