Reality check: What does 3-1 mean?

Vikings fans are riding high with their team at 3-1, but 2011 in the NFL should be a lesson that 3-1 guarantees nothing. Look at the teams that were 3-1 last year. Only about half of them made the playoffs.

If Vikings fans need a reason to keep their expectations in check, let recent history be their guide. Sure, they have the gloom-and-doom numbers about the miniscule percentage of being a playoff team if you start out 1-2, 0-3 or 1-3. But, what about the flip side? Is being 3-1 an automatic golden ticket to the playoffs?

Not so fast, my friends.

Vikings fans may not remember where teams ranked after Week 4 last season … and for good reason. Many of them were could have been flagged for premature celebration. The Vikings were 0-4 at this point last year, dropping them into the realm of the dregs, along with Indianapolis, St. Louis and Miami. It's understandable that Vikings fans don't remember who was 3-1 at this time last year.

Perhaps what made things worse for the Vikings' 0-4 record was that the only two unbeaten teams after Week 4 were in their own division – Green Bay and Detroit. But 11 other teams had a record of 3-1 through four weeks. Did that start punch their playoff tickets? Not so much.

If you wanted to be a playoff team, it didn't hurt. Both 4-0 teams made the playoffs, but being 3-1 was far from a guarantee. Buffalo was 3-1 at this point last year and collapsed. Tennessee missed out on the playoffs after a 3-1 start. San Diego found a way to reverse its annual September swoon to start off 3-1, but that didn't seal the deal for them either.

The same held true in the NFC. Washington was 3-1 after four games but ended up with 10 losses and had a high enough draft pick that St. Louis felt comfortable with trading the rights to Robert Griffin III on draft weekend. Tampa Bay was 3-1 and collapsed so badly that they were in the draft lottery as well.

It should be noted that, of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year, eight of them were 3-1 or better after four weeks – Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, New Orleans, San Francisco, New England, Baltimore and Houston. For the Vikings to be in the position they are only a month into the 2012 season has given them a cushion that has them starting today in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

Their hot start has energized Vikings fans, since so few believed that they could be 3-1 after four games (especially after losing a heartbreaker at Indianapolis in Week 2). Their strong start hasn't guaranteed them an edge in the playoff chase, but when you consider what Vikings fans faced a year ago – where the first win of the season didn't come until Week 5 and their season total for wins in a 16-game schedule has already been matched in four games – it's a good time to be a Vikings fan.

The hot start for the Vikings is getting them noticed, but if they're going to be a playoff team in 2012, they're going to have to keep their foot on the gas. A 3-1 start is nice, but it isn't a guarantee of success in the autumn and winter of the year.

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. Recommended Stories