Survive the Five

The Vikings face a brutal opening portion of the 2006 schedule -- painfully reminiscent of last season.

The Vikings weren't done any favors by the schedule-makers, who released the 2006 matchups Thursday. Of the Vikings' first seven games, five of them are against playoff teams from the 2005 season.

The Vikings open the season with three consecutive games vs. 2005 playoff teams -- at the Redskins followed by home games vs. the Panthers and Bears. Coming out of the bye week, the Vikings face two more powerhouses -- at the Seahawks and vs. the Patriots.

Once that passes, however, things pick up considerably. In their final nine games, the Vikings play just one playoff team -- the Bears in Week 13.

The team motto for 2006 is Survive the Five. If the Vikings can get through the opening stretch of games with a 4-3 record, they could well go on to win the division and quite possibly get a first-round bye.

* The Vikes are already scheduled for three primetime games -- the opener at Washington, a Monday nighter vs. the Patriots Oct. 30 and a Thursday night game at Green Bay Dec. 21.
* The road game vs. the Packers will be one of the games carried nationally by the NFL Network. Those in the Twin Cities TV market will still get the game, but those nationally will have to either subscribe to the network or go to a sports bar that does. Not bad thinking on the league's part.
* The league also dealt a tough hand to the Vikings with the scheduling of the Dolphins game for Nov. 19. The late date assures that Daunte Culpepper will likely face his old mates -- a fact not lost on those making out the schedule.
* The Vikings' final three road games of the season will be against NFC North opponents.
* Only one of the last nine opponents on the 2006 schedule made the 2005 playoffs.
* With the flex schedule in place, there's a distinct possibility that the game vs. the Dolphins will get moved to prime time if both teams are playing as well as expected.
* Book those frequent flier miles. The Vikes have as much traveling this year as ever, with non-division road trips to Washington, Buffalo, Seattle, San Francisco and Miami.

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