It was easy for the Vikings to say the first quarter of the season was done with success. After all, they were 3-1 and things were looking good. They had already matched their win total of 2011 and were one of the feel-good stories of 2012.
Since then, things have taken a decided downward turn. In the second quarter of the season, the Vikings were 2-2 – not what they had hoped for, but acceptable under the circumstances. The Vikings were 5-3 at the midway point of the season and the prevailing opinion was that, if they could replicate those numbers the second half of the season, they were a lock to make the playoffs.
The third quarter of the season didn't work out as well. The Vikings went 1-3 and now find themselves at 6-6 overall with a difficult road in front of them. Given their tie-breaker disadvantages with so many teams in the hunt for a wild card spot, the Vikings are now the projected 10th seed in the NFC and only six make the playoffs. The Redskins, Cowboys and Buccaneers are all ahead of them, and Minnesota already has losses to the Redskins and Buccaneers, along with projected sixth seed Seattle, fifth seed Chicago and third seed Green Bay.
The Vikings have to effectively run the table in the fourth quarter of the season if they want to make the playoffs. With the league's most difficult schedule over the final four games, that is a tall order. Whether the Vikings are a playoff team or not, how they finish these final four games will go a long way to determining the direction of the franchise moving forward.
If someone had said in August that the Vikings would finish 8-8, most fans would have jumped at that possibility as a victory for the franchise. However, given how the team started the season, expectations were redefined – 6-10 was no longer acceptable, even though it would show distinct improvement over the previous season.
As the Vikings enter the fourth quarter of the 2012 season, their playoff hopes are flickering, but the future of the franchise is very much up in the air. With home games against the Bears and Packers on the horizon and road matchups with the Texans and Rams, the Vikings may not be favored to win any of those games, but they have momentum heading into next year at stake, whether they remain mathematically alive in the playoff chase or not. Jobs may be won or lost in the final quarter.
Given the turnover on the roster, when they gathered in Mankato, projections of an 8-8 season (much less 10-6 or 9-7) seemed like a pipe dream. Now, those projections are realistic. Let the fourth quarter of the 2012 season begin and let the chips fall where they may. Every team experiences change in the offseason – few as pronounced as the Vikings did last year – and there will certainly be change this offseason. But there remains one quarter left in the 2012 season and what the Vikings do with these final four games may be the most important quarter of the season for the coaching staff, the front office and the roster of players.
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.