Riding a four-game winning streak, the Vikings sit at 6-2 at the midway point of the 2019 season. After stumbling in road losses to the Packers and Bears in Weeks 2 and 4, the Vikings have taken advantage of mostly lesser competition during their current streak.
Through eight weeks, the Vikings have played the seventh-easiest schedule in the NFL, according to TeamRankings. The six teams the Vikings have beaten have a combined record of 14-33-1. The Redskins, Falcons, and Giants (four combined wins) are among the worst teams in the league, while the Lions, Eagles, and Raiders are all hovering around .500.
Still, you play who's on the schedule, and both the advanced metrics and the eye test support the notion that the Vikings are one of the better teams in the NFL. They're currently fifth in Football Outsiders' DVOA, which is an opponent-adjusted metric.
The Vikings' schedule gets slightly tougher in the second half, as five of their eight remaining opponents are at or above .500. Here's a breakdown of each remaining opponent, with the games ranked from easiest to toughest and broken into three different tiers.
Tier 1: The Should-Wins
These are the games the Vikings project to be solid or heavy favorites in. In these games, it's all about taking care of business and letting clear advantages in talent and coaching win out. It's about avoiding bad losses, something the Vikings have been perfect at so far.
The Easiest Remaining Game – Week 11: vs. Broncos (Noon, CBS)
Record: 2-6; DVOA: 21st (25th offense, 3rd defense)
This is the only game left on the Vikings schedule in which they figure to be double-digit favorites. That is partially because of how bad the Broncos were in the first half, and partially because they are very likely to be even worse going forward. The offense has been abysmal, especially in the passing game, and that was with veteran Joe Flacco at the helm.
Flacco is expected to miss 5-6 weeks with a neck injury, so Denver's starting QB for this game will either be backup Brandon Allen or rookie Drew Lock. The Broncos also traded away their best receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, prior to Week 8. The defense is excellent, but this is a home game the Vikings absolutely should not lose.
Week 15: at Chargers (7:20, NBC)
Record: 3-5; DVOA: 22nd (16th offense, 27th defense)
Although the Chargers are actually behind the Broncos in DVOA and lost to them earlier in the year, this game is slightly tougher for a couple reasons. It's on the road, and even though the Chargers have a non-existent home-field advantage – the crowd will be mostly purple for this game – it's still not like playing in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Secondly, Philip Rivers seems to keep the Chargers in every single game, even if he doesn't win many of them. All five of their losses this season have been by a touchdown or less. With Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry (and Melvin Gordon, though he hasn't done much since returning from his holdout), Rivers has plenty of offensive weapons to work with. Still, the Vikings are the clear better team in this game, and should have little trouble moving the ball against the Chargers defense on Sunday Night Football.
Week 17: vs. Bears (Noon, FOX)
Record: 3-4; DVOA: 19th (28th offense, 7th defense)
It may seem odd to put a rematch against one of the only two teams that has beaten the Vikings into the should-win category, but this game figures to look much different than the Week 4 matchup. That game was at Soldier Field, where the Vikings have typically struggled. Prior to the infamous Week 17 game last season, the Vikings had beaten the Bears six straight times in Minnesota.
Also, the Bears and Vikings have gone in completely opposite directions since that game in Chicago, in which Chase Daniel took over for an injured Mitch Trubisky after just three minutes. The Bears have lost three in a row since Mitch Trubisky returned, and their season has started to fall apart. It looks like Matt Nagy – who is under plenty of fire himself following a loss to the Chargers – will stick with Trubisky the rest of the way, which the Vikings ought to be thankful for. Even the Bears defense has regressed since the Vikings game. A lot can change between now and the final week of the regular season, but the Vikings should win this one.
Tier 2: Not Easy, But Very Winnable
These two games are a step up from Tier 1. They wouldn't be bad losses if the Vikings fail to pull out a victory, and they also wouldn't be great wins. They're games where the Vikings are likely to be slight favorites, and games that easily can be won if the offense continues to play at such a high level.
Week 14: vs. Lions (Noon, FOX)
Record: 3-3-1; DVOA: 14th (13th offense, 23rd defense)
The Lions are more dangerous than people think. Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay is an underrated QB-WR tandem, and Stafford has other weapons like Marvin "four touchdowns" Jones and Danny Amendola. Most importantly, Stafford is playing at an extremely high level.
Even at home, this game is far from a "gimme." Stafford had his way with the Vikings secondary in Detroit, and if Zimmer is unable to make the necessary adjustments, he'll do it again in Minneapolis. If the Lions defense – which just traded away safety Quandre Diggs – can make a couple stops, this game could get very interesting.
Week 9: at Chiefs (Noon, FOX)
Record: 5-3; DVOA: 3rd (2nd offense, 17th defense)
This should be obvious, but I'll point it out anyways: if Patrick Mahomes were to play on Sunday, this game would instantly vault into the next tier. For now, it seems likely that the Chiefs will keep Mahomes out until Week 10 and start Matt Moore against the Vikings.
Moore was solid in the Chiefs' 31-24 home loss to the Packers, but he's no Mahomes. No one is. Mike Zimmer should be able to fluster the career backup, and Tyreek Hill's speed – a cause for concern against the Vikings' inconsistent cornerbacks – becomes much less of a threat with Moore throwing the ball. Dalvin Cook should be able to run all over a Chiefs defense that just gave up 226 yards from scrimmage to Aaron Jones. Arrowhead Stadium is a tough place to play, but the Vikings should be able to win this game if they play well.
Tier 3: The True Tests
These are the three games that will likely define the regular season for the Vikings. All three are primetime games against NFC contenders and will be surrounded by a great deal of hype if these teams continue on their current trajectories. Two are on the road. One is against the Vikings' biggest rival in the division. We'll learn a lot about Kirk Cousins, good or bad, on these nights. (The games are virtually interchangeable, but I ranked them anyways).
Week 16: vs. Packers (7:15 Monday, ESPN)
Record: 7-1; DVOA: 6th (4th offense, 13th defense)
The Packers are probably the best team the Vikings will play during the second half. They're on fire right now, having scored an average of 32.5 points in their four-game winning streak against solid opponents. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks on the planet when he's locked in and healthy, and the Packers have put together this steak without Davante Adams. With Adams and Jones leading the way on offense and numerous playmakers on defense, this team is loaded.
What keeps this game ever-so-slightly below the next two is that it will be played within the confines of U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Packers are 0-3. Also, this Packers defense has looked pretty bad at times of late, allowing 563 total yards to the Cowboys and 484 to the Raiders.
Week 13: at Seahawks (7:15 Monday, ESPN)
Record: 6-2; DVOA: 9th (3rd offense, 22nd defense)
This game is sure to bring back some ugly memories. Last season, the Vikings traveled to Seattle for a Monday Night Football game desperately wanting a win for playoff purposes. It was a slugfest that the Seahawks led 3-0 after three quarters before they pulled away for a 21-7 win. The Vikings offense was so bad that John DeFilippo was fired the next day.
The Seahawks have gotten better this year. Russell Wilson (20 total TDs, 1 INT) is the MVP frontrunner at the moment, and rookie receiver DK Metcalf has been an excellent complement to Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson. Reasons for optimism: the secondary has struggled, and season-ending injuries to tight end Will Dissly and center Justin Britt aren't helpful for the offense. Reasons for pessimism: CenturyLink Field is an incredibly tough place to play, especially at night. Also, Wilson.
The Toughest Remaining Game – Week 10: at Cowboys (7:20, NBC)
Record: 4-3; DVOA: 4th (1st offense, 19th defense)
If the Vikings can get past Matt Moore in Kansas City and the Cowboys can handle Daniel Jones and the Giants this week, this becomes a massive NFC showdown on SNF. The Cowboys snapped a three-game losing streak (which included a loss to the...Jets) with an emphatic reminder of their abilities by blowing out the Eagles 37-10 in Week 8. The Cowboys' elite offensive line and playmaking trio of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper will pose massive problems for the Vikings defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys just added Michael Bennett to a pass-rush group that already boasts Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the type of versatile players that can theoretically slow down Dalvin Cook. Winning this game on the road will take a complete, 60-minute effort from the Vikings.