Former Vikings GM Reacts to 2023 MIN Schedule

Week 16 vs
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The schedule’s release is always an exciting day on the NFL calendar. Yes, we knew the opponents and sites of the games after the final regular season game last year, but the upcoming season becomes more real when the dates are released, and the primetime games are revealed.  

But I learned early in my NFL career from Vikings Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant not to assume any game is an easy win or a likely defeat. Bud always said, “It’s not who you play but when you play them.” In other words, the critical factors are how healthy a team is, how well they’re playing, and the weather conditions when you face them.  

Former Vikings GM Reacts to 2023 MIN Schedule

A couple of good examples from last season: when the 2022 schedule came out, everyone assumed playing the Jets and Giants (both 4-13 in 2021) in the second half of the season at U.S. Bank Stadium meant sure victories for the Purple. But the Jets were 7-4 when they came to town and played the Vikings tough in a 27-22 Minnesota win that wasn’t wrapped up until Cam Bynum’s goal-line interception with 16 seconds left. The Giants came in at 8-5-1, and the Vikings needed a team-record 61-yard field goal by Greg Joseph as time expired to beat the G-Men 27-24.  

GM Reacts to 2023
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In reviewing the 2023 schedule released on Thursday, the Vikings have a difficult first seven weeks as they face five 2022 playoff teams, including the two Super Bowl teams. After a September 10  opener at home against the post-Tom Brady Buccaneers (when either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask will be the Bucs QB which is a positive for the Purple), it gets very difficult in Week 2 with short recovery and prep time for a Thursday night game at Philadelphia against the Jalen Hurd-led defending NFC champs.  

Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Chiefs visit Minnesota on October 8 for a Sunday late afternoon doubleheader game. After a trip to Chicago, the NFC West champion 49ers come to town for a Monday night game on October 23.  

Along with the Eagles and 49ers games, the Vikings have three more primetime games — at Denver on Sunday Night Football on November 19 as the Vikings will face new Coach Sean Payton and his reclamation project at quarterback — Russell Wilson. The Vikings host the Bears the following week on Monday Night Football and have a Sunday Night Football date with the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on New Year’s Eve, which should be a wild night for Vikings fans (and the Packer fans who find a way in). 

Packers Media Pounding
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Interestingly, the NFL schedule-makers are higher on the Vikings than the Lions, who have four primetime games. That’s how it should be since the Vikings won 13 games last season and are the defending NFC North champs, regardless of the hype the Lions are receiving from prognosticators heading into the 2023 season. Yes, Detroit is coming off a strong finish last season, but let’s remember that they were beaten by two touchdowns (37-23) by lowly Carolina in Week 16, a loss that wound up costing them a wild card spot with their 9-8 finish. 

Speaking of Carolina, it will be an emotional game on October 1 in Charlotte for former Vikings Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen who the Vikings released and now will be a key target for No. 1 overall pick and new Panthers QB Bryce Young.  

I don’t like the Vikings and Lions playing twice in the final three weeks of the upcoming season — at Minnesota on Christmas Eve Day and at Detroit in the season finale on a day and time to be determined (perhaps that will be another primetime game for both teams if the division title is on the line). In an 18-week schedule (including bye weeks), two division rivals should have their matchups spread out more than the case this season for the Vikings and Lions. But those are likely to be critical games for both teams.  

Another game with the date to be determined (with the league’s late season flex scheduling) is the Vikings-Bengals Week 15 matchup in Cincinnati. That will be the fourth team among last season’s Final Four that the Vikings will face after the earlier games against Philly, K.C., and the 49ers.  

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws through a gap in overtime of the NFL Week One game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. The Bengals won 27-24 on a last-minute field goal in overtime. Minnesota Vikings At Cincinnati Bengals

It certainly will be a fun season for Vikings fans as they will see so many elite QBs, including Mahomes and Justin Herbert (September 24) at U.S. Bank Stadium and Hurts, Wilson, and Joe Burrow on the road. Throw into the mix the trio of NFC North QBs in Jared Goff, coming off an excellent season in Detroit, an improving Justin Fields, who will have a much better supporting cast in Chicago, and Jordan Love in his first season as Packers starter. And perhaps Marshall, Minnesota native Trey Lance will be the 49ers QB when the teams meet unless the elbow of last year’s rookie sensation Brock Purdy (the Iowa State product) has healed and he wins the starting job.  

Overall, the Vikings have the 18th toughest schedule based on 2022 results, with the middle part of the schedule looking favorable (but again, keep in mind the words of Bud Grant on schedules). And it’s an advantage not to play late-season cold weather games at Green Bay and Chicago, which was the case in the last two weeks of the 2022 season (with the Vikings losing at Lambeau and winning at Soldier Field). The mid-December game in Cincinnati is the only possible cold weather game for the Vikings, along with possibly playing in a snowstorm on the Sunday night game in Denver in mid-November.  

I say if the Vikings can manage to go 5-3 through the challenging first eight games, then they’ll be in good position to repeat as division champs with 11 or 12 wins, but it will be very difficult to claim one of the top two NFC seeds which the Eagles and 49ers are favored to do. However, 25 years ago, our Vikings team was coming off a 9-7 season, and we had our fantastic 15-1 season in 1998, so you never know how it will play out.  

Around the NFL Observations: 

1. I was surprised the league chose Detroit as the season-opening opponent on Thursday night, September 7, in Kansas City against the defending champs. This is a huge game that NFL fans look forward to, and the Lions will be a double-digit underdog heading to K.C. Why would the league not make this game a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl with the Eagles on the Chiefs’ home schedule (instead, they will meet on November 20 on Monday Night Football)?

Kansas City also has home games against AFC top teams Cincinnati and Buffalo that would have been more attractive than the Lions in the opener. I think the league blew it on this decision. 

2. Jordan Love’s debut as Green Bay’s new starter will be in Chicago on September 10. The Monday Night opener is a terrific matchup of Aaron Rodgers in his Jets debut at home against Buffalo (one of five primetime games for the Jets due to Rodgers coming aboard) while the Sunday night opener is another fun rivalry game with the Cowboys at the Giants in an NFC East matchup. There will be a Black Friday game for the first time when the Dolphins visit the Jets on November 24.

And before the Vikings and Packers battle on New Year’s Eve at 7:20 pm, there’s a nice warm-up game that afternoon with Cincinnati at Kansas City (as Burrow again faces Mahomes in a rematch of the last two AFC title games that the teams split).  

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