EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With the official 2016 NFL schedule likely to be released in the next month or so, fans and experts alike will start making their way-too-early predictions on which teams will make the playoffs.
The Vikings are coming off a season in which they went 11-5 and won the NFC North title, meaning they could be a trendy pick to reach the postseason once again.
But in the days following Minnesota's bitter 10-9 Wild Card playoff loss to Seattle, players and coaches spoke about not taking their success in 2015 for granted.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison stressed the importance of working hard to make it back to the postseason.
"I told them before the game yesterday – it's do or die. There is no tomorrow when you get these opportunities," Robison said in January when cleaning out his locker. "They're seeing it now – we felt we had the opportunity to do a lot of special things this year, in the weeks to come, and now we'll never know what could have been. Hopefully they understand it.
"As a young guy, it's hard to grasp the fact that you're in the playoffs this year, [but] that doesn't guarantee you'll do that next year," he added.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer echoed those sentiments at his year-end press conference.
"There's no guarantees moving forward. Next year is a whole new year," Zimmer said. "Things happen, you don't know, different schedule, all kinds of things. But the one thing that I know about this football team is they work and they're high character guys."
Perhaps the Vikings relayed this message over and over because it's statistically true.
Between 1990, when the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format, and February 2015, there were 100 teams that lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Only 47 of them, less than half, returned to the postseason the following year.
The Vikings have lost in the Wild Card round six times in their history, including three consecutive seasons from 1992-94, yet returned to the playoffs the following year four times.
Other teams have made repeat postseason trips, too.
Of the 100 Wild Card losers, seven returned to the postseason and made it to the Super Bowl.
Four teams — Tampa Bay (2002), New York Giants (2007), Pittsburgh (2008) and Green Bay (2010) — followed up their Wild Card losses with a Super Bowl victory the next season.
And a trio of teams — St. Louis (2001), Seattle (2005) and Indianapolis (2009) — made it to the Super Bowl but lost.
The Vikings get back to work Monday as the team returns to Winter Park for the beginning of the voluntary offseason workout program, the first steps in making a second straight trip to the playoffs.
"I think there was a foundation that was laid this year," Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said in January. "That's something we want to continue to build on."