The Vikings will have to earn their way to a winning record by surviving a tough start and cold ending to their schedule.
A year after being shut out of the Sunday night/Monday night national spotlight games, the Vikings are going to open the 2015 season under the glare a national audience on Monday night when they meet the San Francisco 49ers.
The Vikings already knew they were going to have a difficult schedule given that their non-division opponents are the teams from the NFC West and AFC West and the hits are going to be coming fast and furious as the Vikings look to get off to a fast start – with a schedule that, at face value, looks its most difficult in the first five and last five games.
As expected, both of their prime-time games will be on the road – something that is expected to change (perhaps dramatically) after the new Vikings stadium opens in 2016 – because of the rules that are in place while the team plays on the University of Minnesota campus at TCF Bank Stadium.
A year ago, all of the Vikings’ home games were on Sunday afternoons with seven of the eight being played at noon Central Time. This year? All eight home games are scheduled for noon local starts.
The schedule is going to be difficult coming out the gate and heading down the stretch. After opening at the season at San Francisco on a Monday night, the Vikings will return home for their next two games against recent playoff teams Detroit and San Diego. Then they get the big dog of the AFC West when they play at Denver.
The bye week comes in Week 5, which is a little earlier than most teams prefer – they would rather have the bye come at midseason – but the schedule appears to ease up a little bit after the bye week.
Kansas City comes to The Bank in Week 6 – a Chiefs team that was one of the hottest teams in the league early in the season only to collapse late. Kansas City still made the playoffs, but it was far from a dominant team as the 2014 season ended.
Following the Chiefs, the Vikings have their only back-to-back road games of the season. These could be critical because they come against division rivals Detroit and Chicago.
The Rams and Raiders – both looking to invade the vacant Los Angeles market as early as 2016 – get the Vikings through their first 10 weeks of the season. The remaining seven will be a gauntlet and, for the most part played in cold weather.
The Vikings don’t meet the Packers for the first time until the Sunday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 22), which will be followed up by a rematch with the Atlanta Falcons Week 12 in the Georgia Dome.
The minefield of the final five games will include four teams that have made noise in the playoffs in recent years, starting with a home game against Seattle Dec. 6.
Four days later (Dec. 10), the Vikings will have their only Thursday night game of the year when they travel to Arizona to play the Cardinals. The Vikings may want to remember the climate-controlled conditions at University of Phoenix Stadium because the final three games are likely going to be cold. Very cold.
The Vikings will play at home against Chicago Dec. 20 and have their home regular-season finale Dec. 27 against the Giants. If the Vikings are on the cusp of the playoffs heading into Week 17, they’re going to have to earn it because they close out against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
If the Vikings are to make a playoff push this year, they’re going to have to come out of the gate strong and start playing playoff football the entire month of December because they won’t be given any handouts from the schedule in September or December.
After the Oct. 18 game with the Chiefs, the Vikings will have just one home game between Oct. 19 and Nov. 22 when they meet the Packers.
The Vikings will be done with Detroit before they meet either the Packers or Bears for the first time.
Eight of the Vikings’ 16 games will be against teams that made the playoffs in 2014.
The Vikings will be the only team in the NFC North that won’t be playing on Thanksgiving Day.
A total of 12 of the Vikings’ 16 games are scheduled to be noon local time starts. In contrast, the Packers are going to play at noon local time just six times. Green Bay will have a whopping five prime-time games and five late Sunday afternoon start times.
Green Bay plays Chicago in the season opener, but won’t play another NFC North game until Week 10 when the Packers host Detroit. After playing just one of their first eight games against division opponents, the Packers will play five of their final eight games against the NFC North, giving Green Bay the chance to earn yet another division title if they’re on a roll in November and December.
After their bye in Week 7, the Packers will play six of their next nine games away from Lambeau.
Detroit may have got the worst cut of all from the schedule makers. They open with road games at San Diego and Minnesota before coming home to play Denver, going on the road to play Seattle and returning home to play Arizona.
The Lions get saddled with back-to-back road games three times this season. However, they get the scheduling anomaly of having a pair of three-game home stands, which is highly unusual because most teams don’t get one stretch like that in a season.
In their only two games that are different for each team, the Vikings get the Giants and Falcons, Green Bay gets Dallas and Carolina, Detroit draws Philadelphia and New Orleans and Chicago gets Tampa Bay and Washington.
The Bears play their final six games against the NFC, including one game against each of their NFC North rivals.
Chicago drew two prime-time games, but the national spotlight won’t be coming to Soldier Field often. Chicago gets a Monday night game at San Diego Nov. 9 and a Sunday night game at Green Bay Nov. 26.
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