The Vikings' 2021 schedule has arrived in all its glory. Here are my five biggest takeaways from the freshly-announced slate.
1. Four primetime games again
The Vikings are one of 15 teams in the NFL with at least four primetime games this year.
- Week 8 vs. Cowboys on SNF (Halloween!)
- Week 14 vs. Steelers on TNF
- Week 15 at Bears on MNF
- Week 17 at Packers on SNF
The Vikings had just two traditional primetime games last season, with their third coming against the Saints on Christmas afternoon. Now they're back to normal. They had four primetime games in 2019 and the maximum five in 2018. Including that Saints game, the Vikings are 11-13 in primetime games under Mike Zimmer.
All four of these games should be interesting and intense. Minnesota gets two full weeks to prepare for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys after a Week 7 bye, and playing at home on Halloween night should make for a fun atmosphere. Then they have a stretch of three primetime games in four weeks from Dec. 9 to Jan. 2. It'll be a quick turnaround to face the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, but that in turn gives the Vikings 11 days to prepare for the always-daunting trip to Soldier Field. Lastly, the stakes could be huge for the January 2nd, 2022 Sunday night game at what promises to be a freezing-cold Lambeau Field.
It should be a fun late-season stretch in the national spotlight, provided the Vikings are in the thick of a playoff race.
2. A critical stretch after the bye week
The Vikings' first six games are fairly reasonable from a difficulty standpoint: @CIN, @ARI, vs. SEA, vs. CLE, vs. DET, @CAR. It helps that the two toughest games in that stretch — against the Seahawks and Browns — are at U.S. Bank Stadium, which the team expects to be at full capacity once again this fall.
Anything less than 4-2 heading into the Week 7 bye would have to be considered a disappointment. Because after the off week, things get real.
- Week 8 vs. Cowboys (SNF)
- Week 9 at Ravens
- Week 10 at Chargers
- Week 11 vs. Packers
- Week 12 at 49ers
That could mean facing Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers, and Trey Lance in five straight. That's no small task for Zimmer's reloaded defense. However, it becomes a lot less daunting if Rodgers doesn't remain in Green Bay in 2021. That's obviously a massive storyline to continue tracking this offseason.
3. The divisional slate could be full of late-season drama
After the five games above, the Vikings get a theoretical respite with a trip to Detroit (where they've won four straight) in Week 13. Then comes a five-game stretch that might be even tougher than the post-bye one, depending on the QB situations in Green Bay and Chicago.
- Week 14 vs. Steelers (TNF)
- Week 15 at Bears (MNF)
- Week 16 vs. Rams
- Week 17 at Packers (SNF)
- Week 18 vs. Bears
The Steelers crashed and burned after an 11-0 start last year and have major question marks on offense, but facing that defense on a short week will be a tall task. Then three of the final four games of the year come against the Bears and Packers, all of which could have massive stakes in the race for the NFC North crown.
If Justin Fields is starting and playing well, that Week 15 trip to Soldier Field in primetime looks scary. The Vikings won there last year, but they had lost on three of four trips to Chicago prior to that. After a home game against Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and the Rams, the Vikings close with two more tough divisional games.
Adding to the intensity is that the road games in Chicago (Dec. 20) and Green Bay (Jan. 2) are in primetime, where the temperatures are likely to be below freezing, at best.
4. Lots of "revenge game" storylines
This schedule features a bunch of players or coaches facing their old teams, many of them for the first time. It starts in Week 1 against the Bengals with Zimmer, Paul Guenther, Trae Waynes, Riley Reiff, Nick Vigil, and Mackensie Alexander facing their former employer. Here are some other notable ones:
- Week 2 at Cardinals: Patrick Peterson's return to Arizona
- Week 4 vs. Browns: Kevin Stefanski's return to Minnesota
- Week 6 at Panthers: Stephen Weatherly plays his 2020 team
- Week 8 vs. Cowboys: Xavier Woods faces his old squad
- Week 9 at Ravens: Michael Pierce against his former team
- Week 10 at Chargers: Linval Joseph's first game against the Vikings
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