Minnesota Vikings: Breaking Down 5 Toughest, 5 Easiest Games on 2015 Schedule
The NFL announced the schedule for the 2015 regular season Tuesday night, and the Minnesota Vikings and their fans mostly met it with a shrug of the shoulders—and got right back to wondering what's going to happen with Adrian Peterson.
Obviously, how the Vikings fare in 2015 will depend on whether or not their star running back is with the team.
How much better or worse Minnesota is with or without Peterson depends on what they might get in return for him, but either way, the 2015 schedule shakes out as being on the difficult side with both the NFC and AFC West being on the docket.
A good start will be vital for the Vikings to have a successful season, as they open up with three winnable games. They travel to San Francisco to play the unrecognizable 49ers in the season opener before getting home games against the Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers.
The 2015 Vikings will be playing their last season at TCF Bank Stadium before moving into their new home in downtown Minneapolis in 2016. With second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, the coming season provides a lot of all you can ask for heading into any season: hope.
Here's a look at what should be the five toughest and five easiest games on Minnesota's schedule in the 2015 season and predictions for each matchup.
5th Easiest: Versus San Diego (Sunday, September 27)
The last time the Vikings hosted the San Diego Chargers, in 2007, Adrian Peterson set an NFL record by rushing for 296 yards.
At this point, nobody knows if Peterson will be playing for the Vikings in 2015 or not. Both he and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers are rumored to be on the trading block as we head toward the NFL draft next week, according to Andrew Brandt of SI.com.
The Chargers were 8-4 through 12 games last season and looked to be primed for a playoff run before dropping three of their last four games to finish a disappointing 9-7 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
San Diego's offense ranked 18th in the league last season and might be up for an overhaul whether Rivers is on the team or not. The defense was the strength of the team, finishing ninth overall in the NFL, led by All-Pro safety Eric Weddle.
This matchup with the Chargers is the third game of the season for Minnesota, and all three of them are games the Vikings should win. After opening up at a weak San Francisco team, the Vikings will have home games against the Detroit Lions and then this game, on Sunday, September 27.
It should be the fifth-easiest game on Minnesota's 2015 schedule.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Chargers 18
5th Hardest: At Chicago (Sunday, November 1)
Head coach John Fox is inheriting a Chicago Bears team that looks to be heading in the wrong direction.
Coming off a 5-11 season where the Bears were a dismal 2-6 at home and had the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, it makes no sense that they would qualify as among anyone's "toughest" games in 2015.
It wouldn't make our list if the Vikings' past history in Chicago wasn't so brutal. But we just can't ignore the streaks.
In fact it's almost silly to say that any game against the Bears might be harder than one against the Packers, but in deference to history we're putting the game at Chicago on this list and leaving the home game against the Packers off it.
The Vikings are 1-14 over their last 15 away games against the Bears. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is 6-0 at home against Minnesota since joining the Bears in 2009. He has thrown for 1,587 yards and 16 touchdowns in those games, which the Bears have won by an average of 12.5 points.
Only four Vikings on the current roster were on the team the last time Minnesota won in Chicago in 2007. Victories in Chicago might not be as rare as the 60-yard touchdown pass Troy Williamson caught in that game, but they're pretty close.
On paper any game against the Bears in 2015 looks like it should be an easy victory. History, however, says that the Vikings must overcome some long odds to get a win in the Windy City on Sunday, November 1.
Two things here: We're predicting the Vikings to finally get a win in Chicago, but that doesn't mean we're picking them to go 12-4. Just forget about the math for a second!
Prediction: Vikings 20, Bears 17
4th Easiest: Versus Kansas City (Sunday, October 18)
If nothing else, the Vikings should be rested and ready to go when they host the Kansas City Chiefs, as they'll be coming off their bye week on Sunday, October 11.
The Chiefs were 7-3 last season and looking like a contender when things went south in November. They lost four of their last six games and missed the playoffs after finishing 9-7.
The 2014 Chiefs became more infamous than anything else after becoming the first NFL team in more than 60 years to finish an entire season without a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass.
Overall, the Chiefs offense finished 25th in the league and needs more weapons to scare anybody. They were better on defense, finishing seventh overall in the NFL.
It's a home game coming off a bye week against a team that won't be predicted to finish well in 2015. We're calling the October 18 matchup the fourth-easiest game on Minnesota's schedule.
Prediction: Vikings 28, Chiefs 20
4th Hardest: At Arizona, Thursday (December 10)
Wait a second, can a game at Arizona actually be harder than a home game against the Green Bay Packers?
Maybe not, but we're not putting the Packers on this list twice, and you can argue that winning in Arizona will be a tough task.
For starters, the Vikings will be playing on the road just four days after playing one of the more physical teams in the league, the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cardinals were 7-1 at home last year on their way to a surprising 11-5 mark and a playoff spot that was derailed when their top two quarterbacks were lost to injury.
Bruce Arians has proved himself in two years in Arizona, going 21-11 with what looks like a roster that's playing over its head.
The Cardinals ranked just 24th in the NFL on both offense and defense last season but made it to the playoffs mostly because they were so good at home.
Thirty-five-year old Carson Palmer will be back as the starter at quarterback, and 31-year old receiver Larry Fitzgerald is coming off his least productive season as a pro. Michael Floyd and youngster John Brown look to be promising receivers though, and the Cardinals will probably try to find running back help in the draft.
Safety Deone Bucannon, the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2014, is a thumper against the run but needs to make progress as a pass defender.
The Cardinals will probably be predicted by many to take a step backward in 2015, but that 7-1 home record in 2014 makes the Vikings trip to Arizona on Thursday, December 10, the fourth-hardest game of 2015.
Prediction: Arizona 24, Vikings 21
3rd Easiest: At Oakland (Sunday, November 15)
The Oakland Raiders are coming off a 3-13 season and are just 11-37 over the last three years.
They're a bad football team.
Former Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio takes over as head coach in Oakland in 2015, and while they have a few nice building blocks on hand, it would be a minor miracle if Del Rio and the Raiders were to take huge strides forward in 2015.
The Raiders at least did something well in 2014 that they've had a horrible history at: They drafted well. In the first two rounds they picked linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr, who look like they could be centerpieces for their respective units for years to come.
The Raiders drafted five players who started games at some point in the season and look to have good futures.
Having said that, they still have a long way to go.
Oakland ranked last in the NFL in offense in 2014 and 21st on defense. It was last in rushing yards and second-to-last in points scored.
The Vikings will have to travel to Oakland on Sunday, November 15, but it should still be their third-easiest game on the 2015 docket.
Prediction: Vikings 31, Raiders 20
3rd Hardest: At Denver (Sunday, October 4)
In their three seasons with Peyton Manning starting at quarterback, the Denver Broncos are 22-2 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. They were 8-0 at home last season.
The Broncos don't just beat people at home during the regular season, they crush them. Under Manning, their average margin of victory at home is an incredible 17.9 points.
The Seattle Seahawks are thought to have the best home-field advantage in the NFL. Seattle is dominant at home, but no more so than Denver. Both teams are 22-2 over the last three seasons, but the Seahawks' margin of victory is just over one point less per game than the Broncos.
2015 might just be the swan song for Manning, and one would have to think that under new head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos will continue to dominate at home.
Heading to Denver on Sunday, October 4 will be the Vikings' third-toughest game of the 2015 season.
Prediction: Broncos 32, Vikings 24
2nd Easiest: Versus St. Louis Rams (Sunday, November 8)
It's been 11 seasons since the St. Louis Rams have finished a season above .500.
They haven't made the playoffs since they stumbled in at 8-8 in 2004.
The outlook is glum for Jeff Fisher and the Rams, who are 20-27-1 in the coach's three seasons. The Rams ranked 28th in total offense last season and a middling 17th in overall defense.
It's been a frustrating couple of seasons for Rams fans, who thought they'd scored a huge bounty when they traded the second overall choice in 2012 to the Washington Redskins for a plethora of picks.
It's been a mixed bag of a return for the Rams though, as they've picked up some starters but no dominant pieces with all of those picks.
They enter the 2015 season with huge question marks on offense. Is Foles a legitimate NFL starter, or was his success in Philadelphia due to a quarterback-friendly system? Can Tre Mason carry the load as a starting running back? Can any of their wide receivers prove to be more than a complementary piece?
Look for the Rams to make it 12 seasons since they've finished above .500. Playing them at home on Sunday, November 8 should be the Vikings' second-easiest game of 2015.
Prediction: Vikings 31, Rams 22
2nd Hardest: Versus Seattle (Sunday, December 6)
The 2014 Seattle Seahawks were sitting at a disappointing 3-3 through six games of the 2014 season when they ripped off wins in nine of their last 10 regular-season games.
They won three more games in the NFC playoffs, culminating in an improbable 28-22 come-from-behind overtime win over the Green Bay Packers to advance to the Super Bowl.
As crazy as their win over the Packers was, it might not have been as shocking to the system as their brutal 28-24 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks looked like they were going to be the first team to defend the Super Bowl since the Patriots turned the trick a decade ago.
As we all know, head coach Pete Carroll didn't give the ball to Marshawn Lynch on 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and Malcolm Butler's interception of Russell Wilson became one of the defining plays in the history of the Super Bowl.
Still, the Seahawks head into the 2015 season having played in two straight Super Bowls and going 25-7 over the last two regular seasons, which is tied with the Denver Broncos for the best mark in the league.
The Seahawks are imposing on both sides of the ball. Lynch led a running attack that averaged an NFL-best 172.6 yards per game last season, and Wilson is as composed and effective as any quarterback in the league.
Seattle is even better on defense, where it was clearly the best unit in the league. The Seahawks gave up just 267 yards of offense per game, leading the league by a whopping 33 yards per contest. They were first in the league against the pass and third against the run.
Are the Seahawks good enough to sustain the incredible run they've been on? The Vikings will find out in their second-toughest game of the season on Sunday, December 6.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Vikings 23
Easiest Game on the 2015 Schedule: Versus Chicago Bears (Sunday, December 20)
We're going to keep our reasoning simple: The Chicago Bears look bad heading toward the 2015 season.
As we mentioned in an earlier slide, John Fox takes over the Bears this year, and they struggled mightily in 2014, losing their last five games on their way to a 5-11 record.
Their defense is in shambles and finished 30th in the league last season. The offense still has promising pieces but traded away productive wideout and Vikings killer Brandon Marshall in the offseason.
The Vikings have won three in a row at home against Chicago, and with the teams seemingly moving in opposite directions, Minnesota should have no trouble at all winning its fourth straight at home against the lowly Bears.
The obvious hope is that the Vikings will be in the thick of the playoff race when this game is played at home on Sunday, December 20. Minnesota will have not played a game in 10 days after playing a Thursday night affair in Arizona on December 10, so it will be healed up and ready to go.
This looks like the easiest game on the Vikings schedule in 2015.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Bears 17
Hardest Game on the 2015 Schedule: At Green Bay (Sunday, January 3)
It's never easy going on the road and trying to win at Lambeau Field, but the task might be harder than normal in 2015.
The last game of the regular season will come on the heels of two home games in late December, which means the tilt with the Packers will more than likely be Minnesota's third straight week playing in the bitter cold.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP, and Mr. Discount Double-Check is showing no signs of slowing down heading toward the 2015 season.
The Packers offense might be the scariest in the NFL. Re-signing wide receiver Randall Cobb gives Rodgers perhaps the best receiving duo in the league with Jordy Nelson, and second-year man Davante Adams looks capable of making it a spectacular trio.
Rodgers is 6-1 against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, with his only loss coming in Brett Favre's triumphant return to Green Bay in 2009.
Beyond that game, Rodgers has had his way against Minnesota at home, throwing for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions and posting a 109.1 passer rating.
He has completely owned the last four contests he's played against the Vikings at Lambeau, winning by a combined score of 134-41. (He was injured and didn't play in the 2013 tie.)
As long as Rodgers is healthy and on the field, winning in Green Bay on Sunday, January 3 will be the toughest task on the Vikings schedule in 2015.
Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 18