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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings enter final two home games with great expectations

By Judd Zulgad

As much as we all enjoy attempting to predict the Vikings’ record for the coming season when the NFL schedule is released each spring, it’s next to impossible to do so based on one key factor.

What you know about a team from the previous season often doesn’t matter by the time November has arrived. Then there is the factor that the home club also has the ability to rise up or take a nose dive in short order.

Of course, none of these factors stopped me from taking a shot at the Vikings’ 2015 record months before training camp arrived. The prediction for Mike Zimmer’s second season as coach was 8-8.

This thinking was based on the fact that Zimmer had milked seven wins out of a team that didn’t have its star offensive player, Adrian Peterson, for 15 games in 2014.

As Christmas nears, it’s appropriate that Vikings fans could look this way and say: Oh, ye of little faith.

The Vikings will take an 8-5 record into Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium, putting them a game behind the first-place Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

Sure the Vikings are 1-3 in their past four games, but let’s be honest. With three games left in the regular season, and a complete collapse needed to miss the playoffs, this year has been a pleasant surprise.

This is not to say everything has gone as expected or hoped.

Teddy Bridgewater’s development at the quarterback position hasn’t been as rapid as anyone had hoped, Mike Wallace hasn’t come close to developing into the deep threat the Vikings hoped he would and first-round cornerback Trae Waynes continues to be a spectator on the sideline during most games.

But if anyone had told you in September – especially after the Vikings’ opening-night loss to a dreadful San Francisco team – that Zimmer’s team would win five in a row at one point and challenge the Packers you would have been more than thrilled.

But with unexpected success also comes heightened expectations. That’s why these next two games are so important for the Vikings.

The losses to Green Bay and Seattle in the Vikings’ past two games at TCF Bank Stadium came in situations where the stage appeared to be too big for them (the Packers game) and where they were an inferior and injured team against a superior opponent and quarterback (Seattle and Russell Wilson).

There are no excuses in the next two weeks. Thirteen games into the season, the Vikings are now an experienced enough bunch that they need to take the step from pleasant surprise to legitimate contender that can take care of business.

The fact that linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith won’t play Sunday against the Bears makes life more difficult but what team isn’t dealing with injuries?

The Bears are 5-8 and have lost their past two. Next Sunday’s opponent, the New York Giants, are 6-7 and remain in the NFC East race only because the division is a train wreck.

The Vikings-Giants game has been moved to a prime-time start on NBC. The Vikings’ struggles in night games have been well documented, but if Zimmer’s team is going to develop into a real contender it is going to have to start winning in these situations.

The Packers are sitting at 9-4 with back-to-back road games coming up at Oakland and Arizona before they play host to the Vikings in their regular-season finale on Jan. 3 at Lambeau Field.

The Vikings will be relying on the Packers to have stumble, but if that happens there’s no reason these teams shouldn’t be playing for the NFC North title in that last game.

The Vikings will give themselves the best chance of having that opportunity if they sweep these next two games. If they don’t, it will be one of the first real disappointments from these Vikings.

The post Zulgad: Vikings enter final two home games with great expectations appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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