The Vikings were dreadful last year and most football experts think they'll be dreadful again. But I'm actually kind of optimistic. And no, this isn't a knee jerk homer reaction, or at least not just a homer reaction. Last year I thought that the Vikes would be bad. I thought it was wrong to act like their competitive window was still open. I probably wouldn't have guessed 3-13 bad, but I wasn't surprised by it.
This year is different though and I wouldn't be surprised if they go at least 8-8. In fact, with luck, I think they could be in the playoff chase. What's changed?
The 2011 Vikings were abysmal in close games. They finished 2-9 in games decided by less than a touchdown. (This represents bad luck more than it does bad play. Teams that are much better or worse than .500 in close games almost always bounce back toward the median in the next couple of years.) If the Vikes had gone 5-6 in close games last year they would have been 5-11. If they had been a very lucky team, they could have been 10-6.
They suffered huge injuries in the secondary last year and sure enough, that was by far their worst unit. If they can have their preferred players on the field more, they should play better.
Their offensive line will be better this year. This has been a problem for some time and the 2011 line was the worst of the bunch. Not only should it be better, it should lead to better QB play. There is plenty of reason to think that Ponder will be much better this year. NFL quarterbacks often show huge improvement from their first to their second season. And we shouldn't forget that he had a short off season last year.
The 2012 Vikings start off with a soft schedule. They first face a couple of teams that were pretty bad last year. The Colts and Jaguars only won seven combined games in 2011. There is every reason to believe that the Vikings are at least on par with the two of them, if not better.
I don't really know how the Vikings will do but they should be better than last year.