Last season, many analysts (including this writer) looked at the Vikings’ schedule and thought “this could be a tough year.” The mixture of road games and stout opponents seemed daunting. Alas, the Vikings proved those people wrong and went on to win 13 games. Well, here they are, facing another brutal looking schedule, including multiple road games against playoff teams. The past has shown one has to expect Minnesota to overcome. But there are plenty of games, particularly before the bye, that look to be significant tests for a Super Bowl-hopeful team.
With that in mind, here are four key games to watch for the Vikings’ 2018 season.
Week 4: Sept. 27 @ Los Angeles Rams (TNF)
Despite an explosive offense, a legitimate MVP candidate and the Coach of the Year, there was something about the Rams’ meteoric rise last year that did not quite seem genuine. It took a good chunk of the season for them to get respect as one of the better teams in football. They ultimately proved their mettle, winning 11 and finishing third in the NFC. But even so, they never seemed to quite be on the level as the Vikings and Eagles.
And it would seem their front office felt the same way as they were by far the splashiest team this offseason. They added two All-Pro corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, an elite defensive lineman in Ndamukong Suh, who while perhaps waning a bit, is still a disruptive force, and a top receiving threat in Brandin Cooks. Essentially, they plugged up holes with stars and will have another year of development from Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, who both made the Pro Bowl last season.
Now, the fact that this game is on Thursday Night Football may weaken the attractiveness of this matchup a hair. But it will still be a good challenge for the Vikings to get an early look at one of the sexiest preseason Super Bowl picks.
Week 5: Oct. 7 @ Philadelphia Eagles
This is must-see TV for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the rematch factor. No Vikings fan will forget the disappointment of not only losing the NFC Championship Game last season, but losing in such convincing fashion with a chance to play a home field Super Bowl on the line. Minnesota has upgraded in some key spots, most notably quarterback and defensive tackle. Philadelphia has lost significant contributors, but they will also likely have star quarterback Carson Wentz back healthy.
But even if there were no history betwixt these two teams, it would still have the appeal of an early season battle of NFC elites. By most standards, these are two of the three best teams in the conference. Though a lot of season will remain after the final whistle in week five, this game will serve as a measuring stick for the boys in purple.
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Week 8: Oct. 28 vs. New Orleans Saints
Minnesota best believe that Drew Brees and Co. have this game circled a dozen times in bright red marker. A brief nine months prior, a mixture of fluky luck, boneheaded defense and Viking skill stole the Saints’ opportunity to play in the NFC Championship Game. And lo and behold, the powers at be in the scheduling office decided to let this playoff rematch take place in the very venue the Minneapolis Miracle occurred. So for once, Vikings fans will have the chance to wave a little heartbreak in the face of another team. That on its own will make this a key game to watch. On top of that, both teams have immense talent on both sides of the ball. We could have yet another postseason preview, something that has appears to be a staple of the Vikings’ 2018 schedule.
Week 12: Nov. 25 vs. Green Bay Packers
The Vikings have multiple tough road games in the season’s second half. But it is this home matchup with the Packers that may carry the most weight. Heading into the season, some are giving the Packers a reasonable chance to challenge the Vikings’ division crown. This is due in part to Minnesota’s tough schedule and in part to Aaron Rodgers returning.
Rodgers playing means a couple of things. For one, since this game is at U.S. Bank Stadium where his 2017 season ended, there is the added element of a Packer revenge game. Will Green Bay have any extra plans for Anthony Barr or will they get it out of their system in the first matchup in week two? Will they have the extra motivation of a hostile crowd? These factors may be moot point when all is said and done, but they are things to look out for.
Of course, the other and more important facet of Rodgers’ return to Minneapolis is the fact that he is one of the greatest passers in the game’s history. Rodgers has willed average Packer teams to the postseason before. So if they hang around long enough, they could be in position to bump Minnesota off the throne. Packers games in Minnesota are always marquis matchups, but this one could even more stakes and storylines than most do.
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