One of the best examples of the NFL’s unparalleled year-round popularity in the United States is the fact that the annual release of all 32 teams’ game schedules is a major event.
Fans don’t find out their favorite team’s opponents for the upcoming season; that information was already out there. All that’s new is the dates, times and TV channels for each game, and that’s enough to spark heaps of interest. So much so that a random person created a Twitter account called “NFL Schedule Leaks,” which fully compiled the weeks, times, and channels for a number of games and gained over 10,000 followers.
Anyway, The full Vikings schedule was revealed last week. Let’s dive into five thoughts on how 17 games and a reunion were planned for Kevin O’Connell’s team.
1. At the beginning of the year we will learn a lot about the Vikings
It’s hard to imagine a more exciting start to the O’Connell era than with a home game against the hated Packers in Week 1. This will be a great test right off the bat against Aaron Rodgers and a defense that looks like it could be one of the be the best in the league. The fact that Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan are taking on their former team for the first time only adds to the excitement of this encounter. Starting 1-0 and taking an early division lead over Green Bay would be huge.
“Opening at home against the Green Bay Packers is what I see on the schedule right now because it’s the first week,” O’Connell said. “Obviously a great opportunity for our fans to come to US Bank Stadium, make sure that thing is all purple and I can’t wait to hear how loud that’s going to be when we come running out of the tunnel.”
But that’s not the only big game in the first part of the season. The following week, the Vikings get an early primetime opportunity with an away game against the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Philadelphia was an NFC wildcard team last year and look set to be back in that mix, so this will be an important first road test for Minnesota. Then the Vikings’ other two home games (against the Lions in Week 3 and the Bears in Week 5) will be wedged around a London game against the Saints – another team likely to be a factor in the NFC wildcard picture.
When the Vikings return to the States from London we will know a lot about what kind of team they have this year.
2. Not taking bye week right after London makes sense
60 teams have played a game in London since the NFL began its international series in 2007. 55 of those teams had a bye the following week to recover from the jet lag of intercontinental travel.
The Vikings decided to be in the minority this year by asking to say goodbye a few weeks later. They will return from London and play a home game against the Bears, then travel to Miami in Week 6 before having a week off in Week 7.
“Bye bye week 5, although in the short term it might help stray from such a journey to play 13 games in a row before possibly playing a few more bonus games, it can be exhausting, it can be exhausting really folks,” said O’ Connell.”So we wanted to try and say goodbye a little later. If we get the farewell weekend from this trip, we’re going to do a great job with our sports performance group and we’re going to be listening to the science of how we can make our boys feel great for this game, but of course making sure our players are feeling great for the home game next week, which was a big part of that.
It makes sense. A Week 5 bye is awfully early, especially now that the schedule has grown to 17 games. The reunion a few weeks later should work out fine, and then the Vikings will have a little reunion after the Thanksgiving game in week 12. It helps that the two games after London against the Bears and Dolphins look pretty winnable.
3. The schedule becomes much tighter after the bye
The Vikings are hoping to go away with a 4-2 record or better in Week 7 as Week 8 begins to heat up. The five-game stretch there is vs. Cardinals, Commanders, Bills, vs. Cowboys, and vs. Patriots. Four of those five were playoff teams last year, and Washington (the only non-playoff team) has a solid roster that upgraded at quarterback, with Carson Wentz replacing Taylor Heinicke.
This stretch will feature some of the best opposing quarterback play the Vikings will see if they don’t face Rodgers twice. Josh Allen is one of the best QBs in the league, and Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott are also dynamic players. Even Wentz and Mac Jones have a chance to score points by not using the Vikings’ defenses.
Going through that stretch with a 6-5 record would set Minnesota up for a strong finish, but they’re hoping to do even better.
4. It could all come down to New Year’s Day
For the second straight season, the Vikings have a week 17 game at Lambeau Field against the Packers. Last year, with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, they were forced to form Sean Mannion because Kirk Cousins was on the COVID list. Predictably, the Packers – who had long since won the division – won overwhelmingly.
This year, the Vikings hope that there will be more at stake in this game or that they will be the ones who have already completed the division. They would probably also like to have their starting QB available. Having Vikings-Packers in Lambeau in January might not be preferable for some fans who want a little warmth when attending such a big game, but it adds to the classic NFC North feel. It’s also fun that it takes place on the first day of 2023.
5. All in all, this is a favorable schedule for the Vikings
We already knew that the Vikings did not run the gauntlet with the opponents they would face. The Vikings have the 20th toughest schedule in the NFL this year based on the latest Vegas winning numbers. Aside from facing Rodgers twice and playing Allen, Murray and Prescott, they don’t have a particularly tough list of opposing QBs. Jalen Hurts, Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan are solid but the Vikings also get Jared Goff and Justin Fields twice along with Tua Tagovailoa, Wentz, Mac Jones, Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson. There’s also the fact that they get nine home games and eight away, and one of those away games is really a neutral matchup in London.
But the way the schedule is laid out makes things a little bit cheaper. If you win each of the first three divisional matchups at home, the Vikings are set for a strong start. Then, from Week 11 through Week 16, five of their six games are at home. Overall, the Vikings’ first 15 games include 9 home games, 5 away games and the neutral London venue. Ending with games in Green Bay and Chicago might be tough, but the Vikings will embrace it given the way their first 16 weeks are set up.
This season should be a lot of fun for the fans if the Vikings stay healthy, win some close games and fulfill their potential on paper.