Is Sunday A 'Must Win' Game?

Al Franken Stuart Smalley tells Vikings owner Zygi Wilf "they're smart enough, they're good enough, and gosh darn it, people like them."

You know, we talk about games teams 'should' win, and games teams 'must' win all of the time, and when it comes down to it, I'm never really a big believer in the 'must win' regular season games.

Yes, statistics point out that if you lose your first two regular season games in the NFL, the chances of getting to the playoffs are about 1 in 10, but in theory, you could go 0-2 and win or get to the Super Bowl. That's also happened a couple of times as well.

But 0-1? A bunch of teams have started out 0-1 and gone on to win the division and make the playoffs. So an 0-1 start isn't the end of the world.

I would submit to you that for this team, it would be devastating.

I'll explain why, after the jump.

First of all, there's a big difference between 0-1 for say the New England Patriots, and 0-1 for our beloved Purple and Gold. Past history and roster talent would combine to tell you that the Patriots could weather an 0-1 start and come out of it just fine.

The Minnesota Vikings are not the New England Patriots. We don't know what kind of talent is on the roster, outside a couple of players, and the Vikings need to pile on as many wins as possible out of the gate, because they're going to need them. We think they have improved their talent level, but we don't know yet. We're cautiously optimistic about the offensive line and the defensive backfield, the two biggest weaknesses from last year.

Is that talent better or as good as the first several opponents of the Vikings? I think so.

Let's look at the schedule. The first 9 games are against Jacksonville, at Indy, San Fran, at Detroit, Tennessee, at Washington, Arizona, Tampa Bay, and at Seattle.

In all seriousness, I see 8 games that I count as 'winnable' for the Vikings. I'm not saying they will, and in one case, even should win, but from a talent on talent level, they absolutely can win those games. The first half of the season plus Seattle is a garden walk with mostly the dregs of the NFL, with the exception of San Francisco and Detroit. But the Vikes played Detroit tough both times last year, and you could argue they should have won both games.

San Francisco could be a very long day, but you can't sit here and tell me the Jags, Colts, Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Bucs, and Seahawks are demonstrably better than the Vikings, because they're not. Those are teams that the Vikings are quite capable of beating.

But then you look at the back half of the schedule, and you get a bit of a lump in your throat: Lions again in Detroit, Bears twice, Packers twice, at Houston, and at St. Louis. Of those 7 games, I can only look at 2 and see 'winnable' games, the Detroit game and St. Louis. But both of those games are on the road, and the Vikings aren't exactly Road Warriors.

So if the Vikings are going to make a push for the post season, they must--must--get off to a fast start. They have the capability and talent to do so, and the first few games will be very telling. This is a young team, and winning can be contagious...but so can losing, as we saw last season. If they can get out of the gate at say 4-2 or even 5-2, it could build momentum for the back half of the season, when the brutal part of the schedule kicks in.

There's a very good chance that the Vikings will be in the hunt for a playoff spot come December, but that will depend on how they do in September and October.

Like the words of the prophet said, whether you think can or think you can't, you're right. If the Vikes think they can come December because they started 5-2 or 6-2, they could surpirse a lot of people. If they hit the back half of the schedule at 4-5 or 3-6, they'll have let a goden opportunity slip away, and once again we'll be talking draft position, not playoff position.

So yeah, if ever there was a 'must win' game in week 1, it's this one.

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