Vikings' schedule not as tough as expected

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 schedule was released, the team had the NFL's 10th-toughest slate, based on the .516 winning percentage its opponents had last season. And the early analysis of the schedule was that the Vikings would have to survive a haywire four-week stretch at the start of the season before hitting the meat of it in October.

the Vikings' Oct. 21 "Monday Night Football" matchup with the New York Giants through their Dec. 8 date in Baltimore with the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, they had an eight-week stretch that featured five games against playoff teams and not a single one against a team that finished worse than .500 last season.

Well, the NFL has a way of flipping quickly, as the Vikings know all too well. After going from 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6 last year, they're sitting at 1-3 and are one of the four returning NFC playoff teams with a losing record through the first quarter of the season. But the good news for the Vikings is they'll return from their bye week on Monday to a schedule that doesn't look as tough as originally expected.

They face the 1-2 Carolina Panthers next week (though like the Vikings, the Panthers lost on a last-second touchdown in Week 2 and are probably plays away from being 3-0). Then it's on to New York, where the Giants are 0-4 and are in disarray, before a Sunday night matchup at home with the Green Bay Packers, who are 1-2 before a key NFC North matchup with the Detroit Lions this weekend. The next time the Vikings face a team with a winning record is Nov. 17, when they travel to Seattle, and the 12 teams left on the Vikings' schedule have a current winning percentage of .466. Perennial contenders like the Packers and Ravens could look drastically different by the time the Vikings face them, but at least at the moment, Minnesota's upcoming opponents don't look as formidable as they did when the schedule was first released.

Of greater concern to the Vikings should be the fact they only have five home games left after they face the Panthers, courtesy of their decision to move last week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to London. The Vikings are technically in the middle of a three-game homestand, and they'll feel the effects of that after the Panthers game, when four of their next six are on the road. If they can catch some of these teams when they're scuffling, though, the Vikings could have an opportunity to turn their season around in a stretch of their schedule that didn't appear to break in their favor.