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As was the case last year, the Vikings have a fairly daunting schedule facing them in 2018. This time, however, the gauntlet will come in the first half of the season, as opposed to last year’s second half challenge. Over the course of this week, we will look at the four quarters of the Vikings’ season and give previews on what to expect from them and their opponents. There will be no predictions yet. That will come after rosters shake out.

To start off, let’s take a look at the first four weeks. The league certainly is not letting the Vikings baby step into the season, as they get four intriguing opponents right away.

Week 1: Sept. 9 vs. San Francisco 49ers

The league is all aflutter with Jimmy Garoppolo at the 49ers’ helm. So invested is John Lynch that he gave the 26-year old the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history at the time, despite only starting five games with the club. Granted, Garoppolo has yet to lose a single start as a professional and has generally looked the part.

So what did the NFL do? They decided to give him and his young team a baptism under fire. In Garoppolo’s first opening day as a franchise quarterback, he gets one of the league’s top defenses, including bar none the best secondary in the conference. Rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey will also get his first crack at top-notch NFL pass rushers.

As for the Vikings, three things in particular will be at the front of fans’ mind. Obviously number one will be Kirk Cousins‘ performance as the new face of the franchise. Second will be the starting offensive line and whether one of the rookies, Brian O’Neill or Colby Gossett, find themselves in the lineup. And third will be how Mike Zimmer uses first round pick Mike Hughes. Some reports are that Hughes will have a Tyrann Mathieu-like role, playing a sort of nickel-safety hybrid. At the very least, he should get chances as a return man.

Week 2: Sept. 16 at Green Bay Packers

Would the Vikings still have won the division last year had Aaron Rodgers not been hurt? Probably. But as far as playoff seeding and fan perception go, they lucked out by only seeing two quarters of Rodgers in 2017. It exposed a multitude of holes in the Packers’ roster, particularly in the running game and secondary. But Rodgers is back and theoretically, the Vikings will see a lot more of him. And, as much as it may be tough for fans to admit, Rodgers can win a lot of games by himself.

Green Bay also did a great job of improving their defensive backfield, at least on paper. First, they brought back Tramon Williams. Then they went and had a heck of a draft. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson were both candidates to go to Green Bay with the 14th pick. As it turned out, they were able to trade back and take Alexander with the 18th and Jackson fell to them in the second round. What sort of immediate effect they have is to be determined, but Green Bay may not be the gimme for yard accumulation they were a year ago. And that is not mentioning the other two major acquisitions, tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Division wins may not come quite as easily for Minnesota as they did a season ago. Which is why it is all the more important to get off on the right foot at Lambeau.

Week 3: Sept. 23 vs. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo was a surprise playoff team a year ago, but they have made some major changes. Most notably, they added some big name free agents to the defense in Vontae Davis and Star Lotulelei and then had what some say was the best first two days of the draft. They got the quarterback they wanted in Josh Allen, a stud linebacker in Tremaine Edmunds and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who should find a spot in the rotation right away.

The one thing that could bring Buffalo from a playoff contender back down to mediocrity is the quarterback situation. Allen is as physically gifted a passer to come out in years, but he is raw and inaccurate. As such, free agent-signee A.J. McCarron may be starting when Buffalo enters U.S. Bank Stadium in week three. It will not be long before it is Allen’s team, but it may be a big jump for him to face a defense like the Vikings’ mere weeks into his NFL career.

Week 4: Sept. 27 at Los Angeles Rams (TNF)

This game appears to be the toughest on the Vikings’ 2018 docket (and a big reason why the league needs to work on its Thursday night scheduling). They have to travel to the west coast on a short week to play a Rams team that may be more improved than any other 2017 playoff unit. Clearly, this matchup was placed on the Thursday Night lineup to counter perception that the midweek game has jumped the shark. Both teams figure to be among the NFC elite with stars on both sides of the ball and top notch coaches. It is just a shame that they will be competing on three days rest.

It will be the first great test for Cousins clad in purple. The Rams added two All-Pro corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters as well as a dominant pass rushing tackle, Ndamukong Suh. They also have a potential true ace receiver in Brandin Cooks. The Vikings upgraded the most important position with Cousins, so both squads will be fairly new-look from last season’s contest. The Vikings won that game fairly handily, 24-7.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Full Press Coverage NFC North. Like and

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