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published Sunday, December 25th - 9:17am

The Vikings suffered the most-heartbreaking victory in franchise history on Saturday. The events in Washington created the following scenario for 2012:

*Running back Adrian Peterson tore up his left knee and will undergo reconstructive surgery. We are certain to hear this spring and summer of the phenomenal progress that Peterson is making in his rehabilitation, because that is the way teams - and particularly football teams - always frame it when an important player is trying to come back.

In truth, it's very likely that Peterson will miss the first several weeks of the 2012 season, and when he comes back, those cuts that he makes to go with his power and speed may not be as dynamic.

*The victory almost guarantees that the Vikings will pick no higher than third in the April draft. It would take St. Louis beating San Francisco next weekend for the Vikes to select second - and it's not going to happen with that Rams offense.

What that means is Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback, and Matt Kalil, the left tackle from Southern Cal, will not be available when the Vikings draft. They would still wind up with a great player - LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne - selecting third, but Luck is a franchise changer and Kalil would fill the greatest need on this ultra-flawed team.

There's also a very good chance that the Vikings will beat Chicago in the season finale next Sunday at the Metrodome. The Bears have turned to dead men walking since the loss of quarterback Jay Cutler. The Vikings have found some temporary pizzazz at the position with Joe Webb.

A Vikings' victory could drop them to sixth in the draft, if Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Cleveland all stay at four wins by losing next Sunday.

Jacksonville will be hosting Indianapolis. A Colts' victory would give St. Louis with the No. 1 pick - and the Rams don't figure to take Luck, not with the huge investment they have in quarterback Sam Bradford.

That would put the No. 1 pick and Luck on the market, but it won't have an impact on the Vikings. They will either pick third (Clayborn), or 4-5-6 and perhaps wind up with Justin Blackmon, the dynamic receiver from Oklahoma State.

The Vikings are going to get a very helpful player, but not Luck or Kalil.

*Sunday's victory also provides a guarantee that Leslie Frazier returns for his second full season as the head coach. I don't feel like that's a good thing. I don't think he's a head coach. I think you require more fire to run an NFL team.

It's already clear, from the reporting of 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero a while back, that the Vikings will shake up the defensive staff - starting with the dismissal of Fred Pagac as coordinator.

This might serve a purpose, unless Frazier is allowed to promote his pal, Mike Singletary, from linebackers coach to coordinator. Those who play great don't necessarily coach well, and many observers put Singletary in that category.

It's not a coincidence that the 49ers were expected to be NFC West contenders in 2010 and had a horrendous season with Singletary, and that Jim Harbaugh has come in and promptly turned the 49ers into the team the Packers would least like to face in an NFC title game in Lambeau Field.

I'm guessing there would be enough resistance at Winter Park to Singletary as defensive coordinator for Zygi Wilf not to allow it, but if it were to happen, better health and some additions through the draft aren't likely to be enough to fix this train wreck of a defense.

Until Peterson's knee injury came along, probably the worst thing to happen to the Vikings during the six-game losing streak (preceding Sunday's game) was the decline in the play of rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.

He has gone from the high promise shown in his first two starts - a narrow Green Bay loss in the Dome and a victory at Carolina - to a giant question mark.

His ongoing decline in play has taken Ponder from the future of the franchise to a guy who will be required to beat out Webb (Minnesota's version of Tim Tebow) in training camp and exhibitions to hold the position.

Everything considered, including the fall in the draft, the 2012 Vikings will be wisely projected to finish fourth (last) in the NFC North for a third straight season.