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A wild ride: Projection has Vikings getting off to a great start but then fans had better buckle up

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Fans cheer in U.S. Bank Stadium during the second half of an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

The Vikings will get off to a fantastic start this season, go through a rocky stretch and finish the regular season on a winning streak to capture the NFC North title. That’s how ESPN forecasts things in the one of the 20,000 simulations it ran of the entire NFL schedule with its Football Power Index projection system.
The author of the piece for ESPN.com, Seth Walder, explains that a lot goes into the projections, including expected starting quarterback, past performance, returning starters and projected win totals. That then provides a strength rating for all 32 teams that help to predict outcomes for the entire schedule. In this case, ESPN took one of those simulations and played out the result across every game for 2020.
The simulation for the Vikings has them beating Green Bay, 16-8, in their opener at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday and following with victories over Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston and Seattle. That means the Vikings would win three of their first five games on the road, including winning at Seattle. The Vikings have lost six in a row to the Seahawks and have not won in Seattle since 2006. Minnesota has dropped its past four games at CenturyLink Field.
The Vikings also will score 142 points in those five games as Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and others will be more than making up for the loss of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. At least for a while.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, that hot start will be followed by a stretch in which they lose three in a row and four of five games. Their first defeat of the season will be an upset loss to Atlanta (17-3) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Following the bye week, the Vikings will lose 27-24 at Lambeau Field and 31-24 against Detroit in downtown Minneapolis. The Week 8 loss to Green Bay will put the Vikings and Packers at 5-2 and the Lions at 4-3.
The Vikings will break their skid with a rare victory in Chicago by winning 26-23. That’s a big deal because it’s the Vikings’ only scheduled Monday night appearance of the season and quarterback Kirk Cousins enters 2020 with a career record of 0-9 on Monday Night Football.
The Vikings, however, will then return home and get blown out by Dallas, 45-12, and be sitting at 6-4. What will have turned into a roller-coaster ride of a year won’t be done as the Vikings beat Teddy Bridgewater and the Carolina Panthers, 16-6, in Week 12 but then get upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars, 37-24, the next week at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Considering that Mike Zimmer’s teams have had some clunkers against AFC teams at home since the Vikings moved into U.S. Bank Stadium, this scenario seems pretty realistic.
This leaves the Vikings at 7-5 with four games left in the season and fighting for the NFC North title. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will make life tougher for the Vikings with a 29-23 victory in Week 14, but this is where the Vikings bounce back.
A 17-6 win over Chicago at home will be followed by a 27-10 victory at New Orleans on Christmas Day and finally a 48-25 revenge win against the Lions in Week 17 at Ford Field. The ESPN projection actually believes the Lions will take the NFC North lead in Week 14 by beating Green Bay, but Dalvin Cook will rush for 72 yards in Minnesota’s win over the Bears and the Vikings will clinch the division in New Orleans.
The Vikings 10-6 record will put them ahead of Detroit (7-8-1), Chicago (7-9) and Green Bay (7-9). Minnesota will play host to Tampa Bay in the wild card round. So will they be too much for Brady? Nope. The projection has the Vikings’ season ending with a 10-9 loss to the Buccaneers. No Minneapolis Miracle this time, but certainly plenty of drama given the ups-and-downs that are forecast.