With the preseason hubbub in the rearview, it is time to assess the potential outcome for the coming season. Each game will be analyzed and a record on this 17-game season will be formulated.
Will it be enough for a postseason birth?
Week 1: at Cincinnati Bengals
Anticipate a sloppy game and not necessarily one weather-induced. With very little time during the preseason spent on continuity with the offensive starters, this could be an ugly affair. Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson didn’t play a snap, Adam Thielen saw limited action in the Indy contest, and Kirk Cousins play a handful of drives between the Indy and KC games.
Oh, and the Vikings lost third-year pro, Irv Smith, Jr. for the year right before the start of the season.
With all that said, this is still a very winnable game. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will play in his first game after season-ending knee surgery. The Vikings will look to control the clock with a punishing run game from Cook behind a new-look offensive line. Mike Zimmer’s retooled defense will confuse and frustrate Burrow. Ultimately, the multitude of defensive fronts Zimmer will deploy will be too much for the Bengals to overcome.
Verdict: Vikings 27 – Bengals 20; Record: 1-0
Week 2: at Arizona Cardinals
This game will very likely be a pitchfork game for the fans. A second straight road game, this one against a playoff-caliber team — will likely end in defeat.
Well, for one, the sloppiness from Week 1 could carry over some into this contest. Much like Week 2 in 2020, there will probably be some inconsistent plays from Cousins in this game, resulting in turnovers. For whatever reason, Cousins tends to start seasons slowly from a statistical standpoint, often having some of his worst career games at the onset of a season. If Cousins and the offense can mitigate the turnovers and sustain drives the Vikings, will have a chance.
The Cardinals also possess a quarterback in Kyler Murray who has the skill set that seems to be Zimmer’s defensive kryptonite. And that’s a mobile quarterback. Zimmer’s defense is predicated on the outside corners maintaining coverage long enough for the pass rush to hit home. A quarterback like Murray can extend the play with his feet long enough to find an open wideout or for gaps in the defense to open enough to scramble. The Vikings will keep this one close, but early miscues will come back to haunt them.
Verdict: Cardinals 27 – Vikings 23; Record: 1-1
Week 3: vs Seattle Seahawks
With all of Zimmer’s defensive struggles against mobile quarterbacks, no non-divisional opponent has had more ownage against Zimmer than Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson’s Seahawks. Including the playoffs, Zimmer is 0-5 against the Pacific Northwest team under Zimmer. The Vikings aim to change that this year.
Outside of the playoff game against Seattle, all of the contests under Zimmer were road games in Seattle. Hell, even the “home” playoff game was played outside of the Vikings normal home, the Metrodome, five years after the roof imploded.
This time, they come to the Bank — and it will be raucous. Vikings fans have been waiting a long time to get back into their seats at the Bank and will be ready to amp up the volume against an omnipresent opponent who seemingly always catches the right “break”. Rust be damned in this game, the Vikings will be ready. Especially when factoring in that they should be close to full health with hopeful returns of Christian Darrisaw, Anthony Barr, and Dede Westbrook.
Verdict: Vikings 31 – Seattle 27; Record: 2-1
Week 4: vs Cleveland Browns
Prodigal son, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, returns to the place where it all started for him. He will be out for a little revenge at that, with the Vikings blocking his departure in 2019 to Cleveland. He was able to make his way there last year and led the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002. This Browns team is eerily similar to the Vikings. Both teams feature the run game, rely on a competent defense, and have the ingredients for a lethal passing game.
With all of the similarities and the familiarities between the head coaches, this game should be close. The edge will go to the home team in this matchup.
Verdict: Vikings 24 – Browns 21; Record: 3-1
Week 5: vs Detroit Lions
Now the team is rolling, a perfect opportunity for a letdown game. Luckily, the Lions come to town. Even with a new way of doing things in Detroit, they simply don’t have enough playmakers to keep this game competitive. Head coach Dan Campbell might just get the most out of his Lions players this year but is not likely to do so early in the season. The Vikings don’t take their foot off the gas and throttle the Lions in their last of three straight home games.
Verdict: Vikings 31 – Lions 13; Record: 4-1
Week 6: at Carolina Panthers
In their last game before the bye, the Vikings travel to Carolina for a showdown. This game will be much different than the Panthers team the Vikings encountered in 2020. Running back Christian McCaffrey should be fully healthy, and they add quarterback Sam Darnold to the fray. The Panthers have a young defense that gave Cousins and Co. an absolute fit in 2020. It would be in the Vikings best interest to get an early lead and not look back. Letting the pesky Panthers hang around in the game would most likely have them stumbling into the bye week with a loss.
Verdict: Vikings 23 – Panthers 20; Record: 5-1
Week 7: Bye Week
Week 8: vs Dallas Cowboys
And so begins one of the toughest stretches of games in the NFL with a Halloween night contest against the Cowboys. Zimmer has a 3-4 record coming out of the bye week as a head coach and a victory here would put him at .500. The Cowboys will also be coming off of their bye week as well, so both teams will be rested. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott should be close to 100% of the player he was prior to last year’s season-ending injury. He will man an offense with a plethora of weapons and a retooled defense that should cause opponents problems. This Cowboys team was devoid of Prescott and a competent defense but still had their way with the Vikings in 2020. It will be spooky hours at the Bank, but unfortunately, the kids dressed as Cowboys will bring home the candy.
Verdict: Cowboys 31 – Vikings 28; Record: 5-2
Week 9: at Baltimore Ravens
A trip to the East Coast against the vaunted Ravens defense and oh hey look, a mobile quarterback. This year Baltimore has done a good job surrounding Lamar Jackson with better pass-catching weapons on the outside. Even without running back J.K. Dobbins, this rushing attack is fearsome. A majority of that is due to how dynamic a player former MVP Jackson is. This will be a hardnosed, tough-fought game. It will end with Jackson finding former Gopher wide receiver Rashod Bateman for the game-winning touchdown. An oh-so-very-Viking finish.
Verdict: Ravens 23 – Vikings 20; Record: 5-3
Week 10: at Los Angeles Chargers
On top of the opponent stretch being difficult, the travel back and forth across the country is equally as brutal. The Chargers feature a new defensive-minded head coach and last year’s rookie of the year in quarterback Justin Herbert. Many people, mostly Vikings fans, believe that award should have been awarded to Justin Jefferson — for good reason. Comparatively, Jefferson’s season was less likely statistically than Herbert’s. Consider this the revenge game as Zimmer’s defense gives Herbert fits all game and, Jefferson is featured heavily.
Verdict: Vikings 27 – Chargers 17; Record: 6-3
Week 11: vs Green Bay Packers
The Vikings return home after ping-ponging across the coasts to meet their hated rival, the Packers, in a showdown for NFC North supremacy. These contests usually go to the home team, and this one is no different. The new-look defense does enough to confuse Rodgers and the Packers offense when a sustained drive is needed. The offense helps win the time of possession game and ultimately keeps the ball out of Rodgers’ hands long enough to secure victory.
Verdict: Vikings 26 – Packers 23; Record: 7-3
Week 12: at San Francisco 49ers
The travel finally trips up the Vikings as they face off on the West Coast against the 49ers. Whether it’s the mobility at quarterback from Trey Lance or the steady pocket presence of Jimmy Garoppolo, head coach Kyle Shanahan will have enough tricks up his sleeve to best Zimmer’s defense. Much like they did in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers will look to overwhelm Cousins and the Vikings offensive line. The 49ers do just enough to keep the Vikings at bay and secure the victory.
Verdict: 49ers 24 – Vikings 17; Record: 7-4
Week 13: at Detroit Lions
Another matchup against the Lions, this time on their turf. The same outcome. Almost no caption needed.
Verdict: Vikings 27 – Lions 23; Record: 8-4
Week 14: vs Pittsburgh Steelers
For both teams, the defense is the identity of the team. It makes sense then that the offense will be on display during this contest. The lead should change numerous times in this contest, and it very well might come down to the team that has the ball last. In this case, it is the Vikings, who benefit from a Cook screen and scamper to take a late lead. Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is unable to mount a game-winning drive and the clock runs out.
Verdict: Vikings 31 – Steelers 27; Record: 9-4
Week 15: at Chicago Bears
This can be called the panic portion of the schedule — you will see why very soon. The Vikings travel to Chicago for a mid-December contest in a place where they don’t frequently find success. The Vikings during the 2000s had two wins in Chicago, they followed that with two more wins during the 2010s, and surprisingly they started the 2020s off with a victory last year. If we’re following the trend, the Vikings are due one more victory this decade in Chicago. This is not that year as the elements and some costly turnovers seal the Vikings fate.
Verdict: Bears 27 – Vikings 23; Record: 9-5
Week 16: vs Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay’s Rams come to town, and they look to keep the ball rolling after winning four straight. This is a team with a Super Bowl on the agenda. Featuring two top positional players on defense, DT Aaron Donald and DB Jalen Ramsey are the heartbeat and will look to limit Cook and Jefferson. By this time in the year, McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford have a full understanding of each other and do enough with the playcalling to keep Zimmer’s stunts at bay. Ultimately the game comes down to a Vikings 45-yard field goal with under 2 minutes left in the game. It’s wide left, the Vikings lose.
Verdict: Rams 28 – Vikings 26; Record: 9-6
Week 17: at Green Bay Packers
It has been a few years for the Vikings and getting scheduled to cold-weather games but not this year with two post-December 15th games in Chicago and Green Bay. The cold-weather game and the almost seasonal split that usually happens between the Vikings and Packers; it doesn’t bode well for Minnesota’s chances.
This is the type of game where everything will seemingly click for the Packers and Rodgers, the stripes will play the part of the 12th man, and the television broadcast will undoubtedly gush over the genius that is Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur. They will do this while completely omitting the Week 11 loss to this same Vikings team, and yes, it will piss you off. Vikings fandom is in full panic after a three-game losing streak. Will they make the playoffs? Does Zimmer need to be fired? Kirk can’t win the big game. These narratives will all be at play.
Verdict: Packers 27 – Vikings 20; Record: 9-7
Week 18: vs Chicago Bears
For the final game of the season, the Bears come to town in what should be a must-win game for the Vikings if they have aspirations for the playoffs. Just like with the Packers, the Vikings usually always end up splitting the season series against the Bears. Joseph makes up for his costly miss two weeks prior and nails the go-ahead field goal before giving way to Zimmer’s defense that smothers quarterback Justin Fields comeback attempt.
Verdict: Vikings 23 – Bears 20; Record: 10-7
That will wrap up the season. 10-7 should be good enough for a Wild Card birth in the playoffs. What happens from there is anyone’s guess. This team is tasked with a grueling schedule and if using an iron sharpens iron philosophy, that should get them ready to beat any playoff opponent.
So, you’ll get a playoff preview akin to this in January
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