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Zulgad: Are the Vikings a playoff team? A game-by-game look at the 2020 season

A year ago the Vikings were slated to make five prime-time appearances when the NFL schedule was released, despite the fact they had missed the playoffs the previous season. It sent a clear message that the Vikings were still considered a big draw by the league and its network partners.

These days? Not so much. The NFL released its 2020 schedule on Thursday evening — one that was done in pencil given the questions raised by the current sports shut down caused by coronavirus — and the Vikings only have two prime-time games.

Both meetings with the Green Bay Packers are noon kickoffs. The Vikings will play the only game on Christmas Day when they face the Saints in New Orleans, so that 3:30 p.m. start will be a national game but not in prime time. (Flex scheduling could come into play beginning in Week 5 to create additional Sunday night appearances but that remains to be seen.)

The Vikings are coming off a 10-6 finish and first-round playoff victory in New Orleans and currently appear to be the most stable team in the NFC North. So did the schedule-makers not show the Vikings the proper respect or did they do them a favor by giving them a dozen noon kickoffs? The guess here is that coach Mike Zimmer is privately thrilled, in part because he can use the “no respect” card with his players.

Here’s a look at the Vikings’ schedule with predictions for each game for a season in which seven NFC teams now will make the playoffs. (All games are on Sundays unless noted.)

Week 1, Sept. 13: vs. Green Bay, noon, (Fox): The Packers swept the Vikings on their way to a 13-3 finish and NFC North title last season, but all does not seem to be well in Green Bay these days. In fact, the entire division is experiencing turbulence outside of Minnesota. This game might be played with no fans in U.S. Bank Stadium but the Vikings still prevail over Aaron Rodgers and Co. It will be interesting to see what Rodgers does against the Vikings’ inexperienced cornerbacks. Win, 1-0.

Week 2, Sept. 20: at Indianapolis, noon, (Fox): This is a tough one because the Vikings handled Philip Rivers and the Chargers last December in Los Angeles. But Rivers has a new team and it might be a stretch to think the Vikings are going to win their first three games. Zimmer’s team does have question marks and the Colts were 5-3 at home last season. Loss, 1-1.

Week 3, Sept. 27: vs. Tennessee, noon, (CBS): Despite a 9-7 record in 2019, the Titans advanced to the AFC title game before losing to Kansas City. Every season there are a few teams that take a step back and it won’t be surprising if quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Titans are on this list in 2020. The Vikings will take advantage of Tennessee’s struggles. Win, 2-1.

Week 4, Oct. 4: at Houston, noon, (Fox): The Texans traded standout wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona this offseason and coach Bill O’Brien’s work as a general manager has been questionable at best. And that’s being kind. So why will the Vikings lose this one on the road? Because Deshaun Watson remains the Texans’ quarterback and he’s one of the NFL’s best. Loss, 2-2.

Week 5, Oct. 11: at Seattle, 7:20 p.m., (NBC): Is there a rule that every Seahawks-Vikings game in Seattle has to be played in prime time? It sure seems that way and that hasn’t gone well for the Vikings. The past two seasons the Vikings have lost at Seattle in Monday night games. This season it’s a Sunday night game and the Vikings will surprise┬áthe Seahawks, especially if there is no 12th man to make noise in CenturyLink Field. Win, 3-2.

Week 6, Oct. 18: vs. Atlanta, noon, (Fox): The Vikings opened last season with a convincing 28-12 victory over the Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Atlanta, which went 7-9 in 2019, returns just over a year later and guess what? Things don’t go any better this time in part because Matt Ryan is no longer Matt Ryan. Win, 4-2.

Week 7: Bye

Week 8, Nov. 1: at Green Bay, noon, (Fox): Is the Rodgers-Jordan Love quarterback situation going to become a distraction at some point in Green Bay? Perhaps. Are the Packers going to take a big step back in Matt LaFleur’s second season after winning 13 games a year ago and advancing to the NFC title game? Perhaps. But we’re not prepared to predict a Vikings sweep of the Packers. Not yet. Loss, 4-3.

Week 9, Nov. 8: vs. Detroit, noon, (CBS): The Lions won in Minnesota three times in Zimmer’s first four seasons but the Vikings have rebounded to win three in a row. The Lions have returned to their longtime woeful ways and went 3-12-1 last season in Matt Patricia’s second year. Patricia is 9-22-1 as the Lions’ coach and the guess here is this will be his final season. All of this means the Vikings should continue their winning streak against Detroit. Win, 5-3.

Week 10, Nov. 16 (Monday): at Chicago, 7:15 p.m., (ESPN): What is it about the Vikings at Soldier Field? Minnesota swept the Bears in 2017 but have lost three of their past four in Chicago. Kirk Cousins is 0-9 in Monday night games. It’s nearly impossible to pick him in this one, even if we don’t believe in the Bears. Loss, 5-4.

Week 11, Nov. 22: vs. Dallas, 3:25 p.m., (Fox): The Vikings beat the Cowboys in a Sunday night game last season in Dallas, but Jason Garrett is no longer around to mismanage games and we have a feeling Dak Prescott is going to be much better playing under Mike McCarthy. Dallas leaves Minnesota with a big win and the Vikings drop back-to-back games for the first time this season. Loss, 5-5.

Week 12, Nov. 29: vs. Carolina, noon, (Fox): Teddy Bridgewater makes his return to Minnesota as a starting quarterback in what could be an emotional day for some, including Zimmer. But the Vikings are a better team than the Panthers and in need of a win. They get it in this one. Win, 6-5.

Week 13, Dec. 6: vs. Jacksonville, noon, (CBS): This is a game that can trip up the Vikings, and has in the past, but that won’t happen this time. The variety of looks Zimmer likes to throw at opponsing quarterbacks will confuse Gardner Minshew and give Minnesota a second consecutive victory. Win, 7-5.

Week 14, Dec. 13: at Tampa Bay, noon, (Fox): There has been plenty of hype surrounding the Buccaneers and soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, but this is the exact type of matchup that Zimmer loves and by this point his defense should be on the same page. Brady, meanwhile, will be one of the NFL’s top stories this season in his first year out of New England. But look at that age again and you have to wonder if the expectations will meet reality. Brady throws three picks, including one the Vikings return for a touchdown, and Minnesota wins again. Win, 8-5.

Week 15, Dec. 20: vs. Chicago, noon, (Fox): The Bears might beat the Vikings at Soldier Field, but I’m not sure coach Matt Nagy has Chicago going in the right direction. If he’s not wearing an Eagles uniform, Nick Foles scares no one and the expectation is he will be the starter ahead of Mitch Trubisky. Foles might have won the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium but he doesn’t win this one. Win, 9-5.

Week 16, Dec. 25 (Friday): at New Orleans, 3:30 p.m., (Fox and NFL Network): The Vikings upset the Saints in the first round of the playoffs last season at the Superdome, but Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas get some pay back in this one and knock off a Vikings team that is fighting for a playoff spot. Loss, 9-6.

Week 17, Jan. 3: at Detroit, noon, (Fox): Lose this game and potentially miss the playoffs and general manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer might be in trouble, but these are the Lions and the expectation is Detroit’s coach by this time will be the interim choice named to replace the fired Patricia. The Lions will be mentally on the golf course and the Vikings will cruise to victory and make a second consecutive appearance in the postseason. Win, 10-6.


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