The NFL officially announced its 2013 schedule on Thursday night in prime time on the NFL Network.
The league has become genius at making everything it does a newsworthy event, and the schedule release was no different, as football fans everywhere gobbled up the information like hungry inmates.
For the Minnesota Vikings, it's certainly a tougher schedule than the one they faced in 2012. Because the Vikings finished second in the NFC North, they picked up games against the Seahawks and the Panthers (two teams who also finished second in their division) for 2013.
Drawing the NFC East and AFC North provides for a pretty treacherous schedule for the Vikings, and getting Seattle as one of your "at-large" opponents makes it even tougher.
Throw in the fact that Minnesota basically loses one of their home games (versus the Steelers in London on September 29), and the Vikings have a tough road to travel if they want to return to the playoffs come January of 2014.
Here we rank the Vikings' 2013 schedule from what we see as the easiest to hardest games.
The Vikings returned to being a tough team to beat at Mall of America Field last season, posting a 7-1 mark on their home turf, their best home record since going 8-0 in 2009.
So it makes perfect sense that the easiest win on the 2013 schedule should be the home opener against perennial AFC doormat, the Cleveland Browns.
It's another new era in Cleveland as the Browns fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in his two seasons at the helm. The Browns' new head man is Rob Chudzinkski, who had been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers the last two seasons.
The Browns finished 5-11 in 2012, but on the bright side, their offense was led by a pair of rookies, quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. Both certainly had their rookie travails but should certainly be better in 2013, and the Browns are excited about bringing on Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator.
The Vikings shouldn't have a tough time against a team who ranked 25th in the league in total offense and 23rd in total defense.
The Vikings just don't lose to the Detroit Lions at home.
Minnesota is 14-1 against Detroit at the dome over the last 15 years, with an average margin of victory of over 11 points. The Lions only win in Minneapolis was during the abysmal 2011 season, and Detroit needed overtime to win that one.
Adrian Peterson has averaged 122 yards a game in his six appearances at home against Detroit and has gone for over 150 in two of the last three years against them.
The Vikings have always done a great job at home against the Lions' high-powered offense by stuffing the run, and although they've given up yards to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, they've kept them in check on the scoreboard.
It's the last game of the season. Look for the Vikings to win for the 15th time in 16 years.
The Carolina Panthers flew under the radar for most of the 2012 season. They were terrible for most of the season before, just like the Vikings, rolling off four consecutive wins to close out the year at 7-9.
Also flying under the radar was Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who took a backseat to rookie quarterback phenoms Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Newton wasn't quite as spectacular last year as he was in his rookie campaign, but he was pretty close, throwing for 3,869 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Newton won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, and last year the Panthers had the Defensive Rookie of the Year in linebacker Luke Kuechly, a tackling machine who will lead the Carolina defense for years to come.
The Vikings will be coming off their bye week for this one, and they'll need the time off after playing the Steelers in London the week before.
On paper the Vikings certainly line up with more talent than the Panthers, and with the game being played in Minneapolis, it should certainly end up in the win column for the purple.
Hopefully it will be a long afternoon for Robert DeNiro's character in "Silver Linings Playbook."
So the Chip Kelly era begins in Philadelphia, and the eyes of the NFL will be watching to see if Kelly's high-octane, always at break-neck speed offense can work in the pros. The pieces are certainly in place on offense with Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Macklin and LeSean McCoy all healthy heading into the season.
Overall, the Eagles stacked up about halfway on both offense and defense, finishing 15th in the league in both. It was just one of those years where everything that could go wrong did.
Historically, college coaches have a tough go of it their first year in the NFL, so pencil this one in as a win for the Vikings.
This shapes up as almost a "must win" for the Vikings, as they'll be returning home after a brutal stretch that has them playing at Seattle and Green Bay on back-to-back Sundays.
The Vikings and the Bears had identical 10-6 records in 2012, but it was certainly a more frustrating year for Bears fans.
Sure the Vikings won the tiebreaker and made the playoffs, but the whole season was a surprising success in Minnesota, while Bears fans were disappointed again by a team that perpetually seems to be "on the verge" of bigger things.
Jay Cutler has been the best Bears quarterback in years, but he's still too erratic to be considered one of the best in the league. The Bears added Brandon Marshall to their offensive arsenal last year, and he gave them a dimension they've lacked for years.
Chicago has been a house of horrors recently for the Vikings, so they'll be desperate to get a win over the Bears at home.
If the Vikings are going to start the 2013 season on the road, it might as well be in Detroit.
The Lions were dreadful in the second half of 2012, losing their last eight games and dropping their last five games at home.
It was a crushing season for the Lions and their fans after going 10-6 in 2011. They were seemingly a team on the rise. They fell back to earth hard last season, finishing 4-12 and looking dreadful doing it.
The Vikings swept the Lions last season and historically have dominated Detroit, holding a 68-33-2 advantage over their division rivals.
Look for that trend to continue in 2013. Adrian Peterson will have two more huge days against the Lions, and the Vikings will pick up two more victories.
That sound you here is the Baltimore Ravens falling back to earth.
The Super Bowl champions were 10-6 last year and then got on an unbelievable roll in the playoffs. They rose from the dead in Denver before going on to knock off the San Francisco 49ers for the title.
Gone are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk. That's an awful lot of Pro Bowls that have moved on.
The Ravens signed quarterback Joe Flacco to an astronomical deal after his superlative play in the postseason, seemingly just a short month or two when Ravens fans were ready to move on from Flacco.
Look for the Ravens to take a precipitous fall in 2013, and the Vikings will be more than happy to take them on at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Minnesota Vikings have beaten the Dallas Cowboys seven of the last eight times the teams have met, including a 34-3 beatdown in the 2010 playoffs.
The Cowboys continue to be underachievers in the Tony Romo era, but that didn't stop them from re-signing him to a six-year, $108 million contract extension this offseason. Romo is a good quarterback, and it's unfair to pin the Cowboys' recent past on him, but wow, that's a lot of money to give a guy who hasn't won anything.
The Cowboys were terribly mediocre in 2012, finishing 8-8 and missed the playoffs in crushing fashion, losing their last two games of the season when everything was on the line.
The Cowboys can gain yards; their offense ended up sixth in the league, while their defense finished up 19th and tended to break when the team could least afford it.
It's always a big deal playing in Cowboys Stadium, the shrine to football that Jerry Jones built in 2009. The Vikings will be amped up to play there and should come out with a victory.
The Vikings hex in Chicago ends in 2013.
The Bears have beaten the Vikings five times in a row at home and 11 out of the last 12. Odds say it's time for the Vikings to pick up a win in the Windy City.
The Vikings are getting an early date in Chicago, which more than likely means good weather, which can only work in the Vikings' favor.
Over the last decade it seems as though every time the Vikings have traveled to Chicago, it's been a cold, dreary day, and the Bears have just pounced on Minnesota and have taken the life out of them early.
That changes in 2013. Nobody beat the Vikings six times in a row at home.
A matchup of the NFL's two highest profile reconstructive knee surgery players takes place in Minneapolis on Thursday night, Nov. 7.
Adrian Peterson came back from his and had one of the best seasons in NFL history and got an MVP award for it. It remains to be seen how Robert Griffin III will bounce back from his, but nobody is doubting him.
The Redskins were the Cinderella story of the NFL season last year, finishing with the same 10-6 record that the Vikings had, but Washington had to run the table after their bye week, winning seven straight games to make the playoffs.
RGIII was everything he was advertised to be and more, setting the league on fire and adding the Rookie of the Year award to his Heisman Trophy. Alfred Morris also had a sensational rookie season for the Redskins and gives Washington two major building blocks on offense for years to come.
The Vikings have always been a far better team at home than on the road, and they should be fired up for a rematch with RG III after he torched them last season.
Should be an awesome matchup at Mall of America Field on a Thursday night with a fired-up home crowd and a national audience watching. It looms as a must win for Minnesota as they follow this one up with road games at Seattle and Green Bay. Ouch!
It was one thing when the Vikings had to travel to the University of Minnesota to play a home game.
The Vikings and Steelers will fly across the Atlantic Ocean to square off at historic Wembley Stadium on Sept. 29. It counts as a home game for the Vikings.
The Steelers are hoping to bounce back from a hugely disappointing 8-8 season that saw them drop three of their last four games.
The Steelers had the number one-ranked defense in the league last season, giving up a paltry 275.7 yards a game (the Vikings gave up 350 per), but their offense sputtered all season, ranking just 21st in the league.
There will be plenty of pomp and circumstance with a game being played in London, but the Vikings have to know that first and foremost it's a business trip. A crucial early season win will go far in their quest to make the playoffs.
Sunday Night Football, four days before Halloween, the hated Green Bay Packers come to town. Expect Mall of America Field to be rocking.
The Packers are once again the defending champions of the NFC North, and if the Vikings want to change that in 2013, they'll certainly have to beat the Packers at home.
The Vikings did just that in the final regular season game of 2012, riding Adrian Peterson's 199 yards rushing to an exciting 37-34 win that put the Vikings in the playoffs.
Peterson clearly enjoys the showdowns with Green Bay, rushing for a ridiculous 409 yards in the two games last season.
The Vikings defense will have to be in top form to slow down Aaron Rodgers, who seems to put up gaudy numbers every time the two teams lock horns.
The Vikings have a good history against the Packers at home, but they'll need some tricks and treats to pull out a win in 2013.
The Cincinnati Bengals, like the Minnesota Vikings, finished 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2012. Like the Vikings, the Bengals were bounced in the first round.
The Bengals will also be heading into Year 3 with the quarterback they hope will lead them into the future. Andy Dalton was taken 23 spots after Christian Ponder and has certainly had the better first two years of the two. Dalton has thrown for over 2,000 more yards than Ponder and 16 more touchdowns.
The Vikings defensive backs will have their hands full with standout wide receiver A.J. Green, who might be the second scariest wideout in the league after Calvin Johnson.
History aside, the Vikings have been a disaster outside in December in recent years. December in Cincinnati will probably be very cold and windy. The Vikings will have to wear their big boy pants to come out with a victory.
Are you ready for some football?
The Vikings will return to Monday Night Football after a year away, taking on the New York Giants under the lights on Oct. 21 at the Meadowlands.
The Vikings will be trying to break a five-game losing streak on Monday Night Football that includes a 21-3 home loss to the Giants in 2010.
The Giants will be trying to rebound from a disappointing 2012, that saw them finish at 9-7 and out of the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl.
Eli Manning continues to improve and has moved his way into the upper echelon of NFL signal-callers. The Giants had the 15th ranked offense in the league last season, but to get better, they'll have to improve on their 31st ranked defense.
It's high time for the Vikings to snap their MNF losing streak, but it won't be easy playing at Giants Stadium.
Vikings fans would just as soon forget their last trip to Lambeau Field.
Without starting quarterback Christian Ponder, the Vikings were whipped in the playoffs by the Packers, 24-10 in a game that seemed like it was over the first time Joe Webb threw a pass.
The Packers have dominated the Vikings in Green Bay of late, winning seven of the last eight, the Vikings' only win coming in Brett Favre's return to Lambeau.
The Vikings will be ending a brutal stretch where they play the Redskins at home and then go on the road to play the Seahawks and the Packers, arguably the two toughest places to win in the NFL on back-to-back Sundays.
The Vikings would love to pull an upset and win one of those two road games.
The Seattle Seahawks are on everyone's short list of Super Bowl contenders for a very good reason. They're flat-out loaded with talent.
The Seahawks struck gold in the 2012 draft, picking up defensive stalwarts Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds. In the third round the Seahawks decided to roll the dice a little bit and took undersized quarterback Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin. Talk about rolling a seven.
The Seahawks were 11-5 in 2012 and a perfect 8-0 at CenturyLink Field, perhaps the toughest place to play in the entire NFL. The Seahawks built a gem of a stadium, and it gets as loud as any outdoor stadium on earth. It's truly a 12th man.
Burying the lede a little bit, this matchup will be a close-up look for Vikings fans at Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield in Seahawks uniforms. They join another former Viking, Sidney Rice, to give Seattle three of their best players.
On the bright side, the Vikings will have 10 days to get ready for this game, coming off of a Thursday night game against the Redskins.
If the Vikings can get a win in Seattle, it should be a fantastic season.