Finally, the home stretch of the season. After 13 weeks of brutal road opponents, playoff rematches and division games, the Vikings reach a relatively light section of the schedule. It still includes some vital NFC North opponents, but it also includes a few teams that figure to be picking near the top of next year’s draft.
Week 14: Dec. 10 @ Seattle Seahawks
No single game on the Vikings’ schedule has Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter licking their chops like this one. Seattle has for several years now gone to the plate with one of the worst offensive lines in football. Russell Wilson has essentially been running for his life since their Super Bowl 49 loss. The fact that his sack total is consistently around 40 and not 70 is a testament to his elusiveness and pocket awareness.
So naturally, one would assume the Seahawks would go all-in on protecting their star quarterback, right? Wrong. They did very little to improve the line, signing only D.J. Fluker, a former first round pick who has largely been considered a bust since entering the league in 2013. So maybe they will address it in the draft, everyone thought. Will Hernandez and Connor Williams were still on the board in the first, after all. Well, the Seahawks instead drafted Rashaad Penny, a talented running back, but one who for most experts, had a day two grade.
So Wilson is going to get beat up yet again. And this time, he does not have the defensive stars to help him out. Seattle cut bait with much of the anchors of their once-stout defense, save for Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner. They filled the gaps with veterans who have little upside, including former Vikings Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. For the first time in quite awhile, a trip to Seattle does not look that daunting.
Week 15: Dec. 16 vs. Miami Dolphins
Miami’s offseason has been strange from the get-go. They made a lot of moves, but some of them were just baffling. After Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey left town, it looked like the Dolphins were heading into a rebuilding year and vying for a top pick. But they also threw a lot of money at Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, outbid several teams for Josh Sitton and traded for Robert Quinn. Plus, they did not trade up in the draft to acquire one of the top-four quarterbacks. So presumably, they are sticking with oft-injured Ryan Tannehill for the time-being.
That being said, Miami still has some of the lowest expectations in the league. Only the Cardinals and Browns have lower win totals in Vegas than the Dolphins’ six. Plus, they lost two of their best offensive players and arguably their second-best defensive player in free agency and have done a marginal job of finding replacements. Tannehill may have a couple more receiving targets than he had before, but none of them are close to being an upgrade to Landry.
This game should provide a few interesting late-season wrinkles for the Vikings, however. For one, rookie Mike Hughes could see a lot of balls thrown his way, given that Miami has stocked up on slot receivers. It could be a good warm-up for the offensive line as the postseason approaches, as if nothing else, Miami should be relatively fearsome with their edge rushers, Quinn and Cameron Wake.
Week 16: Dec. 23 @ Detroit Lions
We discussed last week how the Lions are a tough team to diagnose at this point in time. Come week 16, the Vikings and Lions could be playing for playoff spots. Minnesota could have the division clinched and simply looking to eliminate Detroit from contention. Or Detroit could be at the back end of NFC North and are only playing spoiler. Again, it will largely come down to Matthew Stafford, a young offensive line and production from a running back committee.
Though on paper Minnesota has a significantly better roster, it is important to remember the troubles the Lions have given the Vikings in the recent past. They won a defensive battle in Minnesota last year and were a mere touchdown away from stealing the Thanksgiving game, as well. Division record is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head. With the Vikings’ tough schedule, the Lions and Packers realistically both be in contention for the division crown. This game and the following one could have serious implications in the Vikings’ playoff situation. At least this year’s game in Detroit will not be on Thanksgiving, for once.
Week 17: Dec. 30 vs. Chicago Bears
While this was the most forgettable Vikings game last season, the Bears are a much-improved team this go-around. How much that talent realizes its potential is yet to be seen. But the Bears should not be locked in as an automatic win, even in Minnesota. As stated above, the Vikings could be an 10- or 11-win team heading into the final week, looking over their shoulder at the Packers, Lions, possibly even the Bears, depending on Mitchell Trubisky‘s development. So while last year, week 17 had few implications, odds are decent that is not the case in 2018.
Then again, the Bears could be a five-win team again, the Vikings could defy expectations and demolish their tough schedule and this will, again, be a meaningless game with a lot of rested starters. Who knows. That is what makes the league so great, nothing is truly predictable, no matter how obvious results seem to be.
That is it for our preview series. In a couple months, we will revisit all of these games. This time, there will be predictions and a final guess as to the Vikings’ record.
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