Vikings dealt tough schedule to start 2014 campaign

Having the Vikings play at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 added some complexity to the scheduling. Concessions had to be made, but Vikings fans will no doubt look forward to a Week 2 matchup against Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The suspense is over. Plan your trips and other events, the NFL schedule was finally released on Wednesday night.

The Mike Zimmer era as Minnesota Vikings’ coach begins on the road in Week 1 as Minnesota travels to St. Louis. Hometown fans get their first regular-season look at Zimmer’s crew in Week 2 in the team’s new, temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Coming off last season’s 5-10-1 season, Zimmer replaced Leslie Frazier as the Vikings’ coach. The Metrodome has been replaced by TCF Bank Stadium until 2016 when Minnesota’s new, $1 billion facility opens on the footprint of the Metrodome.

Last year’s disappointing season kept the Vikings out of the spotlight for many of the primetime, nationally televised games. Minnesota will play once in primetime, with the rivalry against the Green Bay Packers adding the sizzle to a Week 5 game at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.

A more in-depth look at Minnesota’s 2014 regular-season schedule:

MUST-SEE MATCHUP: New England Patriots at Minnesota, Week 2, 12 p.m. (CBS)

Can it be anything other than Zimmer’s first home game and the home-opener at TCF Bank Stadium? And the NFL didn’t pull any punches, either, sending Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to Minnesota for the big unveiling. New England will present a tough matchup for the Vikings and Brady to begin a gauntlet of elite quarterbacks Minnesota will face in the early part of the schedule.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games for 11 straight seasons and will present a challenge for Zimmer’s new-look defense. The Vikings haven’t faced New England since a 28-18 loss in 2010 on the road. The Patriots have won the last three meetings between the two teams. But Zimmer did see Brady and New England last year as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, a 13-6 win for the Bengals.

UPSET SPECIAL? Minnesota at St. Louis Rams, Week 1, noon, (FOX)

On the surface, a game against St. Louis might not look like much of an upset pick. However, it is Week 1 and St. Louis’ first game. The Rams also showed some improvement even with quarterback Sam Bradford only playing seven games. St. Louis also currently owns the No. 2 pick in the draft for immediate help for a 7-9 team last year thanks to its bountiful trade with the Washington Redskins in 2012.

Complete Vikings 2014 draft coverage

Really, there aren’t many "upset specials" in looking at the Vikings’ schedule. Minnesota is playing a last-place schedule and facing New Orleans on the road will be tough, as will the Thursday night game at Green Bay. It’s also hard to call any home divisional game an upset. So, we’ll go with Week 1 at St. Louis.

Teams will still be trying to figure out Zimmer and the new defense he’s installing early in the season. Zimmer will surely have some tricks up his sleeve for the first game and is facing a quarterback in Bradford, who still needs to prove himself. Bradford has been known for taking sacks — 15 in his seven games last year — and Zimmer is known for dialing up effective blitz packages. St. Louis’ turnaround has been led by a strong defense, but Minnesota will likely have a fully healthy Adrian Peterson and Matt Cassel at quarterback to lead the offense.

FIVE THINGS YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED

1. Noon starts, at least we think: With the Vikings only getting one prime-time game, they get noon starts in 14 of their 16 games. The only other change; a Week 4 game at home against the Atlanta Falcons with a 3:25 p.m. start. So, fans will be able to settle in on Sunday mornings and get ready for a bevy of noon starts. However, the league has increased its flex scheduling this year. The schedule will include flexed games as early as Week 5 and will even include some flex games being switched between FOX and CBS broadcasts. The flex schedule also includes just Sunday games. There will be no moving from Sunday to Monday or Thursday. Will Minnesota be in position to be flexed is the next question.

2. On the road again: Vikings’ fans will have to wait to see their team in person. For the fifth time in six seasons, Minnesota will open the regular season on the road.

3. Sharing the stadium: Playing at TCF Bank Stadium added some complexity to the scheduling. The Vikings will share the Gophers’ home stadium, and in turn concessions had to be made. The two teams alternate home weekends the first four weeks of the season. There will be one action-packed weekend at TCF Bank Stadium in October. The Gophers play Northwestern at home on Oct. 11 and the Vikings host the Detroit Lions on Oct. 12, the only time this season the Vikings and Gophers will play at home on the same weekend.

4. Outdoors to be a factor: Perhaps because of the scheduling conflicts at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings actually have a home-heavy second half of the regular season, when weather might play the biggest factor. Minnesota’s first season outside since the Metrodome opened in 1982 will include four of the final six games at home. The Vikings will have the chance to play themselves into playoff positioning in the season’s final weeks if they can handle a tough opening slate. Minnesota has three home games from Weeks 12-14 against Green Bay, the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, before finishing the season at TCF Bank Stadium against the Chicago Bears. It will be the third straight season the Vikings finish at home.

5. The quarterback run: The tough early part of the schedule is partly because of matchups with some of the league’s best quarterbacks. Starting with Brady and the Patriots in Week 2, the Vikings will face a stretch of five weeks against Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Zimmer’s new defense will be tested early. Of course, with Rodgers and Stafford both in the division, Minnesota always faces a line of strong quarterbacks. But this season, they’ll come in a line; a line of quarterbacks that combine for 22 Pro Bowl appearances.

THE OPPONENTS (all times Central)

Week 1- Sunday, Sept. 7, at St. Louis Rams, noon (FOX): Zimmer unveils his defense against Bradford and the Rams. Does St. Louis unleash Jadaveon Clowney (possibly taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft) on the Vikings and NFL?

Week 2- Sunday, Sept. 14, vs. New England Patriots, noon (CBS): Bill Belichick and Brady against Zimmer and Cassel in opener of the first season at TCF Bank Stadium.

Week 3- Sunday, Sept. 21, at New Orleans Saints, noon (FOX): The Vikings return to the site of the 2010 NFC Championship game, which created nightmares for all Minnesota fans.

Week 4- Sunday, Sept. 28, vs. Atlanta Falcons, 3:25 p.m. (FOX): Zimmer faces one of his former teams. He coordinated the Falcons’ defense in 2007.

Week 5- Thursday, Oct. 2, at Green Bay Packers, 7:25 p.m. (CBS/NFL Network): Minnesota left Lambeau Field with a tie last season. Of course, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t playing.

Week 6- Sunday, Oct. 12, vs. Detroit Lions, noon (FOX): The Vikings have more wins against Detroit than any other NFL team, winning 69 of the 105 matchups and three of the last four.

Week 7- Sunday, Oct. 19, at Buffalo Bills, noon (FOX): Buffalo enters its second season of the coach Doug Marrone and quarterback E.J. Manuel era.

Week 8- Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, noon (FOX): Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ offense face their former coach. Frazier is now the Tampa Bay defensive coordinator.

Week 9- Sunday, Nov. 2, vs. Washington Redskins, noon (FOX): For the fifth year in a row, Minnesota will face Washington, a strange scheduling quirk against an NFC East opponent.

Week 10- BYE WEEK

Week 11- Sunday, Nov. 16, at Chicago Bears, noon (FOX): Jared Allen hosts his former club in the first meeting with his new team in Chicago. And hey, it’s Corey Wootton’s return to Chicago.

Week 12- Sunday, Nov. 23, vs. Green Bay Packers, noon (FOX): The Vikings have lost three of the last four home games against Green Bay, another sign of the one-sided division rivalry.

Week 13- Sunday, Nov. 30, vs. Carolina Panthers, noon (FOX): New Minnesota cornerback Captain Munnerlyn gets to face his old team. But just who will he be facing? Carolina lost its top three receivers from last season.

Week 14- Sunday, Dec. 7, vs. New York Jets, noon (CBS): Rex Ryan and Gang Green come to Minnesota. Who will be quarterbacking the Jets by this time: Geno Smith or Michael Vick? We know it won’t be Mark Sanchez.

Week 15- Sunday, Dec. 14, at Detroit Lions, noon (FOX): The Vikings, strangely, get out of the cold weather by traveling to Detroit for a December game.

Week 16- Sunday, Dec. 21, at Miami Dolphins, noon (FOX): And a trip to Miami in December will feel pretty good as well.

Week 17- Sunday, Dec. 28, vs. Chicago Bears, noon (FOX): Allen makes his return to Minnesota, but in a different environment than he was used to in his six Vikings’ seasons; outdoors in December in a college stadium.

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