2013 Minnesota Vikings Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 19, 2013

2013 Minnesota Vikings Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

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    The above is the enduring image of the Minnesota Vikings' 2012 season: superstar tailback Adrian Peterson rushing for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns by force of pure will and talent.

    Peterson cemented his place in history with a historic season; he cemented his place in football legend less than a year removed from blowing out his ACL.

    Though Peterson blasted through opposing defensive lines, shook would-be tacklers and sprinted past secondaries, the photo captures something else: how ineffective his passing-game teammates were in support.

    Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin and company mustered just 2,751 yards as a unit and ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yardage. Ponder did an adequate job of dumping off passes to his hot reads and checkdowns but made very few plays.

    Ponder's anemic 6.1 put him 31st out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in raw average yards per attempt, according to Pro Football Reference. He was also dead last in average yards per completion with just 9.8.

    Nobody in the NFL was throwing it shorter than Christian Ponder.

    Even so, Adrian Prometheus—er, Peterson—led the Vikings to a 14th-best 23.7 points per game. On defense, the Vikings' line and cornerback pair held opponents to a 14th-best 21.8 points per game. Their 1.9 average point differential gave them 8.8 Pythagorean wins, so their 10-6 record was probably a little better than their true performance.

    The Vikings also suffered significant personnel losses. After trading away top receiver Percy Harvin, the Vikings blew much of their free-agent budget by pilfering wideout Greg Jennings away from the rival Green Bay Packers.

    Even if Jennings is a 1:1 replacement for Harvin, the Vikings lost top corner Antoine Winfield, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and guard Geoff Schwartz. Their other key free-agent addition was signing quarterback Matt Cassell to back up—or possibly push—Ponder.

    All told, the Vikings are going to have their work cut out for them to stay in the upper half of the division...or even to avoid returning to its basement.

Week 1: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    The NFL did a wicked, wicked thing by scheduling the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings to open and close their seasons against each other.

    The opening fixture is almost more important; by the end of the season, it's likely that one of these two teams' fates will already be sealed. Making sure they aren't that team is the name of the opening game.

    The Vikings always tend to play well at Ford Field, and the Lions' best weapon against Adrian Peterson—run-stopping linebacker Justin Durant—left via free agency. This should be a close game, but a breakaway Adrian Peterson run makes the difference.

    Score Prediction: 28-24, Vikings

Week 2: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    In this fixture last season, the Chicago Bears had absolutely no trouble handling the Minnesota Vikings. By halftime, the score was 25-3, and the game was all over except for the shouting.

    It shouldn't be quite that easy for the Bears this time around, as the new-look linebacking corps will be getting their first taste of Adrian Peterson. Meanwhile, new Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod will be meeting up with his old friend—Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

    The Vikings should have the upper hand early despite the Bears' home-field advantage. In the second half, though, the tides should turn.

    These teams will need all 60 minutes to decide this, but Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall will ultimately score the late go-ahead touchdown.

    Score Prediction: 21-17, Bears

Week 3: Minnesota Vikings vs. Cleveland Browns

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Cleveland Browns are hoping to become in 2013 what the Minnesota Vikings were in 2012: a tough, physical team that is balanced between offense and defense and reliant on a power running game to make up for deficiencies in the downfield passing game.

    Can the Browns come to Minnesota and do to the Vikings what the Vikings did 10 times in 2012?

    The two defenses were similar last season: strong up front and weak in back, with one outstanding corner holding it down in coverage.

    This season, the Browns have gotten stronger on defense, while the Vikings have gotten weaker. Meanwhile, both offenses have added a backup quarterback and little else.

    Cleveland is going to beat one of the NFC North teams, and their doppelganger (the Vikings) seem the likely victim.

    Score Prediction: 24-17, Browns

Week 4: Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    A matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers conjures memories of the brutal 1970s, when the Vikings and Steelers played vicious, ground-and-pound football and dominated their respective conferences.

    Adrian Peterson will certainly look to bruise the depleted Steelers' front seven, and Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers receivers will try to dominate the Vikings through the air.

    This game will hinge on whether the Vikings pass rush can rattle Big Ben before he beats the Vikings secondary. Given the Steelers' poor protection and loss of lineman Willie Colon, that looks likely. 

    Score Prediction: 24-14, Vikings

Week 6: Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have made a lot of defenses look silly in his two seasons in the NFL. Newton has also made a few defenses look good.

    When the Vikings host the Panthers, the deciding factor will come down to which Cam Newton shows up: the phenom who tore up the league at the beginning of his rookie year and end of his sophomore campaign or the pressing, sulking youngster who showed up in the middle?

    By Week 6, we should have a good idea of whether Cam is "boom" or "bust" this season. My money is on boom.

    Score Prediction: 28-17, Panthers

Week 7: Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:40 p.m. ET, ESPN

    The prospect of facing Eli Manning, in MetLife Stadium on Monday Night Football should strike fear into the hearts of Vikings fans everywhere. After losing the best defender in Pro Football Focus' 28th-ranked pass coverage unit, the Vikings are going to need their pass rush to bail them out.

    In the recent past, that approach has worked. Star defensive end Jared Allen had a (relatively) down year by his standards, notching 11 sacks and finishing 16th out of 43 qualifying defensive ends in pass rush productivity.

    Unless the 31-year-old turns back the clock, the Vikings will struggle to slow the Giants down.

    On the offensive side of the ball, Adrian Peterson will get his, but Christian Ponder will have to outduel Manning in order to secure victory. That won't happen.

    Score Prediction: 28-10, Giants

Week 8: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: Oct. 27, 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC

    When this game was played last season, the Green Bay Packers cruised to a 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

    Given the subtraction of receiver Greg Jennings from the Packers—and his addition to the Vikings—it's tempting to predict a big swing in that final score.

    However, the Vikings suffered much more overall attrition than the Packers did, and the Packers' deeper roster is better suited to handle the losses. Adrian Peterson will still get his against an unremarkable run defense, but the Vikings will most likely struggle to score early.

    Once Rodgers and the Packers get the upper hand, the Vikings aren't built to play catch-up.

    Score Prediction: 31-13, Packers

Week 9: Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    The Dallas Cowboys tried their best to make up for the NFL's imposed salary cap penalties but couldn't help suffering some turnover on defense.

    Worse yet, the shift in philosophy from Rob Ryan's blitzing 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin's coverage 4-3 means the quality talent that was retained (such as OLB Anthony Spencer) will have to switch positions.

    Kiffin's one-gap Tampa 2 relies heavily on perfect run fits, so defenders must know their responsibilities instinctively. Often, this means defenses new to the system struggle against the run. Adrian Peterson should be able to gash the Cowboys for big yardage.

    However, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant should be able to punish a Vikings secondary missing cornerback Antoine Winfield. Turnovers and penalties will likely decide this game. Given the Cowboys' propensity for those, the Vikings get the nod.

    Score Prediction: 24-21, Vikings

Week 10: Minnesota Vikings vs. Washington Redskins

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFLN

    When these two teams met last season, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III shredded the Vikings linebackers for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He also beat them through the air for 182 yards and another score.

    The Redskins return their offense intact, plus offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood. The Vikings return their defense intact, minus their best cornerback and starting middle linebacker.

    Two games between two teams rarely play out the same way twice, but unless Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has a whole new linebacking corps waiting in the rookie-draft wings, it's hard to see how the Redskins don't win this one.

    The Redskins, however, did struggle to stop the run last season. Mysteriously, Adrian Peterson only got 17 carries that day last year. If they establish him early, the Vikings might force RGIII to pass instead of run.

    The Vikings' home-field advantage gives them the win in this prime-time Thursday Night Football thriller.

    Score Prediction: 24-21, Vikings

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

    In a replay of last season's 30-20 Seattle Seahawks win, the Minnesota Vikings will travel to the land of coffee and technology.

    This time, Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield will be playing for the Seahawks.

    There is little wiggle room for the Vikings here: they can't match the quarterback play of Russell, and the power running of Marshawn Lynch is as close to Adrian Peterson's as any other NFC rusher last season.

    The reloaded Seahawks defense will stop the Vikings, but they'll stop a lot of other teams, too.

    Score Prediction: 34-13, Seahawks

Week 12: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: Nov. 24, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    Sometimes weird things happen in the NFL. It's why the phrase exists: "That's why they play the games."

    When looking at the way these two teams match up, there's no way the Packers don't win this game nine times out of 10.

    Whether it's the Greg Jennings factor, the Adrian Peterson factor or the Sometimes Dom Capers Just Screws Up factor, the Vikings take the win in Lambeau.

    Call it a hunch. 

    Score Prediction: 33-21, Vikings

Week 13: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    After the Week 2 nail-biter, some might be under the impression that the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears are nearly equal in talent.

    They aren't.

    By now, the job that Marc Trestman is doing will become apparent, and the Bears offense should be firing on all cylinders. Whether the defense is putting the brakes on opposing offenses is another matter.

    This game has all the hallmarks of a massive Adrian Peterson effort in a losing contest. Jennings won't catch the secondary by surprise, the defense will be better prepared to attack Christian Ponder (if he's still the starting quarterback at this point) and everything is set up for the Bears to roll.

    The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome still counts for something, though, and the Bears will have to fend off a late Peterson-led charge.

    Score Prediction: 27-23, Bears

Week 14: Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    The Minnesota Vikings will have to travel to the home of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, but they won't have to face the same brutal defense that earned that title or the star receiver (Anquan Boldin) who finally gave the Ravens an offense to match.

    There is an opportunity for the Vikings to win this game: get Adrian Peterson going up the middle.

    The Ravens passing offense proved lethal in the fourth quarter, when Joe Flacco uncorked deep sideline passes to play catchup. The Vikings, though, might be able to shorten the game (and keep it close) by pounding Peterson through the hole where Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe used to be.

    Both teams will try to address their relevant weaknesses (run defense for the Ravens, downfield pass coverage for the Vikings) through the draft, but true impact rookies are rare.

    This game will likely come down to one big play. With the home-field advantage, the Ravens are more likely to make it.

    Score Prediction: 17-14, Ravens

Week 15: Minnesota Vikings vs Philadelphia Eagles

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    The Philadelphia Eagles had the 24th-ranked scoring defense last season, and they ripped as much of it out as they could.

    Chip Kelly's chosen defensive coordinator Billy Davis is installing a new 3-4 scheme, replacing the unsuccessful Wide 9-aligned 4-3 that replaced the Jim Johnson blitzing 4-3 that was so successful for so long.

    Any unit that changes leadership and personnel so much in so little time will regress before it progresses, and Minnesota's No. 28 is perfectly built to shred through a front seven that won't know how to play together yet.

    When this Vikings defense faced Robert Griffin III and the zone read last year, they were flayed alive. Griffin rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another 182 yards and a score.

    If the Eagles are relying mostly on Nick Foles to run the offense, the Vikings have a great chance to win. If they're starting Michael VIck, maybe not so much.

    For now, we'll presume Foles is getting the bulk of the work.

    Score Prediction: 24-14, Vikings

Week 16: Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    The Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are both coming off improbable runs to the playoffs through difficult divisions. Neither was supposed to be defending its right to return to the postseason this year—and it's entirely possible neither does.

    The Vikings, like every other team, will struggle to stop A.J. Green and the Bengals passing attack. Typically, the Vikings rely on the pass rush of the defensive line to cover the secondary, but with the Bengals' outstanding pass protection, that's unlikely to be a winning strategy.

    Andy Dalton may not be much better than Christian Ponder, but there's no question that Green poses a bigger threat to the Vikings secondary than Greg Jennings does to the Bengals secondary.

    Unless turnovers or an early Vikings lead swing momentum greatly, this should be a clear Bengals win.

    Score Prediction: 28-14, Bengals

Week 17: Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX

    There just aren't enough wins to go around.

    In the NFC North, there are two perennial favorites, one returning playoff team and one playoff team from two years ago that had a nasty playoff hangover. All of their rosters have been fairly static throughout, and all of them are talented enough to put together a run.

    Either the Vikings or the Lions could be fighting for their playoff lives; it's quite possible that the winner takes the Wild Card berth and the loser goes home. More likely, though, one of these teams will need to win this game, and the other will try to play spoiler.

    The Lions beat their hangover. This season is the Vikings' turn.

    Score Prediction: Lions, 24-17