With the Minnesota Vikings preparing to move into the best stadium in the NFL in 2016, the home opener is going to be historic, and kind of a big deal. It's going to be a football game, yes, but it's also going to mean a celebration of professional football in Minnesota, and the continuation of a legacy of over 50 years.
For hopefully another 150 years and beyond.
So the opponent for that home opener is also going to be kind of a big deal. As we told you a little over a month ago, the Vikings 2016 opponents have been finalized, but the schedule has not yet been released.
Although the Vikings don't have the opportunity to dictate who their home opponent would be, I would imagine that for something like this, the league schedulers would at least be willing to hear input in helping them make the decision. So...who would be Minnesota's best opponent for the home opener? Let's take a look at each opponent and assess the chances of them opening at US Bank Stadium, going alphabetically..
Arizona: Normally, I would think the Cardinals would be a long shot. There's little history between the teams, apart from two playoff games (both won by the Vikings) and the infamous Nate Poole game...not won by the Vikings. Le sigh. But the Cardinals and the Vikings are both coming off strong seasons, which saw the Vikings win the NFC North and the Cardinals the NFC West, with Arizona advancing to the NFC Championship game. Two teams that will be considered strong playoff contenders will be an intriguing television match up, and a distinct possibility.
Chicago: An NFC North opponent is never a bad choice, and the Bears have to be considered a strong candidate. But in doing some research, divisional opponents for Vikings home openers are a pretty rare occurrence. Yes, their home opener last year was with Detroit, but prior to that game, the previous home opening, divisional opponent was in 2003, a frequency of exactly twice in 13 years. Still, a Bears-Vikings match up is always an entertaining game, and they'd be a great choice.
Dallas: If the schedule makers don't go with a divisional rival, the Cowboys are a very strong play here. It's a national draw and ratings boom with the Cowboys, who will be hyped all off season as a Super Bowl team with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back. And watching the Vikings burst the Cowboys bubble so early in the season would be awesome, not gonna lie. If the NFL doesn't give the Vikings a divisional opponent, the Cowboys are the team I would think would be the one the NFL wanted the Vikings to showcase, but that's just me.
Detroit: There are a few things going for the Lions here. For one, they're a divisional opponent. Secondly, whether it's a trend or an anomaly, the Vikings have been scheduled to play Detroit in one of their first three games half a dozen times in recent seasons. And finally, just looking at the quality of opponents right now, it looks like Detroit is the most beatable team on this list. Part of the celebration in opening a new stadium is coming out with a win, and with the Lions dealing with some big off season issues, this is a game that looks most favorable on paper right now. But would the NFL have Minnesota open at home with Detroit in back to back years?
Green Bay: This is the game I would think most fans would want. The Vikings finally overcame Green Bay to win the division last year, so the revenge factor is a big story angle from the other side. Plus it's the Packers, Minnesota's biggest rival. When Lambeau Field was renovated and re-opened with pomp and circumstance in 2003, it was the Vikings that spoiled that home opener with a 30-25 win. The downside to this, of course, is that the crowd would have a very healthy dose of Packers fans, and that could be a mood dampener. I want that place rockin', loud, and full of purple mayhem, and I plan on being there. So if this is the game, Vikings fans...DON'T SELL YOUR TICKETS TO PACKERS FANS.
Houston: I don't see much of a drawing point here for fans of teams not named Minnesota and Houston. Sure, there are individual stars like J.J. Watt and Adrian Peterson, but there's not much draw for fans outside of the Texans and Vikings fan bases. I would think that the NFL would want to make this a national broadcast to show off one of their new palaces, so a compelling storyline on top of the new stadium would help boost ratings. I don't see a Houston-Minnesota match up doing that, to be honest. So, of course, this is probably the opponent the Vikings will draw.
Indianapolis: See Houston, just replace Watt with Andrew Luck. I just never see a lot of off season buzz about the Colts or the Vikings, for that matter, in the national media. Sure, there will be interesting storylines (Andrew Luck returning from injury) and two passionate fan bases, but a Colts-Vikings draw isn't a needle mover like another opponent on the schedule would be. So naturally, this is probably option 1A for the NFL, right behind Houston.
New York Giants: Like the Cowboys, the Giants are a national draw, even in lean years. Eli Manning is still one of the most recognizable players in the NFL, and a New York team guarantees a big rating, especially if they look to make this a nationally televised game. Next to Detroit, it's probably the game I look at tight now, today, with the second highest level of confidence that the Vikes can win, and another 49-17 blowout to open the Bank (probably not gonna happen with Odell Becham in the lineup, but still) would be a great way to kick off a new era in a great stadium.
So, there you have it. Who do you want the home opener opponent to be? Why?