The last time we saw Minnesota, we watched as the Vikings trotted off the field after Blair Walsh shanked a frozen football wide left in what should have been a great victory over the Seahawks. Of course, whether or not the Vikes would have stood a chance against the buzzsaw known as the Panthers is a different debate, but aside from losing the Super Bowl on the last play of the game, that might be the absolute worst way to end a season. Last season the Vikings were a surprise; I don't think very many people outside Minnesota thought they legitimately stood a chance to win the division barring a major injury to Aaron Rodgers. But even with a healthy QB in Green Bay, the Vikes were able to win the division, announcing that they were to be taken seriously. Of course, this season is a little different, as I can imagine the players and fans are eager to take that next step. After all, Adrian Peterson isn't getting any younger.
Unlike many teams around the league, Minnesota has a good core of young players in Teddy Bridgewater, Steffon Diggs, Anthony Barr, and others. The defense is solid despite the loss of Jared Allen to retirement, and of course Adrian Peterson is arguably the best running back in the league (still!). The biggest question for this team is whether or not Bridgewater can take the next step and start airing the ball out. If he gets comfortable with deep and intermediate routes, watch out, the Vikings will be very tough to beat.
Minnesota Vikings 2016 Schedule
Week 1: @ Tennessee
Week 2: Green Bay (Sunday Night)
Week 3: @ Carolina
Week 4: New York Giants (Monday Night)
Week 5: Houston
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: @ Philadelphia
Week 8: @ Chicago (Monday Night)
Week 9: Detroit
Week 10: @ Washington
Week 11: Arizona
Week 12: @ Detroit (Thanksgiving)
Week 13: Dallas (Thursday Night)
Week 14: @ Jacksonville
Week 15: Indianapolis
Week 16: @ Green Bay
Week 17: Chicago
Random Thought: Of the other 7 divisional winners from a season ago, Minnesota gets to play 4 this season. Lucky them.
Home Schedule: It's not going to be an easy ride for the Vikings at home this season. Week 2 against Green Bay on Sunday Night is the inaugural game before returning two weeks later on Monday Night against a revamped Giants team looking to make one last serious push before Eli is done. Houston is most likely the favorite to win their division. Who knows what Detroit will bring; even if they have a losing season the Lions can still be pesky in divisional play. The Arizona game could go along way in determining playoff seeding, and might be quite the game to watch assuming both sides are still healthy (looking at you, Palmer). Ditto for Dallas (Romo, Witten, Dez). Indianapolis I expect to have a down season, even if Andrew Luck returns to his 2014 form. And then of course the last game of the season against Chicago, which very well could be a "do or die" game for the Vikings. If everyone still has their quarterbacks throughout the season, this is a really tough schedule. But, the one upside is that Manning, Palmer, and Romo are all over 35 and have injury histories.
Away Schedule: Tennessee should be better this year, but as I've said in other posts, they are still a few years removed from being consistently competitive. Carolina will be vying for the #1 seed again, and this game may help decide playoff seeding. Philly is in a transition year, meaning the Vikes should be favored in that game. Monday Night in Chicago will be a tough game, as prime time NFC North games usually are. I feel like the Washington game will be hard fought. Detroit, once again, who knows. Jacksonville is the trendy pick to be really good this year (I agree) and should be a tough out. And then the main event, the last away game of the season against Green Bay that, in my opinion, will ultimately decide who wins the division. Overall the away schedule is a bit of a roller coaster between the best teams (Carolina, Green Bay) and the most likely worst teams (Tennessee, Philly) in the NFL.
Conclusion: If the Vikings stay healthy and Adrian Peterson shows no drop off in play, the Vikings could have a repeat of last year. Unlike last season, though, they play the top teams in the other NFC divisions in Arizona and Carolina, both games could mean the deciding factor in playoff seeding. But for that to matter, one thing needs to happen: Teddy Bridgewater needs to throw downfield more. The Madden Play "HB Dive" with Adrian Peterson only works for so long until the defense starts forcing the QB to do something.
My Guess: 9-7