Vikings Schedule Looks Favorable with a Good Time to Face Packers in Exciting Opener at Home

Sep 12, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Za'Darius Smith (55) looks on the field during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View 

I’ve always enjoyed the NFL schedule release, despite the annoying recent move by the NFL and the TV networks to leak a few key games before the full unveiling. When a team’s complete schedule comes out, it makes the season ahead more real for players, coaches, team execs, and fans.

I also subscribe to the Bud Grant theory on schedules as he said, “It’s not who you play but when you play them.” Bud referred to the ebb and flow of team fortunes during a season, with injuries and weather often playing a significant role. His statement also is apropos in the modern-day NFL when there will be five or six (or more) new playoff teams each year compared to the previous season, so teams we think will be good or bad based on past performance may look different come game week.  

The Vikings—in Coach Kevin O’Connell’s debut season—hope they are one of those new playoff teams in 2022. I think they received a favorable schedule as they try to improve on last year’s 8-9 finish that led to the coaching and front office overhaul.

Kevin O'Connell
Kevin O’Connell

The season opener at home against the Packers on Sunday, September 11 at 3:25 pm (in a national doubleheader game) is helpful to the Purple for several reasons. Let’s first remember the last time Green Bay opened at U.S. Bank Stadium — in 2020 with the pandemic raging and no fans in the stands.

Aaron Rodgers feasted on no crowd noise and a rookie-filled Vikings secondary as he threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-34 win. But two of those TD passes went to Davante Adams and one to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Both have now left Green Bay. 

So Rodgers will be working with a lesser receiver corps that includes second-round pick Christian Watson (who Green Bay famously chose after trading up with the Vikings). But Watson will just be getting his feet wet as an NFL newbie. That’s good news for the Vikings secondary that may include No. 1 pick Lewis Cine at safety and No. 2 pick Andrew Booth Jr. at cornerback. 

The other good news for the Vikings defense in this opener is their top pass rushers–Danielle Hunter and ex-Packer Za’Darius Smith (who should be extra motivated against his former team)—should be healthy and raring to go in the opener. And it helps the home team’s pass rushers get off the ball quicker when there are full-throated fans in-house. 

Vikings Praised for Stealthy Signing
Za’Darius Smith

Also to the Vikings advantage will be that the Packers’ two first-round picks — linebacker Quay Walker and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt — playing their first NFL regular season game. By the time the two teams meet again on New Year’s Day in Lambeau Field, the Packers top three picks should be more impactful.

Not to say it will be easy to beat the three-time defending NFC North champs, which certainly won’t be the case. But better to play Green Bay in an opener on the road for them. It worked well for the Saints last season when they crushed the Packers 38-3 in a game relocated to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida.

The Vikings definitely need a better start than 0-2 that haunted them all last season after they lost heartbreakers in Cincinnati and Arizona. This year’s Week 2 at Philadelphia on Monday Night Football also will be tough as the Eagles, coming off a wild card playoff spot, will test the Minnesota pass defense with game-breaking receivers A.J.  Brown and DeVonta Smith. 

If the Vikings can at least split these first two games, they have a reasonable chance to start 4-1 as Detroit at home, New Orleans (in London), and Chicago in Minneapolis are up next. Facing the Saints at a neutral site and not having to play in the raucous Superdome is a big help since this is technically a New Orleans home game, which also sets up a favorable schedule in terms of Minnesota having nine home games, seven true road games and one at a neutral site. Mike Zimmer wishes that was the case last year when his team had eight at home and nine on the road.

I like that the Vikings schedule alternates home and away for the first eight games. The Week 7 bye is a little early, but it’s acceptable since it falls after three preseason and six regular season games have been played, so the players will be ready for a break.

Weeks 10-12 look extra difficult when the Vikings face a strong Bills team in Buffalo and then battle the Cowboys in a Sunday late afternoon home game before hosting a Thanksgiving game (for the first time in team history) against the Patriots in prime time. I personally loved when our teams played on Thanksgiving in Detroit or Dallas since it gave us a rare weekend off during the season, and it’s an edge to be the home team on a Thursday night and not have to travel on a short week.   

Minnesota has a nice stretch from Weeks 11-16 when they play five of six games at home, including very winnable games — we assume as of now — against the Jets and Giants. This could allow them to position themselves well for a playoff spot going into two cold road games to close the season—at division rivals Green Bay and Chicago. Hopefully for the Vikings sake, they’ll make a better showing than last year’s 37-10 fiasco against the Packers in Week 17 at Lambeau, which eliminated them from the playoff race, and we’ll never forget that as the game unvaccinated Kirk Cousins was absent due to Covid.

Overall, I’d say O’Connell and the Vikings should be very happy with their 2022 schedule as it appears in mid-May. But again, as Bud Grant said, things (re: weather) and opponents can and probably will look different when the games actually take place.

Around the NFL Schedule Observations:

It’s an exciting Thursday night opener on September 8 when the defending Super Bowl champion Rams host the Bills. Ex-Ram Von Miller is now in Buffalo to chase Matthew Stafford while Bills QB Josh Allen tries to keep Aaron Donald from tormenting him. 

The Monday Night opener should be fun with Russell Wilson returning to Seattle with the Broncos to face his former team. Tom Brady and the Bucs travel to Dallas for a good Sunday Night opener. Tampa Bay also has a difficult two-week stretch in Weeks 3 and 4 when they host Green Bay and Kansas City.

And for your pre-planning, this season’s Super Bowl Sunday will be February 12 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals hope to be the third straight team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium after the Bucs and Rams did so the past two years. 

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl 

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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