After missing the NFL playoffs for the third time in four seasons in 2013, the Minnesota Vikings are flying under the radar heading into 2014 as they aim to turn things around under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer, who had previously been a defensive coordinator for three different teams since 2000, is known as a players' coach who gets the most out of his roster, per KFAN1003 on Twitter:
Coach Zimmer: "I am excited to get on the field with the players. That's what I love to do." #Vikings— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) March 20, 2014
Coach Zimmer: "I pride myself on getting guys to play really, really good. I love proving people wrong." #Vikings— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) March 20, 2014
Coach Zimmer: "That's kind of been my niche, taking guys [that people think are done] and proving people wrong." #Vikings— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) March 20, 2014
Coach Zimmer: "If guys are in the right system, they have a chance to play...they can [still] play if their used correctly." #Vikings— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) March 20, 2014
Despite surrendering tons of yards and points last season, Minnesota built some positive momentum over the second half of the 2013 season, going 4-3-1 over its final eight games after a 1-7 start to the year. But with a new regime in place and a challenging regular-season schedule on tap, the Vikings will need more than momentum to get back to the postseason.
Below, we'll break down the Vikings' 2014 regular-season slate, courtesy of NFL.com.
|1||Sept. 7||at Rams||1 p.m.||Fox|
|2||Sept. 14||vs. Patriots||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 21||at Saints||1 p.m.||Fox|
|4||Sept. 28||vs. Falcons||1 p.m.||Fox|
|5||Oct. 2||at Packers||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFLN|
|6||Oct. 12||vs. Lions||1 p.m.||Fox|
|7||Oct. 19||at Bills||1 p.m.||Fox|
|8||Oct. 26||at Buccaneers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|9||Nov. 2||vs. Redskins||1 p.m.||Fox|
|11||Nov. 16||at Bears||1 p.m.||Fox|
|12||Nov. 23||vs. Packers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|13||Nov. 30||vs. Panthers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|14||Dec. 7||vs. Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 14||at Lions||1 p.m.||Fox|
|16||Dec. 21||at Dolphins||1 p.m.||Fox|
|17||Dec. 28||vs. Bears||1 p.m.||Fox|
Although there are no guarantees in the NFL, the Vikings can't complain about their 2014 schedule. After all, they'll only face three teams that won more than eight games in 2013, and the combined winning percentage of their 13 opponents is just .476, making Minnesota's schedule the 12th easiest of all 32 teams.
The favorable slate could be an even bigger advantage if Minnesota's offseason moves pan out, per USA Today NFL writer Nate Davis on Twitter:
Clearly, the Vikings will have to fare better against their NFC North rivals in 2014 in order to have a shot at the postseason. But there's certainly a lot for Minnesota to feel good about considering how it finished the 2013 season.
After falling to 0-3 in the division in Week 8, the Vikings concluded the year going 2-0-1 against the NFC North, tying the Packers on the road and beating the Bears and Lions at home. If the Vikings can find a way to win their three home division games next fall, and maybe steal one on the road, they'll be in pretty good shape.
Outside of the division, Minnesota will play the NFC South and the AFC East. The Vikings will get the Panthers and Falcons at home, but play the Saints and Buccaneers on the road. A record of 2-2 or better against those four conference foes would be good news for Minnesota given the fact Carolina and New Orleans reached the NFC divisional playoffs a year ago.
How will the Minnesota Vikings fare in 2014?
Out of conference, the Vikings will host the Patriots and Jets while playing the Bills and Dolphins on the road. Of those four clubs, only New England was a playoff team last season. However, Miami came close to earning the final wild-card berth and will be a tough opponent on the road, so Minnesota's matchups with New York and Buffalo will be critical to its postseason hopes.
The final two NFC opponents the Vikings have to worry about are the Redskins and Rams, two teams that present winnable matchups for Minnesota. Therefore, if the Vikings can take care of business at home in 2014, possibly winning six or more games, they'll have a great shot at contending for the NFC North crown or at least securing a wild-card berth.
But with plenty of uncertainty at key positions, and a new coaching staff taking over, there are no guarantees that the Vikings will capitalize on their favorable schedule and return to the playoffs in 2014.
Although beating the New England Patriots isn't necessary for Minnesota to win the NFC North in 2014, beating the league's most consistent franchises would give the Vikings a huge boost to begin a new era under Zimmer.
While Minnesota will have a chance to prove itself at home against Green Bay and Carolina, among other NFC contenders, the Vikings' showdown with the Pats could potentially serve as a statement game.
Which game is Minnesota more likely to win in 2014?
Another Super Bowl contender the Vikings will face in 2014 is the New Orleans Saints, who will host Minnesota in the always-noisy Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where very few road teams have found success in recent years.
The Saints went 8-0 in their building a year ago. So, if the Vikings can snag a hard-fought road win in the Big Easy this coming fall, it could be the difference between whether Minnesota reaches the playoffs or watches from home.
Finally, Vikings fans will surely have their two matchups with the Chicago Bears circled in red ink. Jared Allen, who spent six seasons in Minnesota, signed with the Bears in free agency and will surely be motivated to perform well against his former team.
After racking up 85.5 sacks for the Vikes, all eyes will be on Allen trying to wreak havoc and disrupt the passing game as a member of the division rival Bears.
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