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Updated Outlook for Entire Minnesota Vikings Schedule

Matthew StensrudContributor IIISeptember 12, 2013

Updated Outlook for Entire Minnesota Vikings Schedule

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    The Minnesota Vikings are still stinging from a Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions, but their attention has shifted to the Chicago Bears in a consecutive division matchup on the road.

    The team was outplayed in the first game of the season. Coaches and players are reviewing game film to help make adjustments in all phases of the game. In a year filled with excitement from offseason moves and an impressive draft, expectations may have been tempered with the early defeat.

    So how does that change our outlook for the rest of Minnesota's schedule?

    One game certainly does not dictate a season, but it provides some insight into where a team stands at the moment. In addition, there is a better sample across the entire NFL to gauge upcoming opponents.

    With 15 games left on the schedule, let's analyze each upcoming game and predict the outcome. 

    Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted.

Week 2 at Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears hope to continue their winning ways after a second-half comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Brandon Marshall caught the game-winning score, a player the Minnesota Vikings must contain as they attempt to avoid falling to 0-2.

    History does not fare well for the Vikings at Soldier Field, who have lost five-straight contests in Chicago. The team's last win came in 2007 when Adrian Peterson rushed for 224 yards as a rookie, totaling 361 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. The final score was 34-31, with Ryan Longwell kicking a 54-yard field goal as time expired.

    All eyes will once again be on third-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who threw three interceptions in the loss against the Detroit Lions. Ponder never threw more than two interceptions in a game in all of 2012, causing some concern for the start of his season.

    With Charles Tillman recording two picks against the Bengals, the Bears are already off to a fast start in turnovers. The Bears led the NFL in interceptions with 24 in 2012, posing a tall task for Minnesota's quarterback to overcome. 

    The Vikings need a similar performance out of Peterson as seen in 2007 in order to win this game, which seems unlikely even for the reigning-MVP. The Bears held the Bengals to 63 yards in total rushing and were eighth in the NFL in this category last season.

    Prediction: Vikings 17, Bears 24

    Record: 0-2

Week 3 vs. Cleveland Browns

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    After losing two division games on the road, the Minnesota Vikings return to Mall of America Field for some much-needed home-crowd support. The team was 7-1 at home in 2012, with the only loss coming in Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The Cleveland Browns had a similarly disappointing Week 1 performance, falling to the Miami Dolphins 23-10. Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden matched Christian Ponder's touchdown-to-interception ratio (1 TD, 3 INT) and the Browns were a mere 1-of-14 on third-down efficiency.

    The Browns are set up very similarly to the Vikings, with a run-first offense and a young quarterback trying to limit mistakes. Running back Trent Richardson will likely have a strong game in this matchup, but it will pale in comparison to Adrian Peterson.

    Christian Ponder will feel more comfortable in the pocket against the Browns, as the defense finished 25th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. This may finally be the game where new additions Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson make a difference in the offense.

    Prediction: Browns 20, Vikings 31

    Record: 1-2 

Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (London)

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    The Minnesota Vikings will make a trip across the pond to Wembley Stadium in London for a Week 4 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Vikings may be seeing a couple more games in London in the upcoming two years, as the team prepares for a new stadium in 2016.

    While technically a home game for the Vikings, the neutral playing field will unlikely yield any home-field advantage, although the team has been building a fan base in London this offseason.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have had the Vikings' number the past three meetings, with the last win coming in 2009 with a score of 27-17. Both teams look very different this time around, so there's little to draw from their historical records.

    When reviewing the season opener for the Steelers, there are few positive takeaways from the game. The Tennessee Titans outmatched Pittsburgh in a surprising road win, combining a smothering defense with a grind-out style of play more commonly seen executed by the Steelers.

    The 16-9 victory for the Titans was achieved by stopping the run—Pittsburgh only managed 32 rushing yards—and pressuring the quarterback with five recorded sacks. Minnesota should closely study Tennessee's game plan in creating a recipe for success. 

    Coming off an 8-8 season last year, the Steelers appear vulnerable against the Vikings. Pittsburgh likely lost Maurkice Pouncey for the season, the Pro Bowl center who suffered torn ligaments in his right knee against the Titans. 

    With a banged-up Steelers team that also includes linebacker Larry Foote, the Vikings squeak by with a win prior to their bye week.

    Prediction: Steelers 24, Vikings 27

    Record: 2-2

Week 6 vs. Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers were an interesting team in 2012. Their record of 7-9 included a five-game losing streak towards the beginning of the season and a four-game winning streak to close out the season.

    Cam Newton had a slight dip in passing performance, sliding from 10th in the NFL in throwing yards to 13th. He actually increased his rushing yards for a quarterback from 706 to 741, but saw his rushing touchdowns drop from 14 to eight.

    Either way, Newton presents a problem for the Vikings that has challenged the team in past seasons. Over-pursuit by the front-four of the defensive line has often left room to run for mobile quarterbacks, even with the linebackers and secondary in zone coverage.

    This was especially true last season against the Washington Redskins, where Robert Griffin III rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

    However, the Vikings have shown the ability to pull out a win even when allowing the quarterback to scramble. Newton himself had a strong game against the Vikings on the ground in 2011, averaging 8.8 yards per carry on six rushes for 53 yards.

    The Panthers eventually lost the game 24-21, which included a 31-yard missed field goal in the waning seconds of the game.

    The Vikings finally get a home game following a bye week, as the team had been 0-3 after the bye the past three seasons. Newton may repeat his performance of 2011 or even eclipse it, but the Vikings will still find a way to come out on top.

    Prediction: Panthers 23, Vikings 24

    Record: 3-2

Week 7 at New York Giants

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    With three consecutive wins, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in a much better position at 3-2 than the poor start on the road at 0-2. Christian Ponder will have withstood the heavy criticism by analysts and fans, riding a wave of momentum into Week 7.

    However, the Vikings now head to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands to face Eli Manning and the New York Giants, Super Bowl Champions of the 2011 season.

    The last time these two teams faced off was in 2010 under rather strange circumstances. With severe winter conditions and the eventual collapse of the Metrodome roof, the Vikings' home game was moved to Ford Field in Detroit. Brett Favre's consecutive-game streak was snapped and Minnesota lost 21-3.

    The 2013 Giants played a very mixed game in Week 1 of this season, falling on the road to the Dallas Cowboys 36-31. Eli Manning threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but mixed in three critical interceptions. New York also lost three fumbles, totaling six turnovers in a sloppy opener to the season.

    It's unlikely the Giants will turn the ball over as many times when facing the Vikings. And even when they did against the Cowboys, the team still nearly pulled out a win. Expect Manning to be too much for Minnesota on the road, resulting in an easy victory.

    Prediction: Vikings 17, Giants 31

    Record: 3-3

     

Week 8 vs. Green Bay Packers

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    The Minnesota Vikings must wait until Week 8 to get another crack at a divisional opponent, having already lost twice in the team's first two games on the road.

    The Green Bay Packers march into Minneapolis looking to reverse the outcome of the last meeting against the Vikings on the road, where they lost the season finale in 2012 and a corresponding first-round bye in the playoffs.

    The Packers looked impressive in Week 1, even in losing fashion against the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. Aaron Rodgers threw for 333 yards and added three touchdowns, only to be out-dueled by Colin Kaepernick, who went for 412 yards and three touchdowns.

    It is unlikely the Vikings will see the same type of shootout among quarterbacks with Christian Ponder behind center. They will instead need to rely on Adrian Peterson, who ran for 210 and 199 yards yards in the two matchups against Green Bay last season, respectively.

    In the end, Peterson must put the Vikings on his back to secure a win against a high-powered offense from Green Bay. If Ponder can limit turnovers, the Packers defense will be a tired group by the end of this game, chasing after the best running back in the NFL.

    Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 30

    Record: 4-3

Week 9 at Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9 of the regular season. In the previous two meetings between teams, the Vikings walked away the winner, including a playoff victory in 2009 and regular season win in 2010.

    The obvious difference this time around is that Christian Ponder is behind center instead of Brett Favre, and that the Vikings head to Arlington to play in AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium. 

    Tony Romo had a respectable performance in Week 1 of the season, throwing for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However, it was really the play of the Cowboy's defense against the New York Giants that helped the team prevail, forcing three interceptions and recovering three fumbles.

    That level of success in the turnover department is far from sustainable, even with the Cowboys retooled defense. With the turnovers leveling out, this should be a rather even game with a slim margin for victory. The Cowboys will likely be the favorite, but we're predicting a rare road upset for the Vikings in this contest.

    Prediction: Vikings 28, Cowboys 27

    Record: 5-3

Week 10 vs. Washington Redskins

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    The Minnesota Vikings look to exact revenge on the Washington Redskins, following a road-loss last season 38-26. Robert Griffin III ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 182 yards through the air and one touchdown.

    Christian Ponder was quite productive in this matchup, compiling his highest passing performance of the season with 352 yards. He threw for two touchdowns, but offset those with two interceptions.

    The Vikings had to settle for three first-quarter field goals from Blair Walsh, sputtering on offense at the three-yard line and twice at the 10-yard line. Walsh finished with four total field goals in the contest.

    In reviewing the season opener for the Redskins, Griffin finished strong in the loss against the Philadelphia Eagles after trailing 33-7. He threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, it was simply not enough against the fast start by the Eagles.

    The Vikings will be better prepared to stop Griffin on the ground in this game, but he will bring a much-improved passing attack to Mall of America Field. In a game the Vikings need to win in order to make a playoff push, they fall just short in the end.

    Prediction: Redskins 34, Vikings 31

    Record: 5-4

Week 11 at Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks were busy this offseason, acquiring former Vikings Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield. Both players were added in an attempt to get over the hump in a deep playoff run in the NFC.

    But in late July it was reported that Harvin needed hip surgery, a procedure that likely placed the mercurial receiver on the sidelines against his former team.

    Seattle added another wrinkle to this saga by releasing Winfield when making final decisions for its 53-man roster. Winfield has since announced his retirement, but has yet to file his retirement papers.

    In keeping up with this ever-changing story, Harvin has since tweeted that he is ahead of schedule in his rehab process, targeting an ambitious goal of Week 7 for his return.

    However everything works out, the Minnesota Vikings will still be facing a difficult NFC opponent on the road in Seattle, the same place the Seahawks defeated the Vikings last season 30-20.

    Russell Wilson was efficient with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, while only throwing for 173 yards. It was still over 100 yards more than Christian Ponder, who posted a miserable 63 yards through the air, with zero touchdowns and one interception.

    Adrian Peterson was a strong performer in the contest, rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch nearly kept pace with the reigning MVP, recording 124 yards on the ground with one touchdown.

    Even with the modest showing by the Seahawks in Week 1 of this season, where they snuck out a 12-7 win against the Carolina Panthers, the team should have the advantage against the Vikings in this game. Expect Seattle to be in full stride by Week 11, with Minnesota struggling to find an answer in this repeat matchup on the road.

    Prediction: Vikings 24, Seahawks 30

    Record: 5-5

     

Week 12 at Green Bay Packers

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    If predictions up to this point stand true, the Minnesota Vikings will be reeling from two straight losses against the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. The schedule does not get any easier, as the team must travel to Wisconsin to face division-rival Green Bay Packers.

    At this point in the season, Christian Ponder will be under the heaviest amount of scrutiny from fans and the media. After rebounding from two division losses at the start of the season, Minnesota's quarterback faces a grueling stretch of games that will test the third-year player.

    Playing on the road in Green Bay is the last place a quarterback wants to be tested, as Ponder can attest from last season. He threw two pivotal interceptions in the red zone to waste a 210-yard rushing performance by Adrian Pefterson.

    As much as the Vikings need a win against their hated foe, the Packers are well-positioned for this game at home. Less of the attention will be on how well Aaron Rodgers performed, but instead the lost opportunities the Vikings failed to capitalize on.

    Prediction: Vikings 20, Packers 31

    Result: 5-6

Week 13 vs. Chicago Bears

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    At 5-6 at this stage in the season, playoff hopes for the Minnesota Vikings are looking slim. The team would likely need to run the table with the five remaining games, besting their finish from last year where the team rolled to four-straight wins.

    After losing to the Chicago Bears on the road in Week 2 of the season, this game should provide a better opportunity for Minnesota to make a late push in the season.

    The Vikings have a slight edge against the Bears at home over the last five years with a 3-2 record. Adrian Peterson only played in three of those games due to injuries, but rushed for a total of 370 yards and four touchdowns.

    In that same stretch of games, quarterback Jay Cutler threw five interceptions in three games, marking a good opportunity for the Vikings secondary. Rookie Xavier Rhodes will have 11 games under his belt at this point in the season and second-year standout Harrison Smith will be at his best in this game.

    And who knows, a healthy Chris Cook may finally record his first turnover of his four-year career.

    Coming off a difficult loss against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings can still make a statement in this game and stay alive in the playoffs. This game will come down to the wire, with a Blair Walsh field goal as the difference.

    Prediction: Bears 20, Vikings 23

    Record: 6-6

Week 14 at Baltimore Ravens

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    The Minnesota Vikings head to Baltimore to face the Super Bowl Champions, in a contest that could either help make or break the team's season.

    Many will point to the Ravens performance in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos as a sign of weakness for Baltimore. Peyton Manning tied an NFL record with seven touchdowns in a 49-27 throttling. To say this was a poor start for a revamped defense would be an understatement.

    The Ravens lost Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard (among others) this past offseason, but added the likes of Elvis Dumervil, rookie safety Matt Elam and rookie linebacker Arthur Brown.

    Safety Michael Huff was also brought in from the Oakland Raiders to help fill the gap and current Raven James Ihedigbo has stepped up from his special team role with the franchise.

    The last time the Vikings played Baltimore was in 2009 at home, winning 33-31 during the Brett Favre-led season resulting in an NFC Championship loss. You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time Minnesota played at M&T Bank Stadium, losing 30-23 with Brad Johnson at the helm.

    Those historical games have little bearing on this contest, but the away matchup still demonstrates the Vikings' long-standing difficulties on the road. By Week 14, the Ravens will likely have shored up their defense and could be in a playoff race of their own in the AFC North.

    Prediction: Vikings 17, Ravens 27

    Record: 6-7

     

Week 15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chip Kelly's high-paced offense travels to Minneapolis at a junction in the season that could spell disaster for the Minnesota Vikings. After a loss in Baltimore, almost surely eliminated their playoff hopes, the Philadelphia Eagles will be hungry for a win to further improve their seeding in the playoffs.

    Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy were a perfect match in the Week 1 debut of a retooled offense, jumping out to a 26-7 halftime lead that saw the offense run 53 plays before the intermission.

    McCoy finished with 184 yards and a touchdown, and Vick threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles quarterback also rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown.

    Considering the trouble the Vikings defense had with the multi-faceted offense of the Detroit Lions, expect a similar dismantling late in the season. At this stage, Minnesota may already be looking ahead to next season, with several important decisions ahead of them.

    Prediction: Eagles 37, Vikings 23

    Record: 6-8

     

Week 16 at Cincinnati Bengals

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    At this stage of the season, a 6-8 record will beg the question of whether Christian Ponder will be starting on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. There will likely be a strong push by fans to bench the young quarterback, desperate for a change in direction.

    Backup quarterback Matt Cassel may not be the long-term future for the Minnesota Vikings, but it could be a tryout for a starting role in 2014. 

    The Bengals were impressive on the road in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears (despite the loss) and have made the playoffs the last three out of four seasons in the AFC.

    Andy Dalton posted 282 passing yards and two touchdowns in the matchup, but did throw two interceptions against a turnover-prone defense of the Bears. A.J. Green continued to build upon last season's success, hauling in nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

    This game will remind Minnesota fans of the decision to draft Ponder in 2011 over TCU quarterback Dalton.

    Prediction: Vikings 20, Bengals 27

    Record: 6-9

Week 17 vs. Detroit Lions

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    In the last game at Mall of America Field, the Minnesota Vikings will look back at a rather disappointing season, which had high hopes of a second-straight playoff appearance. Instead, the Vikings could be playing spoiler to a Detroit Lions team in the thick of a playoff race.

    Even with the Vikings fading at the end of the season, there will still be motivation for players looking to carry some momentum into next season.

    The Lions already showed Minnesota the type of offense that can result when properly executed, even after sputtering from poor decisions and turnovers.

    The Vikings must come prepared with a better game plan this time around—one that specifically contains Reggie Bush. The first-year Lion rushed for 90 yards and hauled in a 77-yard touchdown reception, finishing with 101 receiving yards.

    Minnesota was successful in limiting Calvin Johnson, who only managed 37 yards and zero touchdowns. 

    Adrian Peterson will be unfazed by the Vikings record, determined to complete a strong individual performance and final team win before moving to TCF Bank Stadium the next two years. 

    Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 27

    Final Record: 7-9

     

    Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for the Minnesota Vikings. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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