In 2009, the Vikings will look to repeat at NFC North Division Champions, something much easier said than done with the improvements that have come about in the division this past offseason.
The Vikings will start off on the road the first two weeks of the season, the first time that has happened since 1997 when they went to Buffalo and Chicago.
This year, they will go to Cleveland and Detroit in weeks one and two, respectively, then come home to face the first round pick wide receiver Michael Crabtree and the San Francisco 49ers.
The Vikings will stay at home for a Monday night game against Green Bay, which could be very intriguing if quarterback Brett Favre does sign to play in purple. In week five, the Vikings will return to the road and try to slow down running back Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams.
Former Vikings center Matt Birk and the Baltimore Ravens will come to the Metrodome in week six. The Vikings will round out the first half of the season on the road against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in week seven and a game at Lambeau Field against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in week eight.
It will be interesting to see if Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson is under center for the Browns in week one. After numerous reports indicated that the Browns heards trade offers for Quinn, it appears the team will go in the direction of having a competition in training camp.
This will be a good test to see what the Vikings quarterback situation looks like. No matter if it is Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels, Cleveland's weak secondary will be a nice tune up for the passing game.
Also pay attention to the Pat and Kevin Williams situation. If the Pro Bowl defensive tackles are suspended for the first four games of the season, Browns running back Jamal Lewis could be very effective running up the middle.
Look for running back Adrian Peterson to set the tone of the game for the Vikings offense, as the Vikings offense takes advantage of some single coverages on wide receivers Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin.
Prediction: Vikings Win, 28-17.
Although the Detroit Lions did finish a league-worst 0-16 last year, this has to be a scary game for Minnesota heading into Ford Field. The Lions also will have some quarterback competition in training camp between veteran Daunte Culpepper and the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Matthew Stafford.
No matter who is under center for Detroit, wide receiver Calvin Johnson is always a scary target and the Vikings' corners will need to jam him at the line to throw off the timing of his routes.
The Vikings will face a weak secondary for the second straight week and need to take advantage. Although running back Adrian Peterson has always played well against Detroit in his career. it won't happen too much longer if there is no effectiveness in the passing game. However, I do see the Vikings being able to throw the ball on cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry on their way to a 2-0 start.
Prediction: Vikings win, 21-17 (2-0).
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2009 season with a competition between quarterbacks Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, and 2009 fifth round draft choice Nate Davis out of Ball State. San Francisco's bread and butter has always been with the legs of running back Frank Gore and look for them to keep it that way with the inexperience of these quarterbacks.
Michael Crabtree, the No. 10 overall pick who many thought was the most talented player in this year's draft will most likely be starting opposite veteran Issac Bruce, who put off retirement to come back to San Francisco another year. Crabtree is a very quick and physical receiver. Look for the Vikings to use cornerback Antoine Winfield against him on the outside due to his physicality at the line of scrimmage.
The last time the Vikings played the 49ers was in 2007 where linebacker Patrick Willis and the defense did a good job at shutting down Adrian Peterson. However, Tarvaris Jackson and the wide receivers came alive in the first half in a 27-7 win.
Since this game will be played on turf, look for Peterson to have a much better game than his previous outing against the Niners.
Prediction: Vikings win, 31-14 (3-0).
The border battle takes the national stage in week four as the cheeseheads invade the Metrodome. Aaron Rodgers has one year of experience in the starting job after facing what may have been the most pressure of any player in the league last year after quarterback Brett Favre retired and was later traded to the Jets.
The Packers will try to throw on a mediocre Vikings secondary while not being able to do much on the ground. Last year, Rodgers was put under too much pressure at the Metrodome in which the Vikings forced two safeties in the first half.
Look for Adrian Peterson to continue his blow ups against the Packers as the Vikings roll to a 4-0 start, their first since 2003.
Prediction: Vikings win, 27-21 (4-0).
If the Williams' Wall is suspended for the first four games of 2009, they will get back just in time to face a very potent rushing attack in St. Louis with the likes of running back Steven Jackson. Jackson rushed for 1,042 yards last year while only playing in 12 games due to injury.
With the loss of wide receiver Torry Holt, the Rams look to be starting over with a young group of receivers. Donnie Avery, the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 NFL Draft, was very impressive last year as a rookie, hauling in 53 passes for 674 yards along with three touchdown receptions.
However, if the Vikings want to be an elite team in the NFC, these are the games they need to win. Look for Peterson to have his weekly 100-yard game as well as the Vikings receivers to do some damage after the catch as the Vikings beat a weak St. Louis Rams team.
Prediction: Vikings win, 28-24 (5-0).
The Vikings will face what will be their biggest test of the season week six at home against the Baltimore Ravens.
The biggest storyline?
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk makes his return to the Metrodome wearing a darker shade of purple. Quarterback Joe Flacco, selected No. 18 overall by the Ravens in the 2008 draft, impressed everyone in the league last year with his calmness under pressure. The Ravens went to the AFC Championship Game but were ousted by the future Super Bowl champion Steelers.
The Ravens, who might have the league's best defense minus Pittsburgh, will make things very tough all around for the Vikings offense. If the Vikings want to be able to control the tempo, they must get the ground game working while establishing the short pass. If they can't, the Vikings will drop their first game of the season to a very talented Ravens club.
Prediction: Ravens win, 17-9 (5-1).
Back-to-back AFC North opponents is definitely not something you want to face but the Vikings can also play smash mouth with these opponents. In week seven, the Vikings go into the big ketchup bottle to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Why do I think this isn't such a bad matchup for the Vikings?
The Steelers offense moved the ball last year while running the ball with Willie Parker (210 carries, 791 yards) and Mewelde Moore (140 carries, 588 yards). This is exactly what the Vikings want to see due to their shut down run defense. The defensive line will force the Steelers into third downs where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will need to beat the defense himself.
Although the Vikings do what they need to do on defense, offensive inconsistency is what stops them here. The Steelers bend but don't break against Adrian Peterson while making life miserable for whoever is starting for the Vikings (which may not be the opening day starter).
Prediction: Steelers win, 13-7 (5-2).
After straight losses, the Vikings get back on track going into Lambeau Field in week eight. Minnesota hasn't won here since 2005 but with a healthy Adrian Peterson and a pass game that can effectively work against single coverage, that will change.
The Vikings will need need to stop the Packers through the air again, much like in week four. The key matchup will be cornerback Antoine Winfield matched up against Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. Most of the time Driver will line up in the slot where he can use the open field to his advantage. Winfield can play in open space as well as be aggressive at the line and that will be a huge advantage when facing the Packers passing game.
Look for the Vikings to get back on track with a close game where the difference is running the football.
Prediction: Vikings win, 20-16 (6-2).