MINNEAPOLIS - We’re all excited for football after the NFL Draft, and it became a little more real after the Minnesota Vikings released their regular season schedule Thursday night.
The league has every intention of starting the season on time, and it may mean going to contingency plans that would include empty stadiums. The Vikings, coming off earning the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs last year, have a schedule that includes four playoff teams from last year and two division champions.
The combined overall record of this year’s opponents last season is 103-100-1, and they’ll face six teams who had above .500 records last season.
The Vikings even get a reunion with former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski in the third week of the preseason, when Minnesota heads to Cleveland. The opposing quarterbacks this year include Aaron Rodgers, Mitchell Trubisky, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers (Colts), DeShaun Watson (Texans), Ryan Tannehill (Titans), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers, Josh Dobbs or Gardner Minshew (Jaguars), Tom Brady (Buccaneers) and Drew Brees (Saints).
Here's some takeaways from the schedule release:
A huge rivalry game Week 1
It doesn’t get any bigger than facing your biggest rival to open the regular season, and the Vikings will host the Packers Week 1 on Sept. 13 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The most intriguing part of this match-up, other than the rivalry itself, is the chance that the game could be played without fans. Gov. Tim Walz has been steadfast in saying large gatherings for public events, like a Vikings game, would be the last thing to return once the Coronavirus pandemic winds down. The odds of that being by September are slim at best. A rivalry game within the division to set the tone for the season is a huge opportunity, and it would definitely be weird without 60,000+ screaming fans in downtown Minneapolis.
Just 2 prime time games, 12 noon kickoffs
The schedule sets up pretty favorably for the Vikings, who have not fared well in prime time games. There are just two currently on the schedule, Sunday Night Football at the Seahawks on Oct. 11, and Monday Night Football at the Bears Nov. 16. Kirk Cousins is 0-9 on Monday Night Football in his career as a starter, and 7-15 in prime time games. The Vikings have 12 noon games, and two others after 3 p.m. It’s a schedule Mike Zimmer should be pleased with.
Christmas in New Orleans
For the first time in recent memory, the Vikings will be playing on Christmas Day. They’ll be on the road in New Orleans to face the Saints in a rare Friday game. It’ll be the first Christmas game on a Friday since 2009, and the Vikings haven’t played on Christmas Day since a 2005 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It could be a tough road environment for the Vikings if fans are allowed in the building.
3 straight home games?
The NFL did the Vikings a rare favor, putting three straight games at U.S. Bank Stadium in the gut of the season. The Vikings have their bye Week 7, then have four of their next six games at home. It includes a three-game stretch of the Cowboys (Nov. 22), Panthers (Nov. 29) and Jaguars (Dec. 6) all at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings do finish with three out of four on the road, but never have more than two straight road games.
1 Division game first 6 weeks
The season-opener for the Vikings against the Packers is Minnesota’s only home game in the first six weeks before its Week 7 bye. They also play Green Bay twice before they face any other division opponents. After heading to Lambeau Field out of the week off, they host the Lions and then head to Chicago for Monday Night Football. Their home regular season finale is Dec. 20 against the Bears, and they finish the regular season at Detroit. The NFC North Division could be decided by then.
Teddy Bridgewater’s return to Minnesota
The Carolina Panthers visit U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 29, and it will be Teddy Bridgwater’s return to Minneapolis. Bridgewater was the back-up for Drew Brees, and went 5-0 as a starter last year went Brees went down with a thumb injury. He threw nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions over that stretch. The Vikings drafted Bridgewater in 2014, and he suffered a gruesome knee injury just before the start of the 2016 season that could’ve ended his career. He signed with the Panthers in free agency after Brees came back to the Saints.
Facing Tom Brady, former Gophers in December
The Vikings caught a break weather-wise on their schedule, with their last seven games either in warm-weather climates or domed stadiums. They’ll face Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and a pair of former Gophers on Dec. 13 when they head to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady signed with the Buccaneers in free agency, Gronkowski was traded there after announcing his return to football and Tampa Bay drafted former Gophers stars Antoine Winfield Jr. and Tyler Johnson. The last college game the two played was in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Buccaneers. Winfield was a second round pick at No. 58 overall, and Johnson was a fifth round pick at No. 161 overall.
There are more questions than answers right now as it pertains to the NFL season, but we at least have a schedule.