Vikings' schedule offers tough start

Posted April 20, 2011 @ 12:40 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Vikings face a lot of questions in Leslie Frazier's first full season as head coach. One of his first obstacles is the schedule.

They will open at the Chargers, who missed the postseason a year ago but annually are a strong opponent — and are a tough opponent at home. The Vikings have not played in San Diego since 2003. That's followed by a home game against last season's surprise Buccaneers, before the division matchups start with the Lions in Week Three.

The Vikings have two primetime games this season. They'll face the Bears in Chicago for the NBC Sunday-night game in Week Six followed by a Week 10 Monday-nighter on ESPN against the Packers in Green Bay.

The bye falls in Week Nine, right after a contest against the Panthers in Charlotte.

PFW's analysis

The Vikings statistically are tied with the 10th-hardest schedule by opponents' 2010 record. They travel a manageable 11,756 for their eight road games, which is the eighth-fewest in the NFL, per the league's calculations.

The opening cluster of the Chargers and Bucs will be a test, considering both teams have game-changing quarterbacks in Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman, respectively.

It doesn't ease up a lot after those two. The Lions figure to be one of the more improved teams this season, and they are followed in Week Four by the Chiefs, another breakout team in '10. Detroit won its final four games of the season (including one against the Vikings) and finished ahead of Minnesota in the final NFC North standings.

Games against the quarterback-challenged Cardinals in Week Five and Panthers in Week Eight sandwich two tough divisional contests against the Bears and Packers, the two NFC title-game combatants a year ago.

After the Week Nine bye, the Vikings get three games against teams that were .500 or better last season: at the Packers in the Monday-nighter, home against the Raiders and at the Falcons, who only lost two games at home last season (including the postseason).

December is an interesting month. The Broncos come to town for an afternoon game (although flex scheduling could change that) in Week 13, followed by the rematch against the Lions in Detroit. The Vikings then are home for two of their final three against the Saints (Week 15) and the Bears (Week 17), with a road game against the Redskins in between on Christmas Eve, a Saturday.

The Vikings have no brutal stretches, only the challenging first four games, but also no easy ones. Their only back-to-back road games come with the bye in between. Clearly, Frazier and his team have some challenges ahead, and the slate of games is no cakewalk. But it's also not the gauntlet it could have been.