Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tarvaris Jackson Named NFL Pre-Season Practice Player of the Year

Somewhere in the head of Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress the notion has at least begun percolating that his hand-picked successor to Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson, is not the quarterback that he thought he was. On Monday, Childress confirmed this when he reached for that famous last refuge of NFL coaches desperate to defy what everyone else knows to be true, claiming that "fans don't get to see what Tarvaris does in practice on a routine basis."

Here's one fan who doesn't care what Tarvaris does in practice on a regular basis when, after four NFL seasons, he has yet to show in games what he purportedly does in practice.

I'm not the quarterback guru that Childress claims to be--who is--but I know what my eyes tell me. My eyes tell me that the Vikings have a fragile offensive line, at best, in front of an aging quarterback who increasingly appears disinterested in being hit, that Rosenfels is a more complete and poised quarterback than Jackson likely ever will be, and that Joe Webb might even be considerably better than Rosenfels. If ever there was a season during which Favre was likely to need a substitute, this season would appear to be it. And nobody outside of a very small group of mind-numbingly blind Jackson supporters, believes that Minnesota would be better served with Jackson in the game rather than Rosenfels.

Up Next: Moneyball. Plus, is time to change the rules?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Vikings Earn Spots, Others Should Lose

The NFL pre-season is not nearly as informative a tool on a player's value to the team as is the regular season, but it is the yardstick by which players are measured for inclusion on the 53-man regular-season roster. After Saturday's performance, there are a handful of former bubble players who clearly have earned a spot on the team and a handful of formerly safe players that have earned their way off of the team.

Those who have earned a spot on the Vikings' 2010 roster include kick returner Darius Reynaud, fullback Ryan D'Imperio, quarterback Joe Webb, and receiver Greg Camarillo. Reynaud was impressive virtually every time he touched the ball on returns, D'Imperio played well on special teams and at fullback, Webb, yet again, showed a passing touch that has eluded Tarvaris Jackson, and Camarillo caught balls thrown to him, precisely what the Vikings expected of him.

Of all of the names listed above, the most eye-catching should be that of D'Imperio. That's because the Vikings are highly unlikely to retain two fullbacks, let alone three. With Naufahu Tahi and high draft pick Toby Gerhart on the roster, for D'Imperio to stick, he will have to do so either as a special teams' player--a possibility--or as the fullback. The latter would mean that Tahi and Gerhart, neither of whom are considered strong candidates for exclusive roles as special teams' players, would have to be released.

On paper, that's a difficult sell. The Vikings lusted after Gerhart, trading up to take him in the second round of this year's draft. Gerhart has rewarded the Vikings by playing like a free-agent rookie, nervous about his prospects of making the team. What Gerhart did in his time in the game on Saturday did nothing to conjure an alternative view and everything to rekindle memories of Jim Kleinsasser trying to navigate the Vikings' backfield--minus the blocking capabilities. It also raised the very obvious concern that Gerhart is not anywhere near a suitable replacement for Chester Taylor. Taylor is a halfback, Gerhart clearly is a fullback.

Take away the high draft pick and the dollars attached to the contract and D'Imperio, not Gerhart, makes the Vikings' team this year--assuming the choice is between those two players. In a third scenario, D'Imperio is a special teams' player, Albert Young is the third-down back, and Gerhart is placed on the practice squad.

Like Gerhart, other players previously deemed either essential or safe ought to have played their way off the roster on Saturday. Those players include Rhys Lloyd, Bernard Berrian, Tarvaris Jackson, and Javon Walker.

Lloyd was signed to be the Vikings version of Dallas' booming place-kicking specialist David Buehler. The plan was to have Lloyd kick balls out of the endzone and have Ryan Longwell focus on field goals.

That plan ought now officially to be scrapped. Not only has Lloyd not demonstrated an ability to kick into the endzone, his kickoffs have about the same hang time and depth as Longwell's. Certainly, there is little sense in adding a second kicker merely to replicate half of what the money kicker on the team already does, particularly given the decisions that the Vikings will need to make at other positions of depth.

While Lloyd failed to improve upon what we already know Longwell can do, Berrian and Walker failed even to live up to modest expectations for what is now arguably the Vikings' weakest, if most plentifully stocked, position. With a drop for a interception and an otherwise non-existent performance, Berrian has picked up essentially where he left off last season. For a receiver playing with Brett Favre, that's a difficult accomplishment. It's also one giving cause for release.

If possible, Walker was even worse than Berrian, looking both rigid and fragile and failing to accomplish anything despite the Vikings' clear early efforts to force feed him the ball. Walker, too, deserves his walking papers.

Finally, there is the on-going saga of who to keep at quarterback. Only utter stubborness would allow Childress either to release Webb or retain Jackson.

Despite the running commentary to the contrary--presumably motivated by the Vikings' desire to downplay Webb's clear skills--Webb has poise, touch, and an innate sense of pressure in the pocket, all skills that Jackson lacks. Jackson looks the rookie, Webb the experienced player capable of starting as early as next season.

If the Vikings truly are interested in moving ahead at the quarterback position, now is the time to admit past transgressions and revel in current, wise decisions. Jackson represents the former, Webb the latter. And a rotation of Favre, Sage Rosengels, and Webb should now be in play.

Up Next: Moneyball.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stadium Cost

As the Minnesota Vikings continue their push for a publicly funded stadium, the vast majority of Vikings' fans are having trouble seeing the forest for preference of the trees. To these fans, the situation is simple--a city or the state need only think of an appropriate way to pay for a stadium and then "get 'er done." Many of these fans have also accepted the commonly stated line that "the longer we wait, the more the price is going to go up."

Both sentiments are fraught with an apparent misunderstanding of both common financing principles and the realities of the current market.

Since 2005, local writers and champions of the Vikings' cause have perpetuated the notion that the cost of the new stadium can only go up, the longer it takes to build the stadium. Based on inflationary data provided by the Federal Reserve Bank, that sentiment, generally speaking, might have held for the years 2003-2007. It certainly has not been true of the years since 2007, however. Today, perhaps more than ever in the post-War era, the real rate of cost for constructing a stadium is lower than it has ever been.

That last point, apparently lost on the locals, is actually a selling point for financing a new stadium in today's dollars. Only Norm Green would find it difficult to reach a deal handsome to the buyer.

How to fund such a venture, even at a bargain rate, remains the more complicated question. On numerous occasions I have suggested that a new stadium is viable under any economic conditions and that the determining factor for the public is in what revenue streams the public will share for the public's portion of upfront money?

I won't rehash that argument here (you can find it throughout the archives of this site), but I will point to the sub-point, that of upfront money. The belief that the public's portion of a new stadium can be borne through Racino, pull tabs, or some other user fee might be true. What most proponents of these endeavors fail to realize, however, is that the endeavors need cover not only the public's portion of the cost of constructing a new stadium, but also the debt on that portion.

Why? That's where basic financing comes into play. No matter how Minneapolis/Minnesota/some other public entity pays its bill on a new stadium, it will certainly have to borrow the money to pay for all of its cost up front. Then it will pay that cost back, with interest, over time. That, of course, significantly increases the price tag for the public portion. It also makes future loans to the public entity riskier (even if only marginally so) and compels the public entity to be spot on regarding future cost projections for all public outlays.

The cost problem for the public stadium in helping fund a new football stadium for the Vikings thus is not merely about what mechanism(s) used to pay off the public debt on the stadium, but also in ensuring that assessments on revenues and expenses are at least close to accurate over the life of the debt. As we have witnessed over the last three years, a failure to make reasonable assessments on public revenues can lead to far more serious issues than mere public default on a debt. As such, how and whether to fund a Vikings' stadium is a far more serious issue than most Vikings' fans apparently even comprehend. Better understanding is required before any public entity is hurried into making a rash decision, particularly when that public entity has virtually all of the good cards at the table.

Up Next: Moneyball.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Time to Move Rice

Following a Brett Favre-aided break-out season in which he recorded 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver Sidney Rice stewed. He stewed because, in 2010, he was slated to earn $550,000--good money for the average American over the course of a lifetime, but slight by NFL high-end receiver standards.

Rice's solution, almost certainly championed by his agent Drew Rosenhaus, was to use Rice's lingering hip injury and the necessary corrective surgery, surgery that Rice could have had several weeks ago, as bargaining leverage for gaining Rice a revamped contract. This week, following the Vikings' decision not to renegotiate the receiver's contract, Rice informed the Vikings that he was undergoing surgery that will result in his missing eight weeks or more of the season.

The initial response to Rice's revelation was that the Vikings had overplayed their hand. Already faced with a suspect situation with Percy Harvin's recurring and debilitating migraines, the Vikings appeared in desperate need not only of the return of last year's leading receiver but also of an infusion of talent at the receiver position. Without such an infusion currently on the radar, Rice appeared particularly critical to the team's 2010 prospects.

That's what Rice and Rosenhaus assumed. They also presumably assumed that the ploy was infallible with the worst-case scenario for Rice being that the receiver could return after surgery, prove his value, and work a big contract.

That plan could and should backfire, however, if the Vikings have even modest fortitude.

Prior to Favre's arrival in Minnesota last season, I penned an article detailing the success of receivers who had the privilege of playing with Brett Favre. That was no startling revelation, but, rather, yet another justification for bringing Favre onto a team replete with mediocre receivers. It therefore appeared to be no coincidence that Rice became a player in 2009 when, previously, he had been little more than a wallflower with the team.

In the business of selling high, the Vikings hold far more cards than does Rice. The next move for Minnesota is either to release Rice--a move that would be vindictive without reward, or, far better, to trade the receiver for another team's damaged goods. And what better trade to make than Rice for San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson?

At 27, Jackson has posted consecutive 1,000-yard receiving years, averaging eight touchdowns over the past two years--numbers comparable to Rice's. That would seem to make Jackson a long-term target for the Chargers, but Jackson and the Chargers have had their own differences regarding contract terms and Jackson's three-game suspension to start the 2010 season has only further driven a wedge between the two parties.

Rice for Jackson thus looks like a good move for both teams, particularly if the Chargers are intent on finding Jackson's replacement this year, as they have indicated. And it allows the Vikings to give back to Rosenhaus some of what he has begat.

Up Next: Moneyball.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mis-Communicating Clarity and the Arrival of Brett Favre

Apparently all it took to bring Brett Favre back to Minnesota was a nudge from a Vikings' blog--that, discord among some of the team's key younger players, and the dispatching to Hattiesburg of three of the Vikings' more seasoned and respected voices.

No matter the reason, Brett Favre now appears to be in Minnesota and prepared to announce what most expected would be the ultimate conclusion of the off-season musical that was the media-created drama surrounding Favre. And thanks to advances in technology since, oh, 1950, fans need not have accepted head coach Brad Childress' earlier attempt at subterfuge when he sent assistants to inform the media that the players who were dispatched to Mississippi had not been.

The question, now, is how the Vikings will deal with the other three quarterbacks on their roster. In a previous post, I suggested that, if and when Favre returned, the Vikings ought to use Sage Rosenfels in the backup role and retain Joe Webb as the understudy, giving Rosenfels some meaningful snaps during the season. Not only has nothing that occurred in the Vikings' first pre-season game against the St. Louis Rams done anything to change that view, Webb's performance enhanced it.

That would leave Tarvaris Jackson in search of a new team. And while Jackson is likely to find a new home in the back-up role, he seems forever destined to be little more than a career back-up. That is, unless he finds some offensive scheme that permits errant deep passes, low short passes, y, and a lack of instinct.

Two weeks ago, despite their quizzical build-up of a player whose talents they had every incentive to keep under wraps, the Vikings might have been able to put Webb on the practice squad without losing him to another team. Webb showed enough ability against the Rams, however, to ensure that he will not be left unclaime on the practice squad. And that means that the Vikings will have to release Rosenfels or Jackson, or keep a player that they will probably never use over a player that they probably will need.

Retaining four quarterbacks was a difficult enough proposition when the Vikings merely were considering injuries to E.J. Henderson and Cedric Griffin and the likely retention of Rhys Llloyd exclusively for deep kicks. With the strong play of several defensive linemen and the promise of some heretofore likely-to-be-cut wide receivers, such a proposition has become even more difficult to justify--unless the team simply opts to retain only those offensive linemen capable of playing in the NFL.

While Favre's return magnifies some of the roster moves that the Vikings will be forced to make, it should also put an end to at least a portion of games certain other players on the Vikings have appeared to be playing in recent weeks. This week, we should see Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Adrian Peterson all contributing in the pre-season exhibition and playing their appropriate subordinate roles in the scheme of things. That should be good for the Vikings and good for the careers of those players. And it should put to rest concerns about divisions within the ranks as the season looms.

Up Next: Did You Plug the Hole Yet Daddy, Part II.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brett Favre on the Clock

Even before the 2009-2010 NFL season ended, the Minnesota Vikings understood their 2010 predicament at quarterback: if Brett Favre opted to return, he would be doing so on his terms. Those terms clearly included reporting later than others.

Given the difference that Favre made to the Vikings in 2009-2010 and the Vikings' failure to develop a backup to their aging starter, Minnesota was handcuffed, being forced to accept Favre's terms for returning. Until now, that was fine. No longer.

As the Vikings prepare for the second of their four pre-season games, Favre has officially over-extended even the most courteous and generous of Vikings' allowances for his absence from the team. Were the quarterback's absence merely about his ability to mesh with the team and perform at a high level upon his return, Favre's continuing absence would be a non-issue. But, as Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Adrian Peterson, and others have at least strongly indicated, Favre's presence is now required to right a ship that could slip sideways quickly, if it has not already done so.

Though the Vikings are publicly saying what they need to say to maintain a semblance of team unity, the evidence continues to mount that key players on the team are disenchanted with the special dispensation that Favre is receiving. And if that truly is part of the reason that Harvin, Rice, and Peterson have acted contrary to the standards pertaining to the establishment of team cohesion, the situation is only likely to worsen as the season nears and Favre continues to remain absent, particularly if rumors of Favre's request for additional money this year prove out.

The solution is simple and requires little more of Favre than he currently is providing. All that is required is for Favre to be in attendance at all Vikings' team functions beginning this week. He need not play. He need not dress. He need not speak to reporters. But he does need to be present to demonstrate that he is on board with this year's plan and to meet any challenges from young teammates head on.

A positive omen toward the Vikings' achieving such a commitment from Favre could well be in the most unlikely form--the performance of the Vikings' quarterbacks in Saturday's first pre-season game. Although Jackson looked about the same as ever in very limited playing time, he certainly looked capable of being no worse than a backup on a contending team. And Sage Rosenfels looked every bit the competent starter. Even Joe Webb looked formidable and worth retaining.

All of that puts pressure on Favre to make a decision sooner rather than later. Added to the slow if also noticeable disintegration of team unity, this week marks both an important point for Favre and for the Vikings. For if Favre fails to return this week, the Vikings might well be faced with the very difficult decision of whether to cut ties with their best quarterback.

Up Next: Parlaying Unneeded Depth.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vikings Could Be Victims of Childress' Quarterback Games

Prior to the 2009 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings signed Sage Rosenfels to serve as their starting quarterback. That signing, of course, came before the Vikings inked Brett Favre. With Favre in the fold, the presumption was that Rosenfels would serve as the backup and that Tarvaris Jackson either would be the third-string quarterback or the odd man out. That presumption proved incorrect.

Instead of using Rosenfels as the backup, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress opted to use Jackson in that role. While that meant limited touches for Jackson behind the hardy Favre, it meant zero touches for Rosenfels in 2009.

Clearly, there was a disconnect between player personnel director Rick Spielman and Childress. While Spielman unquestionably favored Favre over Rosenfels, he also quite clearly preferred Rosenfels over Jackson. Had he not, he would not have inked the quarterback to a two-year, $9 million deal.

This year, the Vikings entered the off-season reasonably confident that Favre would return as starting quarterback in 2010. That still appears likely, but Favre's decision to remain not only away from training camp but also away from the team as the team has begun pre-season games portends an ominous start to the season, at best. Combined with Childress' handling of the quarterback situation during his tenure in Minnesota, any misstep involving Favre could be disastrous for the Vikings.

For obvious reasons, the Vikings are hopeful that Favre returns this season, ready to play in game one. Chief among those reasons are Favre's career numbers: 62% completion percentage, 69,329 passing yards, 497 touchdowns against 317 interceptions, and a 181-104 record. Favre's numbers are far more impressive, if that is possible, when juxtaposed against those of the Vikings' other roster options at the quarterback position--a trio that offers a combined total of 51 NFL touchdowns against 47 interceptions and approximately 7,800 passing yards in 10 combined NFL seasons.

Most alarming about the Vikings' quarterback situation--aside from Favre's now overly long absence--is the fact that, with Favre, the Vikings have four quarterbacks on roster. With two kickers already set to be on the roster for the regular season and E.J. Henderson and Cedric Benson questionable early but still locks to make the roster, the Vikings can ill afford to carry four quarterbacks this season. That means that one of the quarterbacks currently on the Vikings' roster probably will not be with the team in 2010. And, right now, the Vikings appear to be weighing whether to try to get Joe Webb onto the practice squad without being claimed or to release Rosenfels.

Webb, with 8 touchdowns and 21 interceptions against predominantly weak opposition last year, should not be considered over Rosenfels as a quarterback this season. That could mean using a practice squad spot on him, but to what end? A second, more logical possibility, however, would be to retain the strong-armed, soft-touch, hard-running player, cutting Jackson.

If the Vikings at least make the proper decision in keeping Rosenfels, there is still reason to believe that they, or at least Childress, will make the wrong decision in keeping and seeding Jackson over Rosenfels on the depth chart. While Rosenfels and Jackson have similar career numbers, Rosenfels' more recent history strongly bolsters the case for using Rosenfels in the backup role and getting Rosenfels some meaningful snaps in the regular season.

In his three seasons in Houston prior to joining Minnesota, Rosenfels had a 65.6 completion percentage and passed for 3,380 yards. The completion percentage alone--nearly 8 points higher than Jackson's three-year figure, ought to matter greatly for the tightly controlled passing game that the Vikings employ.

Probably because he traded up to take an unheralded, small college quarterback, Childress is eschewing the numbers and what his and the eyes of others tell him and them in favor of yet proving that he was not wrong on Jackson. Unfortunately, he already has proven wrong on Jackson. At this point, all that Childress can do is mitigate the error. This year, the best way to mitigate is to position Rosenfels above Jackson (or, preferably, Webb) on the depth chart. Barring that decision, Childress' continued misreading of the position, a misreading that had the Vikings selecting in this year's draft a quarterback who likely will never play quarterback in the NFL and who may never play any position in the NFL rather than a quarterback who, despite personality issues, has demonstrated ability, could cost the team.

How the Vikings handle the quarterback position this year will go a long way toward deciding the Vikings' 2010 fate. Much of the decision, all elements related to Favre's role, is largely out of the Vikings' control. But for the element that the Vikings do control, that of who serves as Favre's backup and who serves as starter in Favre's absence, the Vikings' hold all the cards. And seemingly by all but the head coach's measure, Rosenfels ought to be the backup.

Up Next: Antics a Consequence of Favre's Lingering Decision and Vikings' Kid Gloves.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One Hand Washes Another

In the aftermath of last week's Brett Favre saga revolving around the disclosure by virtually every member of the NFL media that Favre had texted teammates of his imminent retirement, the expected occurred. Rather than merely acknowledging that they jumped the gun on a story that was not a story, those reporting the story resorted to two old tactics--revisionism and blaming their audiences. Neither is very flattering.

On local networks, those covering the Vikings have been in full offensive mode, pouncing on listeners and numerous straw men in an attempt to save face. The gist of the argument has been as follows: "There is nothing wrong with reporting a story and Vikings' fans that are upset over the reporting are only upset because it casts their new hero in a negative light."

For a select few, that logic might hold. Most, however, likely regard the journalism as falling well short of the standards expected of those who earn a living reporting.

The problem with last week's reporting on Favre's "imminent" retirement is not that it proved inaccurate in at least some important respects or that it cast a shadow over Favre's legacy (one that he hardly has had time to build in Minnesota). Rather, the problem is that those reporting relied on purported tangible evidence, text messages, as the basis for their reporting, yet nobody bothered to produce, or even to review any text message. And, to date, nobody has yet shown that such texts existed, even though such an effort ought to be relatively easy, if, in fact, the plethora of such texts actually existed.

What makes the defensive position of some writers even more suspect is their chosen defense: "We provided a caveat that we should wait and see because we all know that Favre has a history of wavering."

That's a preposterous defense on numerous levels. Most notably, it is no defense, even if true, for not identifying the texts upon which one purportedly relied in breaking a story and, more damning, if, as is surely the case, Favre's history of wavering is well known, as that history clearly ought to caution greater care in the reporting of such stories. Finally, if the story is one of caution, the headlines and the lead-ins ought not to be about Favre's departure.

The truth of the matter upon revelation that Favre had not retired is that everyone who reported the story as fact is now embarrassed for having done so. That is as it should be. Rather than taking that frustration out on the reader/listener, however, a bit of introspection might be in order. For sooner than most likely dare to admit, even internet and radio journalism will survive or fail based on the credibility of those doing the reporting. If the most recent Favre story were the measuring stick, there would be a whole slew of new journalists finding jobs this week, and an equal number searching for jobs in new fields.

Up Next: Sage Looking for An Out. Plus, too many injuries?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sources Say

As the off-season NFL cycle comes to a close and national and local sports outlets look to bolster eyeballs on their sites, the inevitable stories appear; whether detailing Rick Pitino's abbreviated sexual exploits or reporting the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Lorenzen Wright's murder, the sports media are clinging to any story that offers the prospect of titillation, even if it means repeating stories over and over again with but mundane addendum to the stories.

It, thus, is no great surprise that, just weeks before the commencement of the NFL's 2010 pre-season, various outlets have opted to run with the story that Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre is retiring. The source of the story of course is "sources"--the ubiquitous aid in all such downtime, need-a-story times.

Whether Favre actually retires, leaving Minnesota to make do with what almost certainly would become a half season of failure by Tavaris Jackson prior to the on-set of the Sage Rosenfels year, remains to be seen. And it is unlikely that Favre will do or say anything to dissuade the rumors currently circulating.

Unfortunately, however, in their zeal to obtain a story to fill what otherwise would be dead time, virtually every local and national sports reporter has opted to run with the story of Favre's retirement, despite the fact that not one single reporter has yet whittled down an actual source. When that is what you primarily do to obtain credibility in your profession, and when all reporters are anxious that they not miss the lead, the chasm between what once was regarded as proper journalism and what now routinely passes for sports reporting is approaching irreversible widths.

In short, if you believed, and hoped, that Favre would return for a 20th season in the NFL, there is no less reason to believe in such an eventuality today than there was yesterday. Or so sources say.

Up Next: Childress Through the Looking Glass

Monday, August 02, 2010

They Play Who We Thought They Played And When We Thought They Played Them

Heading into the 2010 NFL regular season, many pundits have posited that the Green Bay Packers are poised to dethrone the Minnesota Vikings as the NFC North champions. That line of thinking is the outgrowth of the perception that the Packers took giant steps last year and are on the cusp of taking yet another step forward this year.

As the old saying goes, however, it's not who you play, but when you play them. And an objective, albeit early, assessment of the 2010 schedules for the Vikings and Packers suggests that the teams that the Packers play in 2010 could create more problems for the green and gold than will the teams that the Vikings play this year.

For the Vikings, the schedule appears far more appealing than many football analysts have suggested. Though it is true that the team begins the season with numerous challenging opponents, including the New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, and New England Patriots, the team benefits from two early season bye weeks, one of them during which they play the Detroit Lions.

The difficulty for Minnesota will be weathering the first seven weeks of the season, during which the team plays four games on the road against teams against whom they likely will be slight underdogs. If the Vikings can sweep Miami, Detroit, and Dallas at home, a reasonable proposition, and win at the Jets and or at New England, that daunting seven game stretch will successfully be in the rear view mirror.

After the opening seven-game gauntlet, the Vikings face mostly average to below-average teams for the remainder of the season, barring a resurgence by the New York Giants, with their most likely challenges likely to be a home game against the Packers and at Philadelphia. The rest of the schedule includes the Lions, the Bears, twice, the Cardinals without Kurt Warner, Washington, and Buffalo. Assuming no major injuries, the return of Favre, even remotely modest play at cornerback and safety, and modest line play, the Vikings should be able to record at least at an 11-5 record, allowing for one home hiccup and assuming road victories against lesser opponents.

Unlike the Vikings, the Packers have the difficult portion of their season interspersed throughout their schedule. If Minnesota stumbles out of the gate, that could favor the Packers. But, if the Vikings simply do as suggested above, the burden will fall on the Packers to keep pace in the second half of a schedule that should be tougher for Green Bay than should be Minnesota's for the Vikings.

Though the Vikings and Packers play a similar slate of opponents, the Packers play at Chicago early in the season when the Bears will still believe they are playing for something and close against a Chicago team that likely will be looking to spoil the Packers' playoff hopes.

The Packers' season very well could hinge on games at home against Minnesota and, more importantly, on the road at Atlanta. Victories in both games, and a split with the Bears, will put the pressure on Minnesota to meet its performance expectations. A loss in either will reduce that pressure and put even more pressure on the Packers to forge through a schedule which, though containing no long stretches that ought to test the Packers' fortitude, neither permits the Packers any stretches of even relative rest.

Comparisons between the Vikings' and Packers' schedules are far more apt than is the the suggestion that the Packers have the easier of the two schedules. But the difference in when the Vikings and Packers play the meat of their schedule could bode well for the Vikings. And should the Vikings weather the early weeks of the season, the Vikings can make the case that the pressure will be on the Packers through the remainder of the season in what should be a one game divide between two of last year's NFC playoff teams.

Up Next: Present Performance Speaking Volumes About Vikings' Moves That Have Not Panned Out.