The Minnesota Vikings will look for more success in 2021 after narrowly missing the playoffs last season.
The 7-9 squad finished one game behind the Chicago Bears for the final postseason spot, which was an accomplishment in itself after a 1-5 start to the year.
Minnesota was able to retain most of the squad from last year, while key additions in free agency and the draft could be enough to help improve a defense that finished 29th in the NFL in points allowed. If Kirk Cousins plays to his ability and takes advantage of the talent around him, which includes Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, this is a team that can make noise in the NFC.
Even with tough opponents on the path of the new 17-game season, the Vikings should have high expectations going into 2021.
Here is a look at their upcoming schedule, via the team's official website.
Vikings 2021 Schedule
The run defense, which ranked 27th in the NFL last year, should be improved after adding players up the middle like Dalvin Tomlinson and Nick Vigil. It will be especially important against the Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
The Packers and Cowboys will test the Vikings secondary, which added Patrick Peterson and Xavier Woods, while Mackensie Alexander returned after one season with the Cincinnati Bengals. The team relied heavily on youth last season, but the defensive backfield now has experienced and proven players.
If Anthony Barr can also stay healthy, the unit can once again be a strength in 2021 as it was in past years.
It could help the Vikings match up against the toughest teams in the league.
The Packers didn't reach their own lofty expectations last year, but they remain the team to beat in the NFC North as long as Aaron Rodgers is on the roster after back-to-back 13-3 seasons and a trip to the conference title game.
Green Bay returned much of its core and will be especially dangerous offensively with Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. After leading the NFL in points scored in 2020, this group is a good bet to do it again in 2021.
If the Packers do move on from Rodgers, the Vikings could get their first shots at Jordan Love, who could be another long-term rival in the division.
Divisional matchups against the Chicago Bears will also be important, but the Week 16 game against the Los Angeles Rams could be the most interesting.
The Rams added old Minnesota rival Matthew Stafford in the offseason, providing a chance for the Vikings to get another shot at the former Lion. More importantly, L.A. had the best defense in the NFL last year with the league's most-feared player in Aaron Donald.
Minnesota strengthened the offensive line with first-round pick Christian Darrisaw, but consistent play from this unit will be the biggest story of the season. Blocking players like Donald and keeping Cousins standing upright will go a long way in 2021.