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How the Vikings’ strength of schedule changed in free agency

Over the past week the Minnesota Vikings have seen numerous holes open up on their roster. The way in which the Vikings fill those spots could determine whether they are a power in the NFC or taking a step back from last season. Around the league there have been profound moves that will shape the 2020 season, including many that have a direct impact on the Vikings’ strength of schedule. Let’s have a look at whether things have gotten tougher in 2020 over the last seven days…

First, as a reminder, here are the Vikings’ opponents:

Home opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans.

Away opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The impact moves

Brady joins the Bucs: The Vikings could not have been thrilled to see the landing spots for multiple free agent quarterbacks, who just so happen to land on their upcoming slate. The most notable, of course, is Tom Brady. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had continued to roll with Jameis Winston, that game wouldn’t have made the top five most difficult opponents, even with the Bucs rolling out an overall strong roster. Now with Brady playing alongside top receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay might be their toughest game. Even if Brady isn’t the version from a few years ago, he still led his team to a 12-4 record in 2019 despite a struggling supporting cast. Brady has beaten the Vikings in both matchups during the Zimmer era.

PFF Wins Above Replacement improvement percentage4.7% (7th most)

Brees returns: While the Vikings beat the Saints and Drew Brees in the wild card round, they certainly would have preferred someone else quarterback New Orleans when they travel there in ’20. Even in his elder years Brees has continued to be a dominant quarterback, registering a 114.3 rating last season. One of the reasons the Vikings were able to slow him down in the playoffs was his reliance on Michael Thomas. That will change in ’20 with Emmanuel Sanders joining the Saints.

PFF improvement percentage: 1.6% (12th)

— Nick Foles traded to the Bears: Whether this makes the Bears tougher or not is up for debate. Foles beat the Vikings to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2019 and won a championship at US Bank Stadium but he’s been wildly inconsistent over his career. He went 8-2 as a starter with a 119.2 rating in 2013 with the Eagles, then fell into obscurity with stints in St. Louis and Kansas City before returning to Philly to take the Eagles to a title. But when the Jaguars looked to Foles to bring them back from a down ’18 season, he went 0-4 with an 84.6 rating. If he fits in Matt Nagy’s system, it would be tough not to be better than Mitch Trubisky, who went posted an 83.0 rating in ’19.

PFF improvement percentage: 0.5% (19th)

Philip Rivers signs with the Colts: Indy was hit with a bombshell in preseason when Andrew Luck suddenly retired. After going 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett, they will turn to the Rivers coaster. The eight-time Pro Bowler is coming off a wild season that saw the Chargers repeatedly lose tight games, in part because of their QB’s 20 interceptions. Still by PFF standards the Colts are trading the 33rd best QB for the 17th best and if there’s any ’18 Rivers left in the tank, Indy could be a much stronger team. After all, they can provide Rivers with something he hasn’t had in a long time: An offensive line.

PFF improvement percentage: 7.9% (second most)

Teddy Bridgewater signs with the Panthers: Carolina appears to be on the rebuild trail and will have an uphill battle in a very difficult NFC South. Bridgewater will have limited weapons to work with outside of Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore and the Panthers’ defense lost Gerald McCoy and corner James Bradbury to free agency. Bridgewater’s return to Minnesota changes the strength of schedule only because he’s found ways to win with lesser talent in the past and certainly poses more of a threat than Kyle Allen would have. But the Vikings will still likely be heavily favored.

Amari Cooper stays in Dallas: This isn’t what the Vikings wanted to see after Cooper crushed them on Sunday Night Football last year with 11 catches for 147 yards. A coaching change in Dallas makes them a serious threat to be a contender in the NFC but losing star center Travis Frederick is a severe blow.

PFF improvement percentage: -0.6% (21st)

Darius Slay traded from Lions to Eagles: The Lions have made a bevy of moves to paper over Slay’s exit but it won’t be easy to replace the shutdown corner. Vikings fans will miss the battles between Stefon Diggs and Slay so maybe this one evens out. The biggest negative of Detroit’s offseason may have been the decision to keep Matt Patricia in place as head coach.

PFF improvement percentage: 2.6% (9th)

Tannehill sticks with the Titans: Last season Tannehill posted a league leading 117.5 rating and the No. 1 PFF grade in the NFL. He has a terrific supporting cast but it’s unclear whether he can continue to play at a franchise QB level after rarely showing similar potential during his years with the Dolphins. The Titans didn’t fall off by keeping Tannehill but won’t be stronger than last year’s games with him under center.

PFF improvement percentage: -5.3% (28th)

Hopkins traded to from Houston to Arizona: Is that the sound of celebration in every city that plays the Texans this year? Why yes it is. DeShaun Watson is a top-notch quarterback but Bill O’Brien’s failures with the roster will reflect in their performance and make the Vikings’ matchup in Houston more winnable.

PFF improvement percentage: -6.6% (31st)

Falcons sign Todd Gurley: It’s unclear how much Gurley has left in the tank but the Falcons can certainly improve from their non-existent play from the running back position last season.

PFF improvement percentage: 2.8% (8th)

The takeaway

Total PFF WAR % change: 7.5%

The Vikings could have easily seen all the top moves go their way. If Brady had signed back in New England, Brees retired, the Bears stuck with Trubisky and Cooper left in free agency. Instead the overall difficulty appears to have increased. However, the age curve will certainly be tested. If the league’s AARP quarterbacks struggle against Father Time, the Vikings have a chance to sweep through the future Hall of Fame slate of the NFC South.


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