Vikings may be able to start, finish strong

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The suspense was lifted Thursday, and the Minnesota Vikings’ 2013 schedule was released.
Minnesota’s final season in the Metrodome is filled with interesting scenarios.
Of course, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the team’s schedule was announced earlier when the Vikings were chosen to play in the NFL’s International Series for a Week 4 home game in London’s historic Wembley Stadium.
Other noteworthy games were revealed Thursday. The Vikings, coming off a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance, as well as featuring MVP running back Adrian Peterson, were given three prime-time games after playing in just one last season.
Minnesota will play at the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 7 and then host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football a week later. Two weeks after that, the Vikings will host the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night on NFL Network.
A more in-depth look:
MUST-SEE MATCHUP: Vikings at Seattle Seahawks 49ers, Week 11 (FOX)
Seattle has become “Vikings West” recently with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and receiver Sidney Rice all spending time with the Seahawks. Bevell and Rice are now joined by Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield in Seattle. Harvin appeared to want out of Minnesota. Winfield was unceremoniously cut and decided against returning. Both will have their own motivations in a game already filled with emotion and noise from the Seahawks’ boisterous fans. The Vikings will have to hope their fill-ins for Harvin (Greg Jennings) and Winfield (still to be determined) are up to the task.
UPSET SPECIAL? Vikings at Green Bay, Week 12, (FOX)
Minnesota hasn’t won in Green Bay since 2009. Which game was that? Oh yeah, Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay. This year, longtime Packers receiver Greg Jennings will return to Green Bay and surely will want to show the Packers what they are missing after they decided not to give him the money he sought in an extension or as a free agent. Green Bay has other top receivers, but Jennings was just what Minnesota needed after trading Harvin. This is Jennings’ chance at payback. Of course, the Packers have had a tough time stopping Peterson, too, and this visit to Green Bay is likely to include a healthy Christian Ponder, unlike in that playoff game in January where Ponder was out with a deep triceps bruise and Joe Webb struggled mightily to fill in.
1. A wait for the fans: Surely, Vikings ticket holders noticed that their first chance to see the team won’t come until Week 3 as Minnesota starts the season with two road games. Including the Week 4 “home” game in London and the bye right after that, the Vikings will play in front of their hometown fans just once in the season’s first five weeks, an incredibly rare circumstance. The last time Minnesota opened the season with two road games was 2009, when the Vikings happened to be 2-0 for their first home game, finished 12-4 and went to the NFC championship game.
2. Fast start: Minnesota started 5-2 last season, and this year could set up the same way for the Vikings. If it pulls out a win at Detroit in the season opener, Minnesota very well could open the season at least 4-1 this year. A road game at Chicago in Week 2 will be tough, but the Vikings follow with Metrodome home games against non-playoff teams in Cleveland and Carolina sandwiching the London game against the declining Pittsburgh Steelers.
3. Tough middle: Just like last season, when Minnesota lost five out of seven games in the middle of the year, this schedule gets tough in Week 7 after a slow start. Road games at the New York Giants, Dallas, Seattle, Green Bay and Baltimore are part of the stretch that will include three home games against the Packers, Washington and Chicago. Of the six games Minnesota will play against 2012 playoff teams, five are in this eight-week stretch. How the Vikings fare in this stretch will largely determine its playoff fortunes.
4. Familiar foe: This season will mark the fourth straight year the Vikings and Redskins will meet up. Minnesota had won two in a row before Washington and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III won last season. Getting the Redskins at the Metrodome will be a change to the series. The Vikings have played in Washington the past three years. Both teams qualified for the playoffs last season, and a rivalry could be brewing.
5. First time coaches: The Vikings will face three new head coaches: Chicago’s Marc Trestman, Cleveland’s Rob Chudzinski and Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly. All three have  offensive backgrounds. Trestman, who played collegiately at the University of Minnesota, comes from the Canadian Football League. Chudzinksi was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Kelly was hired from the University of Oregon, where he orchestrated a fast-paced offense.
EARLY FORECAST (all times Central): 8-8
LOSS — Sunday, Sept. 8 at Detroit Lions, 12 p.m. (FOX): Winning in Detroit is a real possibility, and the Vikings did so last season. The Lions’ defense might even be worse than last season after losing several starters, and quarterback Matthew Stafford could be running for his life away from Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. But here’s thinking that the roller-coaster Lions will be up for a season opener at home.
LOSS — Sunday, Sept. 15 at Chicago Bears, 12 p.m. (FOX): The Vikings ended a six-game losing streak to the Bears last year while splitting the season series. But Minnesota hasn’t won in Chicago since 2007 and has won there just once since 2000. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will probably still be in one piece in the season’s second week, and Brandon Marshall presents all sorts of problems for the Vikings’ secondary.
WIN — Sunday, Sept. 22 vs. Cleveland Browns, 12 p.m. (CBS): With Chudzinski in charge, the Browns are trying to pull out of a long losing spiral. Cleveland has made many moves, but it is still rebuilding and likely won’t mesh quickly. The Vikings will be playing in their home opener and will be motivated to show off in front of the fans in their only true home game of the first month.
WIN — Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in London’s Wembley Stadium, 12 p.m. (CBS): These aren’t your grandfather’s Steelers. Heck, they don’t even look like your father’s or older brother’s Steelers. Pittsburgh still has coach Mike Tomlin, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu, but this appears to be a team in decline. The Vikings should be able to pressure Roethlisberger, who lost top receiver Mike Wallace in the offseason. The Steelers don’t appear to have much of a running game, and the defense has slipped.
WIN — Sunday, Oct. 13 vs. Carolina Panthers, 12 p.m. (FOX): This comes down to stopping Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, which Minnesota did in Carolina during Newton’s fantastic rookie year. The Vikings will also be coming off an early bye, which comes after their London trip. Minnesota was very good at home last year (7-1), and it looks like this season will shape up the same way.
LOSS — Monday, Oct. 21 at New York Giants, 7:40 p.m. (ESPN): Minnesota hasn’t played in New York since 2007. The Giants and quarterback Eli Manning have a tendency to step up in big games, and all eyes will be on this one. Conversely, Minnesota hasn’t played well in prime-time games in recent years.
WIN — Sunday, Oct. 27 vs. Green Bay Packers, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): Another prime-time game, but this one comes at home and against the rival Packers with Jennings getting his first chance at his former team. Minnesota usually plays Green Bay tough, and last year showed the difference between the two teams playing in the Metrodome and at Lambeau Field. The Vikings lost decisively on the road but took a must-win game at the Metrodome.
LOSS — Sunday, Nov. 3 at Dallas Cowboys, 12 p.m. (FOX): The Vikings very well could pull off what might be considered a minor upset on the road, but Dallas does have several playmakers in quarterback Tony Romo — for good or bad — receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, tight end Jason Witten. The defense is still led by linebacker DeMarcus Ware and has underrated linebacker Sean Lee and two good cornerbacks in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. And Minnesota will be going on the road after an emotional Sunday night game against the Packers.
WIN — Thursday, Nov. 7 vs. Washington Redskins, 7:25 p.m. (NFL Network): Finally, the Vikings get the Redskins at home. Griffin III flummoxed Minnesota last season and should be back from his knee injury by this game. Griffin could be quicker on the Metrodome’s turf, but the Vikings will be up for this nationally televised game. Peterson, who suffered his knee injury at Washington in 2011, likely wouldn’t mind showing the Redskins what he can do at the Metrodome.
LOSS — Sunday, Nov. 17 at Seattle Seahawks, 3:25 p.m. (FOX): After a busy offseason filled with additions like Harvin and Winfield, Seattle is one of the NFC favorites for the Super Bowl with second-year quarterback Russell Wilson leading the way. The Vikings should be plenty familiar with the Seahawks’ offense; the trouble will be stopping it. Oh, and there’s that defense with perhaps the league’s best secondary.
LOSS — Sunday, Nov. 24 at Green Bay Packers, 12 p.m. (FOX): This is the upset special because Minnesota can go to Green Bay and win, and anything can happen in this divisional rivalry. Jennings will be motivated in front of the fans that once adored him, but Green Bay is strong at Lambeau Field and a late November game could bring poor weather with it. While the Vikings have the type of team to survive poor weather, they typically haven’t.
WIN — Sunday, Dec. 1 vs. Chicago Bears, 12 p.m. (FOX): Though the Vikings have struggled against the Bears in Chicago, the Metrodome has been a little more favorable to Minnesota, including a big win last season that started the Vikings’ season-ending four-game winning streak. Minnesota would like a repeat, and Peterson has always enjoyed his matchups against the Bears, who are likely to enter the season without Brian Urlacher. 
LOSS — Sunday, Dec. 8 at Baltimore Ravens, 12 p.m. (FOX): The tough midseason schedule ends on a brutal note as Minnesota has to face the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. Baltimore has undergone many changes but seems to have re-tooled and still appears to be one of the league’s best teams. Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco is the new face of the Ravens, who are led now by the offense and not the defense with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gone.
WIN — Sunday, Dec. 15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 12 p.m. (FOX): The Eagles’ struggles the past two years led to the overhaul and hiring of Kelly. Philadelphia is somewhat of an unknown heading into the season with Kelly coming from the college ranks and utilizing an offense unique to the NFL. The Eagles quarterback spot is still a question as well, with Michael Vick coming back from injury and last year’s late-season starter Nick Foles competing for a starting job.
LOSS — Sunday, Dec. 22 at Cincinnati Bengals, 12 p.m. (FOX): Minnesota hasn’t played at Cincinnati since 2005, the Vikings’ only game in the Queen city since 1995. The Bengals are one of five playoff teams from last season (Green Bay, Washington, Seattle and Baltimore are the others) that Minnesota will face this season. Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green will cause the Vikings’ secondary headaches with quarterback Andy Dalton delivering the ball to Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Bengals’ defense is underrated as well, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
WIN — Sunday, Dec. 29 vs. Detroit Lions, 12 p.m. (FOX): Detroit has won one game in Minnesota since 1997. This season likely won’t be the time to add to the total with this year’s matchup coming in the final regular-season game in Metrodome history. The Vikings could be planning playoff games, maybe fighting for the playoffs or completely out. But they will certainly be motivated to send the Metrodome out on a winning note with the celebrations that are likely to be included.

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