It’s Christmas in April for NFL fans over this week-and-a-half with the release of the schedule and the NFL Draft. And while we won’t have the entire picture of teams’ roster until the draft is wrapped up, the schedule gives us an opportunity to look how things are shaping up for 2019. So with the Minnesota Vikings’ schedule set, here are predictions and notes for the upcoming year:
Week 1 – Falcons
Atlanta has the look of a team that could bounce back from a 7-9 season in 2018. Injuries on defense hampered them from the start but the Falcons’ offense was — and should continue to be — explosive. They ranked fourth in pass Expected Points Added, just ahead of the Los Angeles Rams and fourth in total passing yards.
Still the Vikings’ defense at home has had a tendency during the Mike Zimmer era to slow down even the best of offenses. The Vikings dominated Matt Ryan and Co. at Atlanta in 2017 to the tune of a 14-9 victory and many of the same characters will be on the field when they face off at US Bank Stadium.
Week 2 – AT Packers
Green Bay is one of the hardest teams to project because they changed head coaches from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur and made some impressive additions to the defense. By Week 2 there might still be some growing pains for Aaron Rodgers on the offensive side but there also won’t be enough time for he and LaFleur to be at odds. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine showed progress in his first season. Now he will have two pass rushers in Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith who can cause the Vikings’ O-line some trouble.
If the Packers are at peak potential, it will be very tough for the Vikings to beat them for the third time in a row at Lambeau Field. But if Rodgers isn’t buying into the new offense, Zimmer’s defense should be able to take advantage.
Week 3 – Raiders
Oakland will be expected to take a huge jump now that they have Antonio Brown but barring a Week 3 meltdown like we saw by the Vikings last year, they still should be stronger than Jon Gruden’s rebuilt squad.
Derek Carr has only seen the Vikings’ defense once in his career. He threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed two INTs and lost. With new wrinkles from Zimmer, it won’t be an easy afternoon for Oakland’s QB (that’s assuming the Raiders don’t surprise us on draft day by trading for Kyler Murray).
Week 4 – AT Bears
Soldier Field has often been a house of horrors for the Vikings. Last year three key turnovers left Zimmer’s group on the wrong end of an ugly game and Chicago’s roster hasn’t changed much since then. However, we have seen that No. 1 defenses have a difficult time staying at the top. Last year the Bears caused turnovers on a remarkable 19.5 percent of opposing teams’ drives. That’s very unlikely to happen again, especially with their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio now heading up the Broncos.
Still the Bears will present a rough matchup as long as Kalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are on their defensive line.
Week 5 – AT Giants
While the G-Men signed known Viking killer Golden Tate, they will still be running out a quarterback with the mobility of the Statue of Liberty. Giants coach Pat Shurmur is a wizard at drawing up quick passes and screens, which could give the Vikings some trouble on the road, but Zimmer’s defenses tend to maul over-the-hill QBs. The last two times Manning has matched up with the Vikings, he’s lost 49-17 and 24-10. In those games he threw just one touchdown and four interceptions and produced ratings of 63.3 and 50.7.
Week 6 – Eagles
With their victory in Philly last year AKA the game that produced a Linval Joseph pick-six, the Vikings exorcised the demons of the 2017 NFC Championship game. The Eagles still made the playoffs last year and came close to a return to the NFC title game, so they shouldn’t be expected to fall off, especially since signing DeSean Jackson to add a deep weapon to an already-strong bunch of skill players. But the home field advantage plays strong into any prediction. Carson Wentz is 15-5 at home and 8-12 on the road in his career.
Week 7 – AT Lions
Detroit is a bounce-back candidate after a brutal 2018 that saw them go 6-10 drop from seventh in 2017 to 25th in scoring last year. With a new offensive coordinator and additions of Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Snacks Harrison (acquired last year), there’s a good chance Matt Patricia’s team will be tougher, even if he struggles to manage the players like he did last season. At times during his career Matt Stafford has been a thorn in the Vikings’ side. We shouldn’t expect him to get sacked 10 times in a single game in 2019,
Week 8 – Washington
Ah yes, the Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum revenge game, depending on who you think is getting revenge against their former team. Keenum showed last season that he needs elite receivers and an exceptional play-caller at he helm in order to have a strong season. It’s doubtful that he will have those things in D.C. However, there is a chance that Murray or Josh Rosen or Derek Carr could be heading up the Washington offense. But none of those players would change the prediction here considering home-field advantage and Washington’s mediocre defense.
Week 9 – AT Chiefs
It would be surprising if Patrick Mahomes repeated his MVP season but he’s certainly capable of putting up astronomical numbers again. The Vikings’ defense isn’t always as good on the road when playing on grass, which could give Andy Reid’s group enough of an advantage to beat the Vikings. A new defensive coordinator could also give the Chiefs a boost in this one.
Week 10 – AT Cowboys
Dallas is a much better and different team with Amari Cooper and their defense is stacked with talent, so this is a coin-flip type game. In the one matchup of Dak Prescott vs. the Vikings, he threw for just 139 yards, the lowest of his impressive 2016 rookie season. And the Vikings’ defense didn’t even have Zimmer at the helm that night. File this one under the category of: Games that could end 10-7. Dan Bailey revenge game anyone?
Week 11 – Broncos
Denver still has an awful lot of talent on the defensive side but they are just a shadow of the 2015 team that won the Super Bowl. Last year they finished 13th in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. With Joe Flacco running the offense, there is a chance he shows some signs of the “elite” version. Before getting hurt last season he was solid but still below average. The last time the Vikings faced Flacco he passed for just 186 yards in a 24-16 loss at US Bank Stadium. He probably won’t be thrilled to come back.
Week 12 – BYE
There’s never been a study that indicates a major impact of a team’s bye week but this one has the chance to either work heavily in the Vikings’ favor or against them depending on when the injury bug bites. It could give the Vikings a chance to be healthy throughout a very difficult final stanza of the season.
Week 13 – AT Seahawks
While Russell Wilson didn’t have his best day against the Vikings in 2018, he has beaten them in all five matchups of his career. Yes, one was kick-aided. Seattle does appear to be a team in transition with many of their stars exiting over the past few years and with an offense that looks like 1995. But the Seahawks’ home building is a bear. Wilson is 44-12 at home for his career. If this game were at US Bank Stadium, the Vikings would be the right pick. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it isn’t.
Week 14 – Lions
While Detroit’s roster is stronger, they needed a lot of help to get two wins at US Bank Stadium. One was fueled by Blair Walsh and an insane comeback and the other saw Dalvin Cook tear his ACL (and fumble) in a tie game. Last year’s dominant defensive performance was closer to what we would expect in a matchup of the Lions vs. Vikings at US Bank Stadium unless Detroit’s offensive line and new OC put together a much more impressive performance.
Week 15 – AT Chargers
You can barely call it a home-field advantage for the Chargers, whose fans appear to have stayed in San Diego. Last season the Chargers went just 5-3 at home and 7-1 on the road and Philip Rivers had nearly identical stats (16 TD, six INT at home and on the road) in L.A. and away. Rivers also had a magical season in 2018. He will have just turned 38 years old when the Vikings go up against him in 2019. The biggest X-factor, however, is the Chargers’ defense. With two of the league’s best defensive ends, even the best gameplan can be ruined.
Week 16 – Packers
Again this one is a nightmare to pick because we have no idea whether Rodgers and LaFleur will have built a beautiful bond by December or will be at each other’s throats. If he’s healthy, you have to figure Rodgers wins a game at some point at US Bank Stadium, so we’ll go with an L here.
Week 17 – Bears
Revenge game No. 3. The Vikings won’t be beaten two years in a row by Mitch Trubisky in a game with playoff implications. Or at least you wouldn’t think so.
FINAL RECORD: 10-6
– If we’re judging the difficulty of the schedule by quarters (as teams say they do), you might rank them this way: third quarter, fourth quarter, first quarter, second quarter. The third quarter includes three road games against three 2018 playoff teams and arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. The second quarter has two of the (projected) easiest games on the slate with New York and Washington.
– By this chart the Vikings have the 10th toughest schedule using 2018 win-loss percentages of opponents.
– The Vikings play two teams with multiple first-round picks, so you never know what could happen on draft night.