Being average is an achievement for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. Little was expected of this team, and they remain right in the middle of the playoff race at 6-6 to start December.
Yet they will be the first team at .500 or better to get forked by our wildly subjective panel because average won't be enough in a deep NFC. The Vikings, losers of four of five games, have shown repeatedly they can't consistently beat quality competition. Their remaining opponents (Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers) have a combined record of 32-15-1. Minnesota would be lucky to go 2-2 the rest of the way. It's hard to win in the NFL without a passing game.
What went wrong
The Vikings organization and its fans have to feel mixed emotions about this season. They have overachieved, yet they haven't achieved their primary goal this season: Developing Christian Ponder. If this season was about "finding out if Ponder is the guy," the answer is clear. Only Blaine Gabbert and John Skelton have thrown for fewer yards-per-attempt. Ponder's accuracy, confidence, and decision-making have all been shaky.
No quarterback with over 300 attempts has fewer plays over 20 yards. For perspective, Matt Cassel has more big plays than Ponder with 107 fewer attempts. It's not all Ponder's fault of course. His wide receivers are very poor after Percy Harvin, who has battled injuries again. The playcalling can be too conservative. But Ponder has been stuck in a hole for two months and can't seem to dig himself out.
His yardage numbers since Week 7: 58, 251, 63, 221, 159, 119. Even his biggest game in that group (against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was a rough performance.
We could pick on other aspects of the Vikings team like their -6 turnover margin, the Jerome Simpson signing, a mediocre guard tandem or their need for a decent linebacker. But that's all window dressing. They need a passing game. That comes back to Ponder.
What went right
They started out 4-1 after winning only three games all of last year. While five of their six wins were against teams with losing records, that sixth win was an thorough smackdown of the San Francisco 49ers. This team can be physical and the defense has vastly improved since last year's disaster.
Adrian Peterson is an MVP candidate and freak of nature. This year perhaps above all others thus far will help cement his legacy as an all-time great. No. 4 overall pick Matt Kalil has come as advertised on the left side of the offensive line. Center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholdt have been effective. Kyle Rudolph has been a solid puzzle piece. Percy Harvin remained wildly valuable, but still not durable.
On defense, the team didn't excel in any area but has improved to solid. Jared Allen has declined some, but Antoine Winfield has enjoyed a terrific season. Kevin Williams has been more effective with less snaps. First-round pick, safety Harrison Smith, has looked like a keeper. The team had a nice draft.
What still matters
We know the Vikings remain in the playoff race, but even winning two more games would be a strong finish for this team. Even one more win wouldn't be that bad, if that win came against the Packers or Bears. Getting Ponder to turn things around in the final month is huge. It's not just that he's struggled this year, he's regressed as the season wore on.
What changes are coming
The coaching staff and front office should be all set unless the Vikings pulled a surprise move and replaced offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. It's too early to "give up" on Ponder, but bringing in more competition for him will be key. Harvin is entering the last year of his deal and is sure to make noise if he doesn't get a big extension in the offseason.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.