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Vikings starting toughest portion of 2012 schedule

The toughest part of Minnesota's regular season schedule begins Sunday when they take on Da Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Four of their last six games are with the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. It will be Black and Blue Division football in concentrated form.

The Vikings will have Chicago and Green Bay at home Dec. 9 and Dec. 30, but four of their final six contests are on the road, and that signals trouble. If the Vikings could take Mall of America Field with them on the road, they might go undefeated, but outdoor weather has a way of throwing the Vikes. They are built for indoor football.

The Vikes have already been a major surprise to many of their fans. They have won six of their 10 games, and they might have to print playoff tickets if they play .500 ball or better the rest of the way.

It makes a person wonder if the dream will end when the jet touches down.

You might want to say, "Hey, just a minute, do you mean to tell me the team that has lost to Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Washington and Seattle is actually considered a playoff contender?"

You get the feeling that even if the Vikings lucked into the playoff party, someone would get wise to them and boot them back out the door. These guys won only three games in 2011.

Did the New York Giants look like Super Bowl champions when the 2011 season ended? They did not even look like a division champion. Division champs score more points than they give up as a rule, but not the Giants.

They just lined up and played winning football. You have to respect the job Tom Coughlin and his staff did in taking that 9-7 team all the way.

It also makes quite a difference how healthy a team is when the playoffs arrive. A good record may earn you a home playoff game or two, but that is all. The Packers went 15-1 last year and did not even make the NFC championship game. Losing Greg Jennings hurt them last year, and it has hurt them this year. Still, the Packers are far likelier to reach the playoffs this year than Minnesota, even if they have to fill one of the National Football Conference's two wild card spots. If that turns out to be the case, the question is who will get the other wild card spot? This is where it gets interesting. With plenty of season left, the leading contenders for that second wild card look like Seattle, Tampa Bay or, yep, Minnesota.

The Vikes need a healthy Percy Harvin back on the field, and Christian Ponder has to play hard and smart. He cannot afford to dither the way he did in Seattle. With Adrian Peterson in the lineup, the Vikings have the potential to rack up massive amounts of rushing yardage and play ball control football. Peterson is a future Hall of Famer, and guys with that kind of talent can take you a long way. Ponder has to bring Kyle Rudolph, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright into the offense with a passing game that confounds opposing defenses. So much is riding on how this second-year quarterback from Florida State responds to the next six games. To make the playoffs, the Vikings are going to have to score points at the same clip they did Nov. 11 in their 34-24 win over Detroit. The Vikings are third in the NFL in rushing yardage but an anemic 29th in passing yardage.

The reason Minnesota's offense is so important is the fact that their defense is just slightly above average. Defensively, the Vikings are ranked 14th in the NFL against both the rush and the pass. When you are playing teams with scoring threats like Chicago's Brandon Marshall, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Houston's Arien Foster ,you have to bring your best to the game.