Vikings get a ‘prove-it' schedule

The Vikings will face a stiff weekly challenge to defend their NFC North title, especially early in the season. They are facing a gauntlet of early prime-time games and the earliest possible bye.

FULL SCHEDULE


When the 2009 schedule was released, many Vikings fans let out a sigh of relief. With the playing futures – for the first four games of the season anyway – of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams shrouded by the looming specter of a suspension, the schedule provided some solace in a worst-scenario. With Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis all on the early portion of the schedule, things looked good for the Vikings, with or without the Williams Wall.

A year later, the same potential suspensions hang over the franchise, but this time around the league isn't doing the Vikings any favors. We knew following the regular-season-ending win over the Giants who the Vikings would be playing in 2010. But to actually see them laid out, it has the makings of a Murderer's Row schedule that will test the Vikings mettle on a week-to-week basis.

Word was leaked by Commissioner Roger Goodell hours before the official release of the schedules that the Vikings would open the season at New Orleans, but the schedule Gods did the Vikings no favors following that game. After the Saints game, the Vikings will have a pair of home games against the Dolphins and Lions before getting hit with the earliest possible bye week in Week 4 – considered by many organizations to be either a punishment or a curse.

Coming out of the bye, the Vikings won't play a noon Central Time game for a month. They come out of the bye with a Monday night game at the New York Jets. The next week they host the Dallas Cowboys in the late afternoon game. They return to prime time Sunday Oct. 24 when their annual visit to Lambeau Field gets the spotlight treatment. Six days later, the Vikings spend Halloween in New England when they face off with Randy Moss for the first time since his infamous trade away from the Vikings. Things stay difficult until Thanksgiving, as the Cardinals, Bears and Packers provide more potential land mines on the road to the playoffs.

If the Vikings can survive the initial onslaught, things might lighten up somewhat. Of their final five opponents (as Washington, Buffalo, the Giants, the Bears, at Philadelphia and at Detroit), only one of them (Philly) had a record above .500 last year.

It's clear the league has a vested interest in the Vikings being competitive. The Vikings have four prime-time games – the season opener at New Orleans, Monday night games with the Jets and Bears and the Sunday night main event at Green Bay in October. In 2009, the Vikings had 12 games at noon local time – something coaches say helps maintain continuity in game preparation. In 2010, there are only 10 games with noon local start times and only two of their first seven.

From a worst-case bye week to a five-game gauntlet of 2009 playoff teams coming out of the bye, if the Vikings are going to make a repeat run for the 2010 playoffs, they will have to prove it week-in, week-out. It won't come as easily as it did last year when even cautious Vikings fans could predict 10 or more wins with confidence. The sledding will be considerable more treacherous this times around.

WEDNESDAY NOTES

  • The premise that the Vikings will automatically address cornerback with their first pick isn't etched in stone by any means. There are still talks ongoing with veteran cornerback Lito Sheppard, according to the Star Tribune. While most teams shut down their free-agent operations to give their sole attention to the draft, a pair of former Pro Bowl veterans – Jason Taylor and Torry Holt – both found news homes Tuesday. Taylor signed with the Jets and Holt agreed to a one-year deal with the Patriots.

  • There is the potential that the Vikings-Packers Sunday night game will go up head-to-head against the World Series, once again asserting the NFL's dominance – even at midseason when they are pitted heads-up with baseball's crown jewel.

  • The NFL really loves the Jets (or at least spotlighted the biggest market in the country) with three Monday night games, including one in Week 5 when they host the Vikings.

  • The Vikings have four prime-time games, but seven other teams have fives games in prime time – Dallas, Indianapolis, the Jets, New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Diego. The Steelers got a lot of respect for a team that didn't make the playoffs in 2009.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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