The road to Super Bowl XLIV was officially constructed yesterday, as the NFL released the schedules of all 32 NFL teams. Minnesota's road looks like it has some bumps in it, but it looks like there could be some patches of smooth sailing as well. I know it's really early and everything, and you can't put a heck of a lot of stock into a team's performance from the previous season when looking ahead in this league (see the 2008 Miami Dolphins), but hey. . .it's fun to speculate, too.
So, let's begin breaking down what the 2009 schedule has in store for the Beloved Purple. We're going to break this down into quarters and spread it out over the course of a few days. The first quarter of the year seems like a logical place to start, so let's get to it.
The First Quarter - With Or Without You
If the Vikings do, for some reason, have to start the season without the services of Pat and Kevin Williams, it looks like the league has attempted to soften the blow a little bit by scheduling the Vikings against teams that don't have particularly good offenses. I would assume that such an attempt was unintentional, because. . .well. . .because it's the Vikings and we know that most of the league hierarchy can't stand them.
We'll start with the Cleveland Browns, who might have been the NFL's biggest disappointment in 2008. Their offense was, quite frankly, awful, as they ranked near the bottom of every significant offensive category. Some of this can be chalked up to injuries, while some of it can be chalked up to the quarterback controversy that raged for most of the season between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. The Browns were 30th in the NFL in points scored (14.5 ppg), 31st in both total offense (249.1 ypg) and passing offense (148.8 ypg) and 26th in rushing yardage (100.3 ypg).
Defensively, the Browns were a bit better. . .but, in what has to be considered good news for the Vikings, they were 28th in the league against the run (151.9 ypg allowed). They'll also be breaking in a new coach and, presumably, installing new systems on offense and defense.
From there, we move on to Ford Field and the first of our two dates with the Detroit Lions. Yes, the Vikings gave the Lions their only true shots at winning in 2008, but the fact remains that the 2008 Lions were 0-16, and might have been the worst franchise in the history of the National Football League. While I don't think it's possible that they repeat that in 2009, I don't think they're going to get off to a rip-roaring (pardon the pun) start, either. Like Cleveland, they're breaking in a new coach as well in Jim Schwartz.
As you'd expect from an 0-16 team, they weren't all that good on either side of the ball. . .but while the offense was just bad, the defense was horrific, ranking at the bottom in three of the four major categories (points, yards, rushing yards) while climbing all the way to 27th against the pass. "Much of that can probably be attributed to the fact that they faced Gus Frerotte twice (well, 1.5 times) in 2008," he said only semi-sarcastically. Daunte Culpepper played well against his former team last year, and will probably have revenge on his mind again, but hopefully it won't matter all that much.
From there, the Vikings finally get to come home and open their Metrodome season against the San Francisco 49ers. Based on last year, the Niners are significantly more respectable on offense than either of the Vikings' first two opponents. . .but, while they're not breaking in a new coach, per se, Crazy Mike Martz is no longer the offensive coordinator by the Bay, so the offense might not be quite so prolific in 2009. This will, however, be the Vikings' first game against a premiere running back in the Niners' Frank Gore, and it could be quite the interesting test if the Williams Wall isn't available for some reason. The Niners still haven't really settled on a quarterback, and could even be breaking in a rookie in 2009, which one would think would play to Minnesota's advantage.
Defensively, Mike Singletary's bunch is about average in most aspects, and is easily the best bunch that the Vikings will face in the season's first three weeks. . .again, based entirely on last season.
The final game of the first quarter of 2009 is the classic "records go out the window" match-up between Minnesota and the Green Bay Packers on a Monday night in Minneapolis. Yes, the Packers have a great offense, nobody denies this. However, last year at the Metrodome, Gus Frerotte pretty much handed the Pack 17 of their 27 points, and the Vikings' special teams handed them another seven. So, I don't think the Packers' offense would be as much of a concern to the Vikings as it would be to some other teams. . .particularly in light of the fact that Aaron Rodgers is still wetting himself at the mere thought of Jared Allen.
Defensively, the Packers weren't very good in 2008, as even their vaunted secondary spent the better part of the second half of the year getting toasted. Unless I missed a story about Al Harris or Charles Woodson getting younger this off-season, I'm not sure that they're really all that scary. Couple in the fact that they're changing to a defensive scheme that they, quite frankly, don't have the personnel for, and I think the Vikings stand a better than average chance of coming out of this one with a victory.
Oh, and that Adrian Peterson guy? He should absolutely rip all four of these teams up one side and down the other. Repeatedly.
Based entirely on what we know right now, there's no reason for the Vikings to come out of this four-game stretch any worse than 3-1. . .even if Pat and Kevin Williams are wrongfully suspended by the NFL. And they'll need to get off to a fast start if at all possible. . .because the second quarter of the season could turn out to be absolutely brutal.
But, we'll talk more about that tomorrow. For now, enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, and feel free to discuss the Vikings' first four games in the comments section below. You DO have an account to make comments with, right? If not, why not? Go make yourself an account and make your voice heard with the rest of the Viking faithful!