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The Schedule Ahead: DON'T PANIC

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Things look grim for the Vikings as we sit at 2-4, and watched our offensive line get man-handled by an elite Detroit defense. But don't panic...brighter times are on the horizon.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

So, here we are sitting at 2-4.  We're currently ranked tied for 24th overall in the NFL standings and in last place in the NFC North.  Is anyone surprised?  I'm not.  Even with all the stuff that has happened to this team with injury and legal issues, I figured we'd be sitting at 2-4 after this brutal opening stretch of games (even if we would have had our week 1 starters still on the field).  The only surprise to me is that we beat Atlanta and lost to Green Bay as I would have predicted the reverse (although in hindsight I should have given home field advantage a bit more weight).  Still, in looking ahead at the rest of our schedule there are many reasons for optimism.  Here's one fact that might brighten your day: 8 of our remaining 10 opponents do not have a winning record after the first 6 weeks.  While that does include the 3-3 Chicago Bears (who we face twice) only the Lions and Packers currently have a winning record (and sure, we already lost to each of them once).  But that is 8 reasons right there to be optimistic.

As many readers know by now, during the Preseason I put together the Ultimate Power Ranking.  It's not fool-proof, and it is admittedly littered with inaccuracies, but it had our Vikings squad (a fully healthy squad with all of our starters) ranked 15th in the NFL.  And despite that, because of our brutal opening schedule, it predicted us to finish 2-4 after the first six weeks losing to higher ranked teams and beating lower ranked teams.  But you know what else it predicted?  An 11-5 finish overall.  I know, impossible right?  An 11-5 finish may not be achievable anymore due to all the injuries we've dealt with.  But I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine the rest of the schedule and compare our opponent's records to the UPR accuracy so far to see what kind of expectations we should have for the Vikings schedule going forward.

Below is a table that shows our remaining 10 opponents.  It also shows what their actual record is and what the UPR predicted their record to be after 6 games.  The last column combines that opponent's actual win loss record with the UPR prediction for their remaining games.  So, in other words, it shows a predicted overall record at the time we face them.  For highlighting purposes, I've put any team with a predicted losing record in italics.

Opponent

Actual W-L Record thru Week 6

UPR Predicted Win-Loss Record

UPR Remaining Prediction Record

@Buffalo Bills

3-3

0-6

3-3

@Tampa Bay Bucs

1-5

0-6

1-5

Washington Redskins

1-5

2-4

1-7

@Chicago Bears

3-3

4-2

5-4

Green Bay Packers

4-2

2-4

6-4

Carolina Panthers

3-2

1-5

4-6

New York Jets

1-5

0-6

3-9

@Detroit Lions

4-2

6-0

10-3

@Miami Dolphins

2-3

1-4

5-9

Chicago Bears

3-3

4-2

6-9

If anyone has been keeping up with my updates in the various comment sections across the DN, you'll know that the Preseason UPR has only been about 65-70% accurate in predicting the higher ranked team to beat the lower ranked team so far this season.  As I've acknowledged there are many limitations to the ranking as we get further into the regular season.  The ranking doesn't account for roster changes (due to injuries, benchings, etc), nor does it account for other variables that influence the game: coaching, home field advantage, weather, specific matchups/schemes, etc.  It only takes into account last year's talent rankings from Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders as it relates to opening season depth charts.  But even so, in looking at our remaining opponents, most of the predicted records are within one win or loss away from the actual record with the exception of the Buffalo Bills, and to a lesser extent the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers who are both two wins/losses away.

The UPR has us ranked above every single one of our remaining opponents with the exception of the Detroit Lions (who we just lost to yesterday).  This is why the UPR has us finishing the year 11-5, losing only one more game to the Lions again later in the year.  Based on 70% accuracy, the UPR is bound to be off by 4-5 games by season's end, and it has already guessed wrong on two of our games (although gotten the overall record right so far).  So, it will probably miss another couple of games before the season is over.  If the UPR has us going 9-1 in our next 10 games it stands to reason that if the accuracy has already been off by 2 games, we might have another 2 more off games and would therefore be looking at 7-3 at the worst for our remaining games.  When you consider that we have already played the Packers once, and were blown out that could be a specific matchup that the UPR is missing, and it seems to be underestimating the Buffalo Bills by a lot.  So that could be another game that it underestimates.  The Chicago Bears are also another team that could go either way and I could see us splitting our remaining two games (even though the UPR has us winning both).  It's tough to say which games the UPR will miss, but if I had to guess which teams it has ranked incorrectly, those would be my top three candidates.

In any case if you assume that those teams that are predicted to have losing records by the time we face them should be easier games to win, then odds seem good that we've got at least 5 more wins coming our way this season.  As always it comes down to our divisional games.  The good news is that we have home games coming up over the next few weeks against both Green Bay and Chicago.  If we can somehow come up with a win in those two games, we could be realistically looking at a 9 or 10-win season depending on how the Bills game ends up.  The Bills have a pair of lucky wins under the belt (taking advantage of three Chicago turnovers, and three missed field goals from the Lions) and despite being 3-3, are still a very beatable team who is now starting something called an "unretired Kyle Orton" at quarterback.  It seems impossible thinking about how we could finish the year in that 8-8 to 10-6 range while we're currently sitting at 2-4 on the outside looking in, but this is where we were supposed to be based on our brutal opening schedule.  As I mentioned before, our schedule eases up considerably going forward and here is another fun fact: two of our next three games will be against a pair of teams that are currently 1-5.  It's very conceivable that we could be 4-5 or even 5-4 after our next three games.  So, don't lose hope Vikings faithful, because the easy part of our schedule is finally here.