Five weeks into the 2009 NFL regular season, the Minnesota Vikings stand 5-0 and seemingly capable of defeating all comers. The standing question is whether the Viking's success, to date, is more a reflection of the team's woeful opposition or the Vikings' ability. The ultimate question, however, is whether it even matters.
Although it is comforting to see a Minnesota team dispatch a pitiful underdog such as the St. Louis Rams, it is not a result that other teams have failed to achieve. Through five games, the Rams have been outscored 146-34. Their closest loss was a 9-7 set-back against nearly equally inept Washington. Their other losses were by 28, 19, and 35 points; two of those losses were by shutout.
In short, the Rams are no measuring stick against which the Vikings accurately can gauge their strength at this point in the season. But the Rams might offer a gauge as to where the Vikings stand in comparison to other Rams' opponents. Yesterday's game might thereby suggest reasons for concern.
Prior to yesterday, the Rams had failed to eclipse 200 yards passing in any game this season and had come perilously close to failing to breach the 100-yard passing mark in two of their games. Yesterday, the Vikings ceded 209 passing yards that, at times, seemed like far more, with the Rams too often moving the ball freely down the middle of the field. But for three turnovers in the red zone, the score might have more accurately reflected the Rams' ability to move the ball against the Vikings.
Presumably, against better competition, the Vikings will need to exhibit a more determined defensive resolve than they displayed against the Rams. Where Kyle Boller threw into triple-coverage in the endzone, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and others are far more likely to put the ball neatly in the hands of the open receiver. And if the Vikings have not yet figured out how to get their run game going, that's going to mean a lot of difficult catch-up for the Purple.
Whether any of that will matter prior to the playoffs is anyone's guess. Of the Vikings' first five opponents, all are in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and only San Francisco is outside the bottom third of the league in that category. Similarly, of those first five Minnesota opponents, only one is solidly in the top half of the league in offense, and two are in the bottom three in the NFL in points scored per game.
Of the Vikings' remaining ten opponents (two games remain against the Bears), only four rank in the top ten of the league in team offense, only three rank in the top ten of the league in team defense, and only one, the New York Giants, ranks in both top ten lists. The next most credible opponent, on paper, is next week's home opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, who rank fifth in offense and twelfth on defense, but who are coming off of a tight home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
That's how the NFL stacks up this season, at least for the Vikings, who, despite feasting offensively against mostly weak defenses this season, have fared no better against mostly woeful offensive teams than the league has fared against the league as a whole. All of which means that the Vikings might not have a true measuring stick for how good they are until their final regular-season game of 2009.
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