The first five games for the Vikings are going to be tough. Brutal, even. But that's assuming a couple of things, though. We're assuming that the teams that were bad last year will still be bad, and we're assuming the teams that were good will still be good. We also assume teams that have been good, but were kind of terrible last year...like Atlanta, for example, will be good again. Whatever.
But no one assumes that the Vikings will be any better. I mean look at the schedule. Only one prime time game, and it's a Thursday. With the exception of the aforementioned Falcons, every game starts at noon. The game against the Patriots even gets a noon start. No one, not even the NFL, thinks the Vikes will be worth watching. Don't get me wrong, it's a reputation the Vikings have earned over the last few years, but with a revamped defense, and quarterback play that won't be atrocious, are they going to be that bad?
Prediction business be damned, I make this one: The Minnesota Vikings are going to be a competitive football team in 2014, and will be in the playoff picture come December.
Let's break down each game and find out. All game times are central standard time, because eastern standard time is the Devil's time.
Week 1: at St. Louis Rams (Sept 7th, Noon, Fox)
Win. I don't discount the talent of the Rams--they're a good team with a record that's easy to overlook because they play in a brutal division. Maybe I'm more optimistic than most, but I think the Vikings get off on the right foot with a new coach, a revamped defense, and an offense that will be respectable in both phases.
Week 2: New England (Sept 14th, Noon, CBS)
Loss. As overly optimistic as I am (and let's face it, I'm ALWAYS overly optimistic regarding the Vikings this time of year), it's the Patriots and Tom Brady. The Vikings should play a good, hard fought game, but they'll lose a close one in the Bank home opener.
Week 3: at [EFF THOSE GUYS] (Sept 21st, Noon, Fox)
Loss. The [EFF THOSE GUYS] regained their form last season with Sean McCheaterson back on the sidelines, and as long as Drew Brees is their QB, they'll be tough to beat, especially at home. The Vikings new look secondary will be tested early and often in 2014, and this will be their biggest test to date.
Week 4: Atlanta (Sept 28th, 3:25 PM, Fox)
Win. Once again the Vikings face one of the better passers in the game, but they pull it out and end the month of September with a .500 record.
Week 5: at Green Bay (Oct 2nd, 7:25 PM, CBS/NFL Network simulcast)
Loss. Last season, the Vikings infamously tied the Packers at Lambeau, and in truth, that's a game they should have won. But Aaron Rodgers was out, and the Vikings went up against Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. if Rodgers plays, Vikes will lose in Green Bay.
Week 6: Detroit (Oct 12th, Noon, Fox)
Win. The Vikings usually beat Detroit at home. They will this year.
Week 7: at Buffalo (Oct 19th, Noon, Fox)
Loss. I know, I know, Buffalo is a winnable game. But it's outdoors, on the road. The Vikings always seem to lose a winnable road game because it's an outdoor one. This is that game.
Week 8: at Tampa Bay (Oct 26th, Noon, Fox)
Win. At least they split back to back outdoor road games and get to .500 at the halfway point.
Week 9: Washington (Nov 2nd, Noon, Fox)
Win. Apparently the Vikings have to play the Redskins every year now. Whatever. They'll win and Zimmer gets above .500 and is being discussed as the first half coach of the year.
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Chicago (Nov 16th, Noon, Fox)
Loss. Can we just agree that the Vikings never win in Chicago and move on? We can? Thank you.
Week 12: Green Bay (Nov 23rd, Noon, Fox)
Win. Calling my shot right now. The Vikings always win one game they have no business winning. That's this game.
Week 13: Carolina (Nov 30th, Noon, Fox)
Loss. Cam Newton will be too much.
Week 14: New York Jets (Dec 7th, Noon, CBS)
Loss. Just like the Vikings always seem to win one game they shouldn't, they always lose one game they should win. I'm still not sure how the Vikings will react to outdoor home games in December, so this is THAT game. You know, the one where you cuss and scream for three hours and wonder, at the end, why you cheer for this team.
Week 15: at Detroit (Dec 14th, Noon, Fox)
Loss. Vikings are in the playoff picture far longer than anyone expects, but post-season dreams die in Detroit. Much like the American Dream did.
Week 16: at Miami (Dec 21st, Noon, Fox)
Loss. Crippling loss to Detroit has Vikings going through the motions on South Beach. My father will proclaim that Mike Zimmer should be fired, if he hasn't already done so.
Week 17: Chicago (Dec 28th, Noon, Fox)
Win. Both the Bears and the Vikings will be sitting home for the playoffs, the Vikings pick off Smokin' Jay Cutler five times, and Jared Allen gets a standing ovation.
I'm fully aware this is a shot in the dark, but I do expect the Vikings to be better, simply because they can't be much worse than they were last year. Mike Zimmer has done a good job of acquiring some much needed defensive help, and with his scheme I think they're going to be a lot better on that side of the ball than anyone is expecting. Matt Cassel isn't going to set the world on fire, but he won't set the offense on fire and burn it to the ground, either.
I'm still worried about the linebackers and quarterback play, but this is a team that I think is going to be a really tough out in 2014, much tougher than anyone is thinking right now.