How will the Vikings cope with a tough 2018 schedule?

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The defeat to the Eagles that ended another Vikings playoff push and the dreams of many a Vikings fan was particularly disappointing coming after the miraculous win over the Saints a week prior. However, if the way that 2017 ended made it feel like a tough season, 2018 promises to be even harder. This year’s schedule is about as difficult as it is possible to imagine, particularly on the road, and if the Vikings are to end their long, long Super Bowl wait next season, they are going to have to do it the hard way.

Minnesota are ranked fifth favorites to win the Super Bowl with, and Philadelphia and Green Bay are being rated as better prospects to claim the NFC championship next January, thanks largely to the horrendous schedule that awaits them.

Let’s start with the obvious toughies. If you had to choose which teams in the NFC West you would not want to play on the road, it would be the Rams and the Seahawks, but the Vikings will have to head out to the West Coast to take on the best two sides in the division. However, that is only the beginning of their problems. Minnesota will also have to take on both of last season’s Super Bowl teams on their own patch. Add in the usual tough assignment against Green Bay and you have got the mother of all nightmare schedules.

Only the trip to Detroit will be under cover, and depending how the schedule is fleshed out, the Vikings could be heading to Chicago, Green Bay, Boston, Philadelphia, or New York in the middle of a freezing December, adding to the difficulties.

As if the draft schedule wasn’t bad enough, it is only likely to get worse when dates and times are settled. The NFL schedule-makers will be looking for potential prime-time, stand-alone games, but all of the games on the Vikings’ schedule that are likely to be attractive to broadcasters are road trips, including the possibility of the traditional late-season clash at Lambeau Field. Games between the Vikings and the Rams, Patriots, Eagles, and Seahawks would all be tempting television fodder, and all of them are road trips.

Not only are prime-time road games tougher to play in, with additional pressure, but they also give the team less time to prepare for the next game, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to what is already a very tough schedule. The only positive is that the Packers also have a tricky schedule ahead of them, which will help the Vikings in the battle for the Divisional title.

At least the Vikings will have plenty of time to prepare for the rigors of the 2018 season. There isn’t a lot wrong with their roster, but the team will need to be strengthened in key areas to cope with the additional demands of their schedule.

The most important issue that needs to be addressed is the quarterback situation. Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater are all free agents and all have weaknesses. Bridgewater lacks recent playing experience, Bradford is too often injured, and Keenum may not be able to reproduce his 2017 performances in those tough road games. A high-quality, durable quarterback is the number one priority for the Vikings to address this offseason.

Defensively, the roster is looking solid, but there is some room for improvement on offense, particularly in terms of depth. The offensive line is strong, but it could be further upgraded by bringing in another tackle and shifting Mike Remmers to right guard. A third running back to reinforce Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray – preferably a player who could contribute to the passing game – would give the offense more variety and depth (assuming Jerick McKinnon ends up taking a bigger paycheck to play elsewhere, which would be his right but I think would actually be the wrong move for his career as he’d definitely have a nice spot as the change of pace guy this season and has shown that more touches don’t translate to better output when he’s been labeled “The Guy” in the past).

Adding another high-quality wide receiver behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen would also strengthen the roster while giving the Vikings probably the best passing range in the NFL, now that it’s safe to say that Laquon Treadwell was a wasted pick. I had high hopes for Michael Floyd but that’s clearly not going to be the answer, either, so hopefully, the Vikings can find someone in free agency or later in the draft that could come in as a slot guy or burner for a quarterback like Kirk Cousins to throw to. Beyond receivers, we can expect some reinforcement of the tight-end position, as well. Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan are solid, but a quick, athletic third option could be the final piece of the offensive jigsaw and give the Vikings an extra edge in possession.

There is no doubt that the NFL schedule for next season has not done the Vikings any favors at all, but as they showed at times last year, this is a resilient group. If they can sort out the quarterback situation and add some depth to the offense, they can rise to the challenge and improve on their 2017-18 performance.