The NFL released its 2021-22 official schedule last week, which sets the slate for the Vikings beginning in September. Based on oddsmakers implied win numbers for each team, the Vikings have the 11th most difficult schedule in the league, which is largely because the NFC North plays the NFC West and AFC North this year, the two toughest divisions, top-to-bottom. The Vikings last played the AFC North in 2017, and the NFC West in 2018.
One aspect of the Vikings schedule that is favorable for them, however, is that the toughest matchups are all home games, with the exception of the Ravens and 49ers. With the likely return of full stadiums this season, home field advantage returns as well, which should be an important factor for the Vikings at US Bank stadium, while making road games more difficult than last season. All NFC teams have one additional road game this year against an AFC team, as part of the increase to a 17 game season this year. Next year AFC teams will hit the road for that matchup.
Additionally, the Vikings don’t face as many top tier quarterbacks this season compared to last year, particularly if Aaron Rodgers is out of the picture. I’d include only Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson as top tier QBs on the Vikings schedule if Rodgers isn’t playing for the Packers.
The Vikings also have four prime time games - two Sunday Night games, one Thursday night and Monday night game - tied for 2nd most in the league.
Lastly, the most recent implied wins this season for the Vikings, based on current betting lines, is 9.1. I’ve included that number for each of the Vikings opponents in parenthesis after their name.
With that, here is the breakdown of the Vikings schedule.
Week 1: at Cincinnati Bengals (6.1)
Sunday, September 12, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 3 point favorite, 48 total point over/under
The Vikings start the season on the road against a team they should beat. This will be a multi-reunion game, reuniting key players in LSU’s championship season two years ago- Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. Chase will also likely matchup against Cameron Dantzler, who owned him in their one matchup in college. The game will also be a reunion for former Vikings Riley Reiff and Trae Waynes, who will likely start at right tackle and cornerback for the Bengals. For both of them, it will be their first regular season snaps since they parted ways with the Vikings.
Defensively, the Bengals don’t have top-tier talent at any level, outside of perhaps safety Jessie Bates, which should bode well for the Vikings offense. Offensively, the Bengals have some young weapons in Burrow, Chase, and Tee Higgins, but their offensive line looks suspect, especially on the interior. It will be interesting to see how well the Vikings run defense does against Joe Mixon.
Overall, while it’s a road game, this should be a game the Vikings win somewhat comfortably. They’re a better team on both sides of the ball, and it’s difficult to expect an upset from the Bengals in Burrow’s first game back from injury last year after going 2-7-1, and Chase’s first game as a rookie.
Week 2: at Arizona Cardinals (8.3)
Sunday, September 19, 2021, 3:05pm CT, FOX
Betting line: Cardinals 3.5 point favorite, 49.5 total point over/under
Patrick Peterson’s reunion with his old team will also be a big test for the Vikings secondary, as the Cardinals have DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and rookie Rondale Moore as weapons in their passing attack. The Cards look to have a decent offensive line to protect Kyler Murray, having picked up All-Pro center Rodney Hudson during the off-season, and with a top left tackle in DJ Humphries.
Defensively, the Cardinals also picked up JJ Watt in free agency, and have a couple other good players in Budda Baker at safety and Malcom Butler at cornerback. Beyond that, not much to write home about, although they also have rookie first-round pick Zaven Collins at LB. Once again, not a bad matchup for the Vikings offense, and it could be a good one for the Vikings running game.
Overall, this should be a good test for the Vikings early on, particularly on defense, while the Vikings offense should be able to fare fairly well. I’d expect this game to be a bit of a barometer on how the Vikings are setting up for the season. It should be a winnable game for the Vikings on the road, and I’d view a loss as an early disappointment.
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks (9.8)
Sunday, September 26, 2021, 3:25 CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 1.5 point favorite, 48 total point over/under
The Vikings haven’t beaten the Seahawks since before Russell Wilson, back in 2009. Last year’s tilt at Seattle was close- the Seahawks won 27-26 on a last minute TD drive- but the fact remains that Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll have never lost to the Vikings since they arrived in Seattle. On the other hand, the Seahawks haven’t played in US Bank stadium yet, and Wilson has a 4-6 career record in domed stadiums.
This two-game home stretch (Seattle, Cleveland) will put the Vikings run defense to the test. The battle in the trenches will be an interesting one to watch in this game. All of the Seahawks starting interior linemen are listed in the 330-340 pound range, with 315 and 325 pound tackles. Both starting left tackles in this game are Virginia Tech alumni- Duane Brown and Christian Darrisaw - although 13 years apart and could provide an interesting comparison. Overall, the Seahawks offense has improved in recent years as their offensive line has gotten better, and with DK Metcalf becoming a legitimate weapon for them outside, going along with Tyler Lockett, while Chris Carson has proven to be a very good power running back. This could be one of the the biggest tests for the Vikings defense all season.
Defensively, all that remains of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is LB Bobby Wagner, now 31 but still going strong. They’ve added some other pieces in SS Jamal Adams, and most recently CB Ahkello Witherspoon, but the Seahawks defense has been middling for the last few years as key starters were lost. A key weakness for the Seahawks’ defense this year looks to be their defensive line, which is both relatively small (Poona Ford at 310 is the only one over 300), and aging. 32 year-old Carlos Dunlap, coming off his worst season as a pro, and 30 year-old Benson Mayowa, who’s never been good, are their two edge rushers. I suspect the Seahawks are counting on SS Jamal Adams to provide some blitz pressure, but that won’t make up for a front four that can’t get the job done.
Ultimately this is a battle between similarly strong offenses, but the Vikings have a better defense. Still, the Seahawks always play the Vikings tough, so it will likely be a close game. A win here for the Vikings would be a huge confidence boost and early validation of their playoff prospects.
Week 4: Cleveland Browns (10.2)
Sunday, October 3, 2021, Noon CT, CBS
Betting line: Browns 1.5 point favorite, 47.5 total point over/under
Kevin Stefanski returns to Minnesota with an offensive roster lacking any weak spots. Baker Mayfield may not be a top-tier QB, but he sits behind probably the best offensive line in the league, and has weapons from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and Rashard Higgins around him.
Defensively the Browns have a pair of good edge rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney- both former #1 overall draft picks - and a pair of good safeties too. But their interior defensive line is weak, and their linebackers, while good in coverage, are not as good against the run. Cornerbacks are average.
This will be another big test for the big guys up front on the Vikings interior defensive line- Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson. If the Vikings run defense can hold up against the Browns, I don’t see their passing game outperforming the Vikings passing game. How well Christian Darrisaw fares against his first top-tier edge rusher in Myles Garrett will be an interesting matchup to watch.
Overall, this is likely to be a close game, and one where getting out to an early lead could have an impact, along with which team fares better in the red zone. If the Vikings can get a couple explosive plays on offense, that could prove to be decisive, whereas if the Browns can sustain long drives and wear down the Vikings defense, they could emerge the victor.
Week 5: Detroit Lions (5)
Sunday, October 10, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 8.5 point favorite, 48 total point over/under
The Lions come to town as the worst team the Vikings will face this season, quite simply because they have the most holes in their roster, which are numerous, as they enter a multi-year rebuild. Jared Goff, at his best, is an above average quarterback that can distribute the ball well enough, but the problem for him in Detroit is that he has next to no legitimate weapons to work with, and their offensive line is weak at the guard spots. Add to that a Lions defense that is riddled with holes and it’s difficult to see how the Lions can compete this year.
One interesting matchup to watch will be right tackle Penei Sewell against Danielle Hunter. Sewell was the top ranked left tackle in this year’s draft class, but the Lions are moving to right tackle as they have Taylor Decker on the left side.
But at the end of the day, the Lions don’t have the roster to beat the Vikings on either side of the ball, and a double-digit win for the Vikings seems a likely outcome.
Week 6: at Carolina Panthers (7.2)
Sunday, October 17, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: pick ‘em - no point spread, 47.5 total point over/under.
The Vikings managed to eek out a victory against Carolina last year at home, in a wild and not exactly well-played game. The Panthers were without Christian McCaffrey, while the Vikings were missing Adam Thielen and several defensive starters.
This season the Panthers will start Sam Darnold, and have a solid trio of receivers to go with McCaffrey, but the Carolina offensive line is weak at every position but right tackle. An interesting matchup here will be Dalvin Tomlinson vs. Pat Elflein at left guard.
Defensively the Panthers are average to mediocre at most positions, with the exception of edge rusher Brian Burns, who’ll face Brian O’Neill, and LB Denzel Perryman.
Overall, the Vikings have improved a lot more than Carolina since last year, and it’s difficult to see the Panthers outscoring the Vikings, absent the turnovers that made for a close game last season.
Week 7: Bye Week
A little on the early side with 11 games still left to play in the regular season, but after six games the coaching staff should have a good idea of what is working and what is not, and have an early chance to make any necessary corrections.
The bye week also comes in advance of a crucial month for the Vikings, with five games against five playoff-caliber opponents- or so it seems at the moment.
Week 8: Dallas Cowboys (9.2)
Sunday, October 31, 7:20pm CT, NBC
Betting line: Vikings 2 point favorite, 49.5 total point over/under
Both Vikings and Cowboys will be coming off their bye-week for this game, another rematch of a close mid-season battle last year. Kirk Cousins had a 140.1 passer rating in that game, but the Vikings defense gave up 180 yards rushing to Zeke and company, and a 104 passer rating to Andy Dalton, while losing the turnover battle.
The Cowboys will have Dak Prescott back, but the Vikings will have their defense and fans back, so hopefully the Vikings will do a better job against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cee Dee Lamb, and the Cowboys running game. The Cowboys offensive line is good, but not as good as it was a few years ago. LT Tyron Smith, 30, has battled injuries the last couple years and his performance has fallen, while losses at left guard and center have been replaced with lesser performers. La’el Collins is back at right tackle after missing last season.
Defensively, the Cowboys remain weak in the interior defensive line, and pretty much every defensive back spot. First round draft pick Micah Parsons will start at a LB spot for the Cowboys, and they have a good pair of edge rushers in Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence.
Overall, the Vikings should be much better on defense compared to a year ago, and despite the return of Dak Prescott, should be a better match against the Cowboys offense. For the Vikings offense, if the Darrisaw and O’Neill can keep Cousins clean, he should have a good day against the Cowboys’ secondary. The Cowboys will probably be in a lot of shoot-outs this season, given their roster, and there is some potential for this to be one too.
Week 9: at Baltimore Ravens (11.1)
Sunday, November 7, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Ravens 7 point favorite, 49 total point over/under.
Right now, this looks like the toughest game on the Vikings’ schedule. The Ravens over/under win total is third in the league at 11.1, and highest among Vikings’ opponents. It’s also a road game, and the Ravens are coming off their bye-week.
The Ravens roster is an interesting from a PFF grading standpoint. Last year, almost the entire starting roster grades somewhere between the mid-60s and 80. No player is graded 80 or above, but apart from LB Patrick McQueen at 29.7, no player is graded below the low 60s either.
Offensively, everything runs through Lamar Jackson, who in addition to his passing, also led the team in rushing attempts and yards last year. The Ravens ran the ball 149 times more than they passed, and had more rushing than passing yards. The Ravens have a better receiving corps than last year, having added Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman in the draft to go with Marquise Brown, but it’s still not much more than an average performing group. Last year the Ravens were the #1 rushing team in attempts, yards, and yards per attempt, and rushing yards per game (nearly 200) while ranking last in passing attempts, passing yards, and 21st in passing yards per attempt.
Defensively, it’s kind of a no-name unit, with the exception of 35 year-old Calais Campbell, and Marcus Peters, both of which have seen their performance decline last year.
Overall, the Ravens are a true run-first offense, one of only three teams that ran more than it passed last year, and other than Jackson’s spectacular play-making abilities, really lack any elite talent at this point, except if you include kicker Justin Tucker.
The secret to the Ravens success, outside of Lamar Jackson, may be in that they don’t make a lot of turnovers, and do well in key situations. The Ravens lost the turnover battle only 3 times during the regular season last year, were top 4 on both sides of the ball on third down, and with Justin Tucker didn’t miss many field goals or extra points. They were near the bottom of the league in penalties and penalty yards, but outside of that didn’t seem to make a lot of mistakes while being efficient on both sides of the ball.
All that sounds good, and it is good, and why they went 11-5 last year, but it’s also pretty near maximizing results for their given talent level. It’s also worth mentioning that the Ravens played the NFC East last year- worst division in the NFL - along with the Texans, Jags, and Bengals twice. That’s a total of 8 games- and 8 wins- against teams in the bottom third of league rankings.
My point here is that it wouldn’t take much for the Ravens to become a .500 team this season, and if the Vikings can manage to mitigate Lamar Jackson’s damage reasonably well, they could win the game with a decent performance offensively, against a defense they may match-up well against.
Week 10: at Los Angeles Chargers (9)
Sunday, November 14, 2021, 3:05pm CT, FOX
Betting line: Chargers 3 point favorite, 48.5 total point over/under
Defensively, it’s not too much to say the Chargers have Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and a bunch of other middling to mediocre players. Chris Harris Jr. was a good corner for a number of years, but at age 32 has been on the downslide for the last two years. Bosa vs. Darrisaw will be a good matchup, but the Vikings can provide help there as needed too without giving up more pass rush elsewhere.
Offensively, the Chargers have weapons around sophomore QB Justin Herbert, and are beginning to assemble a solid offensive line, having acquired C Corey Linsley, and drafted LT Rashawn Slater. How effective they’ll be this year is still a question mark- they still have the aging and oft-injured Brian Bulaga at right tackle, but their interior line looks decent, but not necessarily above average, overall.
All that is important as getting to Justin Herbert, and making life difficult for him is key to beating the Chargers. Herbert showed enough as a rookie to know he can make you pay if given enough time in the pocket, particularly with the trio of receivers (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyron Johnson) at his disposal. Mike Zimmer can make young QBs uncomfortable, showing them different looks, different coverages, disguising things pre-snap, and running different blitz packages, which could help keep Herbert off-balance.
In the meantime, the Vikings offense should be able to move the ball effectively against the Chargers defense, which really lacks the top-end talent around Bosa and James to really put much of a dent in the Vikings plans offensively.
But holding Justin Herbert in check will likely be the key to victory for the Vikings in this matchup.
Week 11: Green Bay Packers (10.9)
Sunday, November 21, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 3 point favorite, 47 total point over/under
How the Vikings-Packers games play out this year will depend a lot on the status of Aaron Rodgers, and at this point it looks more like he will not play for the Packers this season. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see the team getting past the demoralization that comes with losing by far the most important player on their team, the one who’s performance victory centered around, and who everyone counted on to deliver. Without Rodgers, post-season hopes are dashed, and the team becomes an average team without a leader. It’s a scenario we’ve seen playout when Rodgers was injured in the past.
Beyond Rodgers, the Packers have elite players in LT David Bakhtiari, WR Devante Adams, CB Jaire Alexander, and S Adrian Amos. They also have good players in DT Kenny Clark, EDGE Za’Darius Smith, RB Aaron Jones, and S Darnell Savage. Collectively they have one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the league. Additionally, Matt LaFleur’s scheme, off the Shanahan/Kubiak tree, demands less QB heroics than the McCarthy sandlot scheme Rodgers thrived in for so many years. Putting all that together, you can argue that a Rodgers-less Packers team could be more effective than those of the past.
But then again, the success of a receiver like Devante Adams has been built on his chemistry with Rodgers, and if Rodgers is gone, you’d expect Adams’ production to decline significantly with a new quarterback. And the Packers don’t really have much for aerial weapons beyond Adams. And so the cookie crumbles, a drive or two more get stalled, the defense isn’t playing with the lead anymore, have to worry more about run defense- a clear weakness- winning the turnover battle more difficult without Rodgers, as is red zone efficiency, etc., etc., etc.
The Vikings beat Rodgers and the Packers last year at Lambeau Field, missing so many key players on defense. It was an odd game offensively for the Vikings. Kirk Cousins was not pressured on a single drop-back according to PFF. But he had only 14 of those. The Vikings scored 28 points on just 48 offensive plays, and with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen combining for just 53 yards receiving. But Dalvin Cook had 30 carries for 163 yards, and another 63 yards receiving. The Vikings had just two drives in the first half, but scored TDs on both of them. In fact, they scored TDs on their first four drives, before packing it in with just two first downs on their remaining three drives, punting the ball each time. Clearly it wasn’t the best performance by the Packers, but it demonstrates the weakness the Packers have when not getting off to an early lead, and not being able to defend the run.
With a better defense this year, the Vikings are better able, even with Rodgers, to repeat the above sort of scenario, as the Packers really haven’t done anything to move the needle much with roster changes this off-season.
Week 12: at San Francisco 49ers (10.2)
Sunday, November 28, 2021, 3:25pm CT, FOX
Betting line: 49ers 7 point favorite, 46.5 total point over/under
Barring injury, this will be a Jimmy G-led 49ers team this year. It’s also a team that likely will be similar to the 2019 version, who dispatched the Vikings in the playoffs that year without much problem, largely due to their dominating ground game and advantages in the trenches.
If anything, the 49ers offensive line has improved since 2019, with the addition of LT Trent Williams, C Alex Mack, and 330 pound rookie right tackle Aaron Banks to go with RT Mike McGlinchy. It’s a much better run blocking offensive line than in pass protection, however, so there’s opportunity to pressure Jimmy G if the Vikings’ improved run defense with Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce upfront, can hold up better against the 49ers rushing attack.
Defensively, the 49ers are good, not great, with the return of Nick Bosa and Jason Verrett replacing Richard Sherman at cornerback. Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, and Dee Ford make a seemingly formidable defensive line, but in truth they all had pass rush PFF grades below 70 in their most recent season (Bosa’s was only on basically one game last year, however). Ford really only had one good year as a pass rusher, and at age 30, it would seem unlikely he’ll return to his form of 3 years ago. Kinlaw had an underwhelming rookie season for a #14 overall draft pick, so we’ll have to see if he can improve from his 54.1 overall rookie season grade. Armstead is a particularly good run defender, but not as effective inside as a pass rusher. Bosa is the biggest pass rush threat, but is a bit more of a power edge rusher than a Khalil Mack collapse the arc-type guy, and that may be a better matchup for Christian Darrisaw to handle. We’ll see.
Overall, the 49ers are kind of a sneaky-tough matchup that may play better than individual parts may suggest- although offensively there aren’t many holes- unless you count Jimmy G. One key difference this year will be the absence of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, which could prove to be a significant loss. 37 year-old DeMeco Ryans takes over in his first gig as a defensive coordinator, moving up from inside linebackers coach. The 49ers also lost defensive backs coach Joe Woods, who was replaced by Cory Undlin, who was the Lions’ DC last year under Matt Patricia, and previously defensive backs coach for the Eagles. Those changes, combined with a DL coach in his 2nd year, could be significant.
But this will be a tough game for the Vikings, and may prove to be the toughest game on the schedule by the time it’s played. In the end, if the Vikings can mitigate the 49ers ground game, and not lose the turnover battle, things begin to tilt in their favor. But limiting that rushing attack isn’t going to be any easier than it was 2 years ago, although the Vikings are better equipped this year to do so.
Week 13: at Detroit Lions (5)
Sunday, December 5, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 4 point favorite, 46 total point over/under
The Lions will have played their annual Super Bowl on Thanksgiving day the previous week, so they’ll have a 10-day stretch to get ready for this game. The Lions will likely be out of contention by this point, and we’ll have to see how that effects QB Jared Goff, who hasn’t been in this situation since his rookie year in St. Louis back in 2016. Goff got thrown in halfway into that season, and went 0-7 to finish their season. Of course Goff is a better QB now than he was as a rookie, but the sudden lack of quality supporting cast around him could lead him to similar performances. Goff leaned a lot on Sean McVay since he joined the Rams, but Lions OC Anthony Lynn rose up as a running backs coach before becoming head coach of the Chargers, while HC Dan Campbell was a tight-end coach previously, so it may be that long-time NFL QB and Lions QB coach Mark Brunell will be the point person for Goff’s development. Brunell hasn’t played in the NFL for ten years, and has never coached in the NFL before. He spent the last eight years as a high school football head coach.
I’d be surprised if this is a close game. I would also expect the Lions to have become a run-first football team offensively from an early point in the season, leaning on Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift to fuel their offense, especially lacking any real receiving weapons outside of tight-end TJ Hockinson.
Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers (8.5)
Thursday, December 9, 2021, 7:20pm CT, FOX/NFLN/AMAZON
Betting line: Vikings 2.5 point favorite, 46.5 total point over/under
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 14 years as head coach, but this season could challenge that. The Steelers have a pretty tough slate with two games each against the Browns and Ravens, the Chiefs, Titans, Bills, Packers, Seahawks, and Vikings as well. They’re rolling with Big Ben for another year, but their once stalwart offensive line has suffered degrading losses, leaving only David DeCastro from the old guard.
Defensively they’ve suffered losses too, with edge rusher Bud Dupree moving on. They still have TJ Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and 32 year old Cameron Heyward on their defensive front, but the LBs and CBs behind them are mediocre.
It looks like the Steelers may work on improving their league-worst ground game from last season, having drafted Najee Harris in the first round this year. They still have JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool as weapons, but Big Ben’s ability at this point is becoming more suspect. He’s not been a top tier quarterback for at least a couple years now, and is about as immobile as they come. Taking some pressure off of him by running the ball more may help, but defensively they can’t be counted among the top defenses anymore, which could compromise their ability to run the ball as much as they’d like to.
They play the Ravens the Sunday before having to travel for a Thursday night game, which doesn’t help their cause in this matchup, especially with a number of older players in key positions. They may not have much of a chance at this point in the season to make the playoffs, especially with the Titans, Chiefs, Browns and Ravens left on their schedule, and that may have a bearing on their performance on the road in a short week too.
If the Vikings defense can make the Steelers work for what they get offensively, and not give up many big plays or lose the turnover battle, I don’t see them keeping pace with the Vikings offense, which should be able to sustain drives against this depleted Steelers defense.
Week 15: at Chicago Bears (7.2)
Monday, December 20, 2021, 7:15pm CT, ESPN
Betting line: Vikings 1 point favorite, 42.5 total point over/under.
I would expect Justin Fields to be the Bears starting quarterback by this time in the season, perhaps at their bye week, so the Vikings will likely face the rookie QB twice in the last three weeks of the season. I’m not expecting an electric performance from Fields as a rookie, but he could provide a spark for the team at times. The Bears offensive line is mediocre, and while Allen Robinson is an elite receiver, it remains to be seen if Darnell Mooney can improve and provide a viable alternate target for Fields. This is another case where Zimmer can confuse a young QB with his defensive schematics, which could lead to some mistakes.
Offensively, the task for the Vikings is clear: try to hold back the Bears defensive front long enough to take advantage of a weaker secondary. The Bear front they often employ, with one of their big defensive tackles on each of the Vikings interior linemen, has been very effective in pressuring Kirk Cousins on just about every longer dropback it’s been used. Part of the solution is to stay out of 3rd and long situations as much as possible, and be effective with the shorter, play-action passing game, and outside zone running game. All that is easier said than done, but hopefully the Vikings offensive line will be able to give Cousins a half-second more to get the ball of this year, and that will prove to be enough. The Vikings have had some success last year with some power runs against the Bears, and perhaps that could work again this year too.
I don’t expect the Bears to be contenders at this point in the season, but nevertheless, road games against the Bears tend to be close and ugly games, and I’d be surprised if this was any different, particularly as a likely cold-weather game as well, which could impact the passing game.
Week 16: Los Angeles Rams (10.3)
Sunday, December 26, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Rams 2.5 point favorite, 48 total point over/under
I would expect the Rams to be vying for the division title or at least a wild card spot- Vikings too- so a lot will be riding on this game. I would also expect Rams QB Matthew Stafford, who the Vikings know well, to have a good season with the Rams, given a good offensive line, more of a winning culture, and decent receiving weapons. But I wouldn’t say that translates into elite or top-tier performance. The main reason is that Stafford’s grade from a clean pocket was only league average last year, and his accuracy and negatively graded throw rates were among the worst in the league. His relatively poor accuracy in particular has been pretty stable over the past three seasons. At age 33, with a career 89.9 passer rating, it’s an open question how much better he’ll get with a change of scenery.
The Rams defense is good at some key positions. First, it has perennial DPOY Aaron Donald at defensive tackle, and two good corners in Jalen Ramsey and Darius Williams. The rest of their defensive line is average, and linebackers and slot corner are weak spots. Safeties are average. It’s a defense the Vikings should be able to run on, just not at Aaron Donald, and set up play-action shots to tight ends like Irv Smith Jr., along with screens and wheel routes to Dalvin Cook. All that sets up the occasional deep shot too, if Aaron Donald can be kept away long enough.
This could be a game where the Vikings coverage matters the most, where good coverage will force Matthew Stafford to make some tough throws in tight windows, and could lead to a key turnover or two. Blitzing Stafford has proven effective for the Vikings in the past as well, having sacked Stafford 19 times more than any other team in his career. Stafford, apart from 2019, has had below average passer ratings most of his career against the blitz.
Week 17: at Green Bay Packers (10.9)
Sunday, January 2, 2021, 7:20pm CT, NBC
Betting line: Packers 3 point favorite, 42.5 total point over/under
Hard to say at this point if this game will be for the division crown, or if the Packers will be planning for Rodgers’ long-term successor at quarterback. Pretty good chance for another cold-weather game in any case, which could impact the passing game. Otherwise, not much to add to the comments from the first matchup.
Week 18: Chicago Bears (7.2)
Sunday, January 9, 2021, Noon CT, FOX
Betting line: Vikings 4 point favorite, 45.5 total point over/under
The Vikings now traditional final home game against the Bears may prove to be another anti-climactic end to the season, as it has been in the past, or it could be for the division crown, or perhaps only important for the Vikings in playoff seeding. What each team is playing for will make a big difference in the game, but otherwise the comments from the previous matchup still apply here.
The Vikings are currently favored in 9 of their 17 games, and giving them the benefit of the doubt in the pick ‘em matchup against Carolina, gets the Vikings to a 10-7 record for the season according to oddsmakers. If Aaron Rodgers is done in Green Bay, I expect that total to increase to 11.
But for most games the point spread at this point is basically a field goal or less, so whether the Vikings are favored or not in each game could, and likely will, change once the season starts, injuries happen, etc.
If I had to guess, I’d say 10 wins in a 17 game season should be good enough for a playoff spot in the NFC with the 7-team playoff format. That puts the Vikings on the inside edge of the post-season at the moment. If they are a playoff team this year, I have no doubt their record against the NFC West teams will have a big impact on their seeding.
But of course there are all the usual injury caveats, as injuries, particularly the early, season-ending variety, can have a big impact- as we saw last year.
The toughest game on the Vikings schedule is:
This poll is closed
Week One: Bengals
Week Two: Cardinals
Week Three: Seahawks
Week Four: Browns
Week Five: Lions
Week Six: Panthers
Week Eight: Cowboys
Week Nine: Ravens
Week Ten: Chargers
Week Eleven: Packers
Week Twelve: 49ers
Week Thirteen: Lions
Week Fourteen: Steelers
Week Fifteen: Bears
Week Sixteen: Rams
Week Seventeen: Packers
Week Eighteen: Bears