Some may lament an early-season bye, which is what the Vikings are facing this week. But there are pros and cons no matter where your bye falls on the schedule. The best course of action, regardless of when a team is on its bye, is to identify the positives and work to use them in an advantageous way.
For the Vikings, a Week 5 bye following a five-game preseason and a 2-2 start to the regular season provides a great opportunity to rest and recharge for a 12-game stretch to close out the season. The first third of that 12-game stretch is comprised with a key slate of games that will set the stage for the rest of the season. Over the next four games, the Vikings will play twice at home and twice on the road. They will also play NFC opponents in three of the four games, including back-to-back division road games against Detroit and Chicago.
Here's a closer look at what's ahead for the Vikings over the next four games…
Week 5 – vs. Kansas CityDon't be fooled right now by the Chiefs 1-3 record. Their three losses are to three undefeated teams (Denver, Green Bay, Cincinnati) and their victory came in Week 1 against the Houston Texans in a game they led 27-6 at one point. While they have allowed 30 points in their last three games, they have a chance to rebound this week against a 1-3 Chicago Bears bunch to improve their form before traveling to Minnesota for a bout with the Vikings. With one of the best RBs in the League (Jamaal Charles) and a talented pass-rushing tandem (Tamba Hali and Justin Houston), the Chiefs pose as a worthy challenger for the Vikings first opponent coming out of the bye.
Week 6 – at DetroitA key three-game stretch begins in Week 6 when the Vikings hit the road to play a division opponent. They'll do the same thing when they travel to Chicago the week after. The Vikings already have a win over the Lions, but playing on the road is an entirely different story and you can be sure Detroit will be playing as if there's nothing to lose after opening the season 0-4 and with revenge on their minds following a throttling at the hands of the Purple back in Week 2. Every game in the NFL is important, but NFC games and division games have extra implications.
Week 7 – at ChicagoTwo consecutive road games against two consecutive division foes. As if winning at Soldier Field wasn't hard enough in its own right, the Vikings have to try to do it this year coming off what will surely be a physical game against the Lions. If the Vikings want to reverse their fortunes on the road, playing well and winning games in back-to-back weeks against the Lions and Bears is a great way to start.
Week 8 – vs. St. LouisThe Arizona Cardinals were one of the hottest teams entering Week 4. They had won their first three games of the season by a combined 77 points and were coming off back-to-back 40-point games. The St. Louis Rams put some water on that fire, though. If the Vikings overlook their Week 8 opponent, a similar fate could take shape. The Rams are a tough bunch and they feature one of the best defensive lines in the game. On top of that, it looks like rookie RB Todd Gurley may be finding his stride and QB Nick Foles is taking great care of the football with 5 TDs to 1 INT and having taken just six sacks in the first four games.
Again, every game matters in the NFL and no opponent should be overlooked. But the Vikings first four games coming out of the bye will be crucial to setting the stage for the final half of the season. Entering the bye, the Vikings are 1-1 in the NFC and 1-0 in their division, but they'll play two division games and three total against NFC opponents from Week 5 to Week 8, making the next four games the most important four games of the season (to date).