Vikings Need a Quick Start in 2024 with Challenging First 7 Games

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When the 2024 Vikings schedule was released last week, I first thought of  Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant’s annual statement on schedules: “It’s not who you play but when you play them.” In other words, are your team and the opponent healthy and on a roll when you face them, or is that not the case? And what will the weather be like if the game is played in an outdoor stadium?

Vikings Need a Quick Start in 2024 with Challenging First 7 Games

As an NFL front-office exec, I got very excited when our upcoming schedule came out. It was the biggest signal to me that the new season was fast approaching. Yes, the bulk of free agency and the draft had concluded by mid-May, and OTAs were beginning with the June minicamp only a couple of weeks away, but the schedule release was a big day in the offseason.

When I got the call from the league office with our schedule, I quickly looked at the spacing of home and away games (preferring never to have three in a row on the road) and checked for possible cold-weather games.

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The bye week is also of great interest, with the preference being around Week 8 or 9 at the mid-point in the regular season. Primetime games are a mixed bag—team execs like to see their team in the spotlight but realize it causes disruption in the weekly schedule.

Here are my thoughts on the 2024 Vikings schedule:

1. Need to get out of the gate fast: the opener is on the road (never easy) at the Giants, who will have Daniel Jones back after his ACL injury. He’ll have perhaps the best wide receiver he’s thrown to in his Giants career with the addition of explosive first-rounder Malik Nabers.

Saquon Barkley has defected to the Eagles, but the Giants—despite their 6-11 disappointment last season– have plenty of talent to compete for a playoff spot with Jones back and several top players on defense (including nose tackle Dexter Lawrence who gave the Vikings O-line a hard time in the 2022 playoff loss and elite edge rusher Brian Burns who was recently acquired via trade from Carolina) So this is not an easy opener.

    Then it gets really rough with three playoff teams up next—San Francisco and Houston at U.S. Bank Stadium and Green Bay before facing Aaron Rodgers and the Jets in Week 5 in London (where the Vikings have never lost).

    The bye comes next (too early in Week 6) before the Vikings host the defending division champion Lions on October 20. That tough first seven-game stretch ends with a Thursday night game at the Rams (and it’s tough to travel to the West Coast in a short week).

    2. I never wanted our teams to play three in a row on the road, but after hosting the Colts in Week 9, that’s what the Vikings face with games at Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Chicago. The good news is they follow it up with three seemingly winnable home games against the Cardinals, Falcons, and Bears. The Atlanta game will be an emotional one with the return of Kirk Cousins to Minnesota to face his old team (if he’s healthy in Week 14).

    3. The final three games will be challenging and likely determine the Vikings’ playoff fate. They go to Seattle—never an easy road opponent—before hosting Green Bay and finishing at Detroit. These are the same last two opponents and game sites as last season when the Vikings lost to the Packers and Lions.

    Detroit Lions fans chant “Let’s Go Lions!” as they wait to enter the concourse for the NFC championship game against San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

    4. With only two primetime games (Thursday night at L.A. and Monday night, December 16 vs. the Bears), the league office and the networks apparently aren’t high on the Vikings’ NFC North and overall playoff chances this season despite an influx of talent on defense and the drafting of first-round QB J.J. McCarthy (along with having the NFL’s best receiver in Justin Jefferson).

    After winning the NFC North in 2022, the Vikings had five primetime games last season and went 2-3 in those games as part of their 7-10 finish. Perhaps flying lower under the radar is a good thing since the Vikings won 13 games in Coach Kevin O’Connell’s first season of 2022 when they had only two primetime games.

    5. The Vikings are lucky to only have one potential cold-weather outdoor game—November 24 at Chicago. Their other two late-season road games are at Seattle (where it shouldn’t be too cold, but rain could be an issue) and indoors at Detroit.

    With the schedule now released, I know from my early career experience as Vikings director of team operations (when I coordinated our team travel) that the Vikings’ team operations staff is busy now.

    Vikings Throttle 49ers
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    They have begun to set up team travel plans for the 2024 season, including negotiating with airlines and hotels on the road and the in-town team hotel for the night before home games. Once the teams know their schedules, Team buses, and equipment trucks for road games are also set up, along with extra security and police escorts. In some cases, teams will make arrangements to practice in the road city on the day before a game.

    I coordinated four international games for the Vikings (in London, Tokyo, Berlin, and Gothenburg, Sweden). With the date set for the London game (October 6), I can empathize with the additional challenges involved in playing in a foreign country, including working through cultural barriers as stadium logistics, practice facilities, hotels, and ground transportation are set up.

    Teams travel earlier in the week for international games (compared to usually leaving the day before a game and flying back immediately after in the U.S.). The three-to-five-day stays raise concerns about the players being out and about in a foreign city and having several days of team meetings and practices to coordinate.

    Families and some team sponsors are often allowed to travel with the team on international trips, so we needed larger airplanes, more buses, and hotel rooms and had to set up tours for the families in foreign cities. That may or may not be the case for the Vikings this time around.

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Fortunately for the Vikings’ staff, they played in the same London venue (Tottenham-Hotspur Stadium) in 2022 when they beat the Saints (remember the double-doink missed field goal by Saints’ kicker Wil Lutz as time expired). So, there is familiarity going back to face a familiar foe in Rodgers if he is healthy enough for the game.

    Overall, as they say, the schedule is what it is, and as O’Connell says, the Vikings will focus week-to-week on getting Ws. I can tell you the team execs have already analyzed the schedule and projected wins and losses based on the expected quality of the opponent, the site of the game, and potential weather.

    Around the NFL Schedule Observations:

    1. Last week, I discussed a couple of highlights of the NFL schedule, including the exciting rematch of last year’s AFC title game with Baltimore at Kansas City in the Thursday night opener on September 5; Philadelphia and Green Bay meeting on Friday, September 6 in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the first international game in that country, and San Francisco beginning its NFC title defense by hosting Rodgers and the Jets in the Monday Night opener on September 9.

    That 49ers’ Monday nighter is good news for the Vikings as it forces the 49ers to travel to Minnesota on a short week for the Week 2 Sunday matchup.

    2. Other games to look forward to: Kansas City at San Francisco on Sunday, October 20, in a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl, which the Chiefs won 25-22 in overtime on a Patrick Mahomes TD pass. The Harbaugh brothers—John and Jim—meet on Monday night, November 25, when Baltimore is at the L.A. Chargers.

    3. Regarding other NFC North teams–The Lions host the Sunday night opener on September 9 against the Rams for a repeat of the Jared Goff vs. Matthew Stafford matchup of QBs traded for each other back in 2021 (the Lions beat the Rams 24-23 in last season’s wildcard round) The Lions will face the Bears in the early Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit.

    Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) sits on the bench after throwing a fourth quarter interception against the Detroit Lions during their football game Thursday, September 28, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

    The Packers have four straight potentially tough primetime games in Weeks 13-16—against Miami on Thanksgiving night in cold Green Bay (which can’t thrill the Dolphins), followed by a big game at Detroit the following Thursday, then at Seattle on Sunday night December 15 and home vs. New Orleans on Monday night December 23 That could benefit the Vikings as the Packers will have a short week before coming to Minnesota the following Sunday.

    No. 1 overall pick—QB Caleb Williams—launches his NFL career when the Bears host the Titans in Week 1, and his primetime debut will be the following Sunday night at Houston.

    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