Every season when the schedule is released I try to make an effort to give an early look at what the Vikings can expect in the coming season pre-draft. With so many variables still factoring into the final roster it is hard to say how anything is going to play out. Just look at last season and the number of injuries that could never be predicted. But in the end it is a fun exercise as we move towards the draft a week from tonight.
Week 1 – New Orleans Saints (MNF): Starting the season at home is a rarity for the Vikings and will be a nice treat for fans. Week one in the NFL is rarely predictive of the season to come since teams are just starting to taste what they can become. US Bank Stadium will be loud in a primetime matchup and would give any opposing offense trouble. After tapering off at the end of the 2016 season the Vikings defense will also have something to prove to a national audience. It all comes down to the Vikings restocked offense being able to move the ball on a young improving Saints defense. Verdict: Vikings sneak out a close win at home to begin the year (1-0).
Week 2 – @Pittsburgh Steelers: Going on the road to the steel city to face Big Ben and the Steelers is a tough way for any team to begin their road slate. Barring a SB matchup this is likely the last time the Vikings and Mike Zimmer (prior AFC North D Coordinator) will matchup with Roethlisberger. The Steelers offense can give any defense trouble due to the pure number of offensive weapons they have at their disposal. Basically, the Vikings are going to need to get points on the board early and often. The Steelers defense would be considered average by most but can give the Vikings line some trouble with their pass rush. The Steelers haven’t been unbeatable at home recently but this is arguably the Vikings toughest road matchup on the season. Verdict: Steelers roll with their ability to win on the ground, through the air, and with a pass rush (1-1).
Week 3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Year 3 for Jameis Winston and the Bucs could turn out to be a huge step in the right direction. The Bucs proved to be a wild card threat the final 1/3 of the 2016 season and could be poised to make a run in 2017. On offense they win through the air with Mike Evans and their ability to spread the ball out. Although Winston is clearly the Bucs kingpin the defense needs to continue their improved play into 2017. In this matchup the Vikings should have the pass rush to attack the Bucs O-line which is their kryptonite. Xavier Rhodes length should provide a fun matchup vs. Evans. Verdict: This could end up being a very tight game, but it is hard to bet against the Vikings pass rush and the adrenaline boost they’ll get at home (2-1).
Week 4 – Detroit Lions: The Vikings took the unfortunate sweep against the Lions in 2016 and that ultimately sealed their fate in any tie-breaking scenario at the end of last season. The Lions are a candidate for regression due to the number of 4th quarter comebacks they were able to put together last season. As a team the offensive line has seemingly improved and the key to their offense is giving Stafford time to work in the pocket. Defensively the Lions should also take another step next season if they can add a decent linebacker in the draft. From a matchup standpoint the Vikings and Lions are fairly even since each team can negate the others strength. Verdict: The Vikings have the pure talent to beat the Lions and an improved running game will keep drives alive which killed them a season ago (3-1).
Week 5 – @Chicago Bears (MNF): The Minnesota Vikings + Soldier Field is not a good combination. Giving the Bears one of their three wins in 2016 is a testament of that. It will be interesting to see how the Bears approach this draft and the #3 overall pick. Glennon appears to be the QB entering this season but they could make massive strides on the defensive side of the ball with a Jamaal Adams or defensive leader. The loss of Alshon Jeffery hurts their air attack but Fox wants to keep the game on the ground and run through Jordan Howard. The Vikings have trouble containing teams on the ground and being on the road against an now average defense could be another could lead for a black and blue battle in the trenches. Verdict: Regardless of what you think will happen the Vikings always struggle in Chicago and a battle in the trenches likley doesn’t favor the Vikings on the road (3-2).
Week 6 – Green Bay Packers: Every Vikings fan will have this game circled on their calendar since outside of the Saints is the premiere home matchup within the division. The Packers will be solid on the offensive side of the ball with Aaron Rodgers under center and a healthy Jordy Nelson. The addition of a 3-down back to compliment Ty Montgomery would make them very tough to stop. Defensively the Packers are hopeful their DB’s will improve with another season under their belts. Based on what they showed in the playoffs, this is very possible although the loss of Micah Hyde will hurt. A noon start will be tough for the Vikings since the crowd won’t be nearly as big of a factor as they were for a SNF game last season. Verdict: The Vikings will have to generate turnovers to beat the Pack and that is not a given against Rodgers, the Vikings fall back to .500 after this one (3-3).
Week 7 – Baltimore Ravens: Heading into 2017 the Ravens are still in a cycle of rebuilding on the defensive side of the ball and could be in for a rough 2017 season. Either way the Ravens have struggled away from home consistently and a pocket passer like Flacco will have trouble against a steady pass rush. From a pure matchup perspective the Vikings should also have the ability to take away the Ravens intermediate passing game with their pairing of Rhodes and Waynes. Verdict: The Vikings should have the ability to pull out a win here although they’ve played the Ravens close historically (4-3).
Week 8 – @Cleveland Browns: 2017 will mark the Vikings return to London to face off with another AFC North opponent. The Browns “seem” to be moving in the right direction under new leadership but 2017 likely won’t be the season they turn the corner. Regardless of who starts at QB (Osweiler, Kessler, rookie) the entire roster needs to develop and find an identity. A strong offensive line should be able to hand the Vikings in the trenches but the Vikings are the better team on paper and have more chemistry at this point. Verdict: The Vikings are able to win against another AFC North team across the pond to head into their bye week on a positive note (5-3).
Week 9 – Bye Week: For once the Vikings benefit from a mid-season bye
Week 10 – @Washington Redskins: As soon as the Redskins seem to take a step in the right direction the dysfunction within the organization rises to the top once again. The Kirk Cousins contract saga has been interesting to watch from an outsiders perspective, but the trouble runs deeper than that. The Redskins are a team that has the potential to take a step back in 2017 although they’re returning a majority of their roster. The Vikings would have won in Washington a year ago if they could have moved the ball on the ground and convert two key 3rd and 1’s. Gruden’s play action passing game took advantage of the Vikings linebackers but the loss of DeSean Jackson removes their verticle threat. With an improved running game the Vikings stand a better chance. Verdict: An improved running game should give the Vikings an upper hand in this year matchup (6-3).
Week 11 – Los Angeles Rams: Without a first round pick due to the move up the board in 2016 for Jared Goff ties the Rams tied themselves at the hip to his development moving forward. Defensively the Rams front-7 can wreck a game with all pro Aaron Donald and Trumaine Johnson can take away your #1 receiver. The Vikings could prove to have a very tough time moving the ball and may need turnovers to get significant points on the board. New HC Sean McVay should implement a quick hitting offense to simplify the game for Jared Goff and limit the chances he will have to make game changing mistakes. Verdict: The Rams front-7 is a terrible matchup for the Vikings and unless they can generate turnovers this could be a tough game for fans to watch and the Vikings to ultimately win (6-4).
Week 12 – @Detroit Lions (Thanksgiving): A surprise to many, the Vikings return to Detroit for a Thanksgiving Day rematch. We covered off on the Lions above and it should be a fun matchup between the these two teams again. Verdict: Being on the road and playing against a motivated Lions team on Thanksgiving will make it tough for the Vikings to win in the motor city (6-5).
Week 13 – @Atlanta Falcons: The schedule doesn’t let up in the second half for the Vikings are they head on the road to the defending NFC Champs when a team entering with a (6-5) record would need a win most. The Falcons have done a good job of building a team predicated on speed and fundamental football. Although they made it to the Super Bowl a year ago the Falcons could make major strides on the defensive side of the ball as their rookies adjust to NFL life. Offensively it will be interesting to see how the team performs without offensive guru Kyle Shanahan moving on to the 49ers. The system Shanahan implemented let Ryan spread the ball around and really pressured opposing defenses at every level. Offensively the Vikings should be able to move the ball a bit but it will be important to limit turnovers on the road. Defensively it isn’t about stopping the Falcons, but about containing their weapons and limiting the big plays they can produce. Verdict: The Falcons are one of the favorites in the NFC once again and it is hard to see the Vikings going into their building and walking out with a win at this point (6-6).
Week 14 – @Carolina Panthers: The road gauntlet concludes on the road against the Panthers who are set for a rebound in 2017. Similar to the Vikings in 2016, the Panthers just couldn’t get any momentum due to a number of injuries across the O-line and chemistry issues in the secondary. Similar to the Packers the Panthers are hoping their secondary will improve with another year of seasoning for their rookies. Offensively it all comes down to if big ticket free agent signing Matt Kalil can protect Cam in the pocket. The Panthers should be set to take a step back in the right direction and could resemble the Super Bowl team they were in 2015 once again making it tough for the Vikings to pick up a win on the road. Verdict: The Vikings drop their third straight contest on the road but do sack Cam Newton multiple times, beating Matt Kalil in the process (6-7).
Week 15 – Cincinnati Bengals: With their playoff hopes on life support the Vikings will be desperate to steer the ship back in the right direction upon returning home. The Bengals took a massive step backwards and missed the playoffs in 2016. With a high draft pick they could rebuild quickly but the constant changes to the offensive and defensive coaching staffs caught up to them. This will be Zimmer’s chance to matchup against Marvin Lewis in which may end up being the media draw to this game. The Bengals offense runs through A.J. Green and a likely improved running game. Defensively the Bengals are build similar to the Vikings with a above average pass rush and depth at DB. The Bengals lost continuity along the O-line and the Vikings pass rush is better than the Bengals on paper. Offensively the Vikings should be able to move the ball effectively through the air and on the ground. Verdict: This could be an old school back and blue football game but the Vikings advatage in the defensive trenches could be a real turning point (7-7).
Week 16 – @Green Bay Packers (SAT): The Vikings draw NBC’s primetime Thursday night football on Saturday (hypocrites) matchup this year. We discussed what the Packers bring to the table above and it is harder to think the Vikings are going to salvage their season on the road at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have always be lethal in the month of December and will likely be fighting for their playoff lives as well. Verdict: Although the game will likely be fairly close the Packers pull out the Christmas win at home (7-8).
Week 17 – Chicago Bears: Similar to the 2016 season the Vikings and Bears could likely be eliminated from contention at this point and playing for pride and off-season momentum. If the Bears draft a rookie passer he could have taken over by this point as they try to develop a foundation for the future. Verdict: On paper the Vikings are the better team and should be able to close our their home schedule with a win (8-8).