Skinny: Atlanta lost four of its first five games last year and never recovered, missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be extra motivated to avoid a slow start in 2019. Atlanta’s secondary, which ranked 29th against the pass last season, didn’t get much better in free agency, although it’s expected to address the need in the draft. Either way, look for Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and co. to feast through the air.
Our pick: Win. 1-0.
Week 2: Sept. 15 at Green Bay Packers, 12 p.m.
Last matchup (road): Vikings 29, Packers 29 (2018)
Skinny: Kirk Cousins was far from perfect in his first year with the Vikings, but he played his best against Green Bay. In two games (a win and a tie), Cousins threw for 767 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception while completing 74.4% of his passes. It all added up to a 123.5 passer rating. Minnesota has lost just one game to Green Bay since 2016, but it won’t be an easy task against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers under new head coach Matt LaFleur.
Our pick: Loss. 1-1.
Quinn HarrisQuinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
Week 3: Sept. 22 vs. Oakland Raiders, 12 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 30, Raiders 14 (2015)
Skinny: The Vikings haven’t squared off against Jon Gruden on the sidelines since he was coaching Tampa Bay in 2008. Oakland will be an interesting team to watch this fall. The Raiders disposed of stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper last season and picked up four-time All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown in a trade with Pittsburgh in March. As a team coming off a 4-12 season that’s frantically searching for an identity, it should be an easy win for the purple. Although we said that while previewing the Buffalo Bills game last year, and that … didn’t go well.
Our pick: Win. 2-1.
Week 4: Sept. 29 at Chicago Bears, 3:25 p.m.
Last matchup (road): Bears 25, Vikings 20 (2018)
Skinny: Chicago got the best of the Vikings twice last season, sweeping them for the first time since 2012. The Bears return with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the aforementioned Mack at linebacker and aim to defend their surprising division title in 2018. Also notable: the Bears signed Cordarrelle Patterson to a two-year deal, adding the electric return man who played receiver for Minnesota from 2013-16. If anything, visiting Vikings fans can console the Chicago faithful after the “double doink” by kicker Cody Parkey ended the Bears’ 2018 campaign in the postseason.
Our pick: Loss. 2-2.
Week 5: Oct. 6 at New York Giants, 12 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 24, Giants 10 (2016)
Skinny: Eli Manning won’t sleep well Oct. 5. The veteran quarterback is 3-6 all-time against Minnesota with five touchdowns and 15 interceptions, adding up to a 56.1 passer rating -- his worst against any NFL franchise. New York, led by former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, will look a bit different around Manning this season. The Giants traded star wideout Odell Beckham and let safety Landon Collins and pass rusher Olivier Vernon walk in free agency, so an improvement on their 4-12 record from last season seems unlikely. We’re putting the over/under on Harrison Smith interceptions at 2.5 for this game.
Our pick: Win. 3-2.
Week 6: Oct. 13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 12 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 23, Eagles 21 (2018)
Skinny: The Vikings (kind of) avenged their embarrassing loss in the 2017 NFC Championship game with a 23-21 win in Philly last season. Can they do it again -- this time at home? Quarterback Carson Wentz returns healthy and will try to lead the Eagles to the postseason without former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles (now in Jacksonville) as a security blanket. To help Wentz, Philadelphia brought in deep threat DeSean Jackson and added former Bears running back Jordan Howard, who punished the Vikings for 109 rushing yards and two scores in the 2018 season finale.
Our pick: Loss. 3-3.
Week 7: Oct. 20 at Detroit Lions, 12 p.m.
Last matchup (road): Vikings 27, Lions 9 (2018)
Skinny: Matt Patricia didn’t exactly embody Bill Belichick in his first season at the helm, as the Lions slipped to 6-10, their worst record since Jim Schwartz’s fourth year with the franchise in 2012. But Patricia shook up his coaching staff. The Lions ditched the best name in football (Jim Bob Cooter) at offensive coordinator and replaced him with former Vikings OC Darrell Bevell, who will take over the responsibility to get the most out of Mathew Stafford and an underperforming offense. If the Lions don’t have a better season, Patricia’s job might be in jeopardy after just two years.
Our pick: Win. 4-3.
Week 8: Oct 24 vs. Washington Redskins, 7:20 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 38, Redskins 30
Skinny: If you like #RevengeGame storylines, we have a feast for you in this Thursday night matchup, Minnesota’s first prime-time test of the season. First off, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson returns to Minnesota after posting 1,042 rushing yards last season, his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2015 and looked at as a bit surprising for a back that looked washed up just a couple of seasons ago. Secondly, Cousins will play against the team that refused to offer him a long-term deal in 2018. You like that? We have more. The Redskins traded for *gasp* former Vikings quarterback (and miracle man) Case Keenum, who as of now is listed at the top of Washington’s depth chart. This will be a juicy one, no doubt.
Our pick: Win. 5-3.
Week 9: Nov. 3 at Kansas City Chiefs, 12 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 16, Chiefs 10 (2015)
Skinny: Patrick Mahomes was in Minneapolis for the Final Four to watch his alma mater Texas Tech, but the Vikings will take a trip to Kansas City for this Week 9 matchup. Mahomes had the most impressive rookie campaign of all time, throwing for 5,097 yards with 50 TD and 12 INT. Sheesh. The Chiefs will be without Kareem Hunt and (likely?) Tyreek Hill due to off-the-field situations, but no matter who you place around Mahomes, Kansas City will score points. Andy Reid’s defense ranked 31st against the pass last season, but the Chiefs added former All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu to help out in their secondary.
Our pick: Loss. 5-4.
Week 10: Nov. 10 at Dallas Cowboys, 7:20 p.m.
Last matchup: Cowboys 17, Vikings 15 (2016)
Skinny: Waitin’ all day for Sunday night! Vikings fans will have to wait until Nov. 10 to hear Carrie Underwood’s Sunday Night Football theme song, but let’s be honest, it’s worth it. Dak Prescott took a step back in his sophomore campaign last season, but the midseason addition of wide receiver Amari Cooper helped -- Prescott posted a 103.0 quarterback rating after the acquisition. It’ll be a challenge in Dallas, as the Cowboys were 7-1 at home in 2018.
Our pick: Loss. 5-5.
Week 11: Nov. 17 vs. Denver Broncos, 12 p.m.
Last matchup: Broncos 23, Vikings 20 (2015)
Skinny: There will be a new man under center in Denver. The Broncos traded for former Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco to serve as quarterback under new head coach Vic Fangio. Fangio, an old-school, defensive-minded coach like Zimmer, will try to build on Denver’s 22nd-ranked defense that features linebackers like Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. And don’t forget about Phillip Lindsay, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and took the NFL by storm with 1,037 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Our pick: Win. 6-5.
Week 13: Dec. 2 at Seattle Seahawks, 7:15 p.m.
Last matchup: Seahawks 21, Vikings 7 (2018)
Skinny: The Vikings lost 25-20 to Chicago after the bye last season. They’ll have another tough test after a week off in 2019. Seattle is led, of course, by Russell Wilson, who was signed to a record extension (that included a $65 million signing bonus!) last week. The Seahawks didn’t do much in free agency, although they placed a franchise tag on defensive end Frank Clark, who ranked sixth in the NFL with 13.0 sacks in 2018. Minnesota counters with Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson on its defensive line, two players that spent last season in Seattle.
Our pick: Win. 7-5.
Jerome MironJerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Week 14: Dec. 8 vs. Detroit Lions, 12 p.m.
Last matchup (home): Vikings 24, Lions 9 (2018)
Skinny: The second meeting with Detroit will be at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Lions have actually won two of three matchups since it opened in 2016. It begins a critical stretch for Minnesota that sees all three division rivals in a matter of four weeks to close out the season. Kerryon Johnson starred for Detroit in his rookie season last year before suffering a season-ending injury, but he looks like he could be the answer to the Lions’ long woes in the backfield.
Our pick: Win. 8-5.
Week 15: Dec. 15 at Los Angeles Chargers, 7:20 p.m.
Last matchup: Vikings 31, Chargers 14 (2015)
Skinny: The Vikings will visit the Chargers for the first time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles (yes, it’s still weird to write L.A. Chargers). The Sunday night matchup should be a good one, as consistent veteran Phillip Rivers has shown no signs of aging. Rivers threw for 4,308 yards and 32 TD last season with much of the damage done by wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, the latter who played all 32 games the last two season after appearing in just nine from 2015-16. Hopefully, Vikings fans will flock to the typically empty Chargers’ home stadium and make this an unofficial ninth home game.
Our pick: Loss. 8-6.
Jake RothJake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Week 16: Dec. 23 vs. Green Bay Packers, 7:15 p.m.
Last matchup (home): Vikings 24, Packers 17 (2018)
Skinny: The Vikings’ third prime-time game in four weeks will bring Rodgers and Green Bay back into Minneapolis on a Monday evening, just two days before Christmas. With its new general manager Brian Gutekunst pulling the strings at Lambeau Field, the Packers were uncharacteristically big spenders in free agency. Green Bay made up for lost time by signing safety Adrian Amos (four years, $37 million), edge rusher Preston Smith (four years, $52 million), edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (four years, $66 million) and offensive lineman Billy Turner (four years, $29.5 million). Sure, Cousins will be a bit more under pressure this season, but at what cost?
Our pick: Win. 9-6.
Week 17: Dec. 29 vs. Chicago Bears, 12 p.m.
Last matchup (home): Bears 24, Vikings 10 (2018)
Skinny: Minnesota needed to beat the Bears in the season finale at home last year to sneak into the playoffs, but they fell flat in an embarrassing 24-10 loss to finish the year 8-7-1. This game could mean everything if the NFC North division standings are tight again -- and it likely will be. Will the Vikings show up this time around?