Vikings Have History on Their Side for Week 1 at Bengals

Harrison Smith
Dec 17, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Harrison Smith (22) in the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings travel to Cincinnati for a date with the Bengals in Week 1 of the 2021 season, the team’s first Week 1 road game in five years. The last time Minnesota began the season on the road, the Vikings toppled the Tennessee Titans 25-16 led by Shaun Hill at quarterback. The first half of that contest was underwhelming, but a Mike Zimmer-led defense stormed back in the second half.

The Bengals are no slouch. Although the team’s defensive line was pretty lousy in 2020, Cincinnati has upstart aspirations on the arm of Joe Burrow and hands of Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and rookie Ja’Marr Chase.

And Week 1 history is kind to the Vikings. While the 2015 opening game was particularly stinky — it was the inept effort at the San Francisco 49ers — and 2020 at home versus Green Bay stunk, Minnesota is among the NFL’s best to open the season. In fact, since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Vikings own the exact same record as the Packers:

Vikings fans routinely rely on cynicism as a coping tool — the team has never won a Super Bowl despite dozens of playoff appearances — but generally speaking, Week 1 is not a fair place to direct that ire.

U.S. Bank Stadium erected its big doors in 2016, and since then, Minnesota is 4-1 in home openers. Week 1 is typically not a struggle fest for Zimmer’s Vikings.

What’s more, this brand of Vikings under Zimmer performs well against AFC teams. In the seven seasonsĀ beforeĀ Zimmer took over, Minnesota showcased a 12-16 (.429) record versus teams from the AFC — which was 20th-best in the league in the timeframe. With Zimmer forward, the organization markedly improved:

The Vikings skipper basically flipped the record around, a sight for sore eyes among those following the team pre-Zimmer.

Then, Minnesota isn’t half-bad in Week 1 road games either. Few teams are consistently successful on the road (above .500 anyway), but the Vikings keep their heads above water (in terms of NFL ranking) in Week 1 road games:

It’s a kneejerk reaction to assert “12-14 stinks.” While that is true from a jaded standpoint, a 46.2% win percentage on the road to start the season isn’t awful. The percentage is decent — better than 20 other NFL teams throughout history.

Only one notable omen stands in the way of the Vikings for the September 12th game at Cincinnati. Minnesota has not won at the Bengals in 29 years.

In that contest, the Vikings thrashed the Bengals 42-7 behind four touchdown passes from Rich Gannon at Riverfront Stadium. From 1992 on, the Vikings have lost three consecutive games at Cincinnati — 1995, 2005, and 2013. The last time Minnesota won a game at Cincinnati, Brad Johnson and Ed McDaniel were rookies.

There are storylines to follow, too, during Week 1. It will be the first time that Mike Zimmer has coached against the Bengals in Ohio. Riley Reiff — who departed to the Bengals in free agency — will get a crack at his former team. Vice versa for Mackensie Alexander — he spent 2020 with the Bengals, returning to the Vikings this spring.

Finally, although names were not involved in the trade — it was draft picks only — the Vikings and Bengals essentially swapped Dalvin Cook for Joe Mixon inside of the 2017 NFL Draft. General Manager Rick Spielman moved up seven spots in the 2nd Round of the draft, nabbing Cook for the Vikings. With the 48th overall pick (originally held by Minnesota), the Bengals chose Mixon and then Josh Malone, a 4th-Round sweetener in the deal. Malone currently plays for the New York Jets.

The Vikings are favored by three points to win the matchup by most sportsbooks.