There isn't a lot of actual drama that surrounds the release of the annual team-by-team NFL schedule. After all, prior to Thursday night's schedule release, we already knew who the Vikings were going to play. The only question is when would they play their scheduled opponents and how often would they be in prime time?
Last year, coming off a brutal 3-13 season, the NFL deemed the Vikings not ready for prime time. Their only prime time game was a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay – a game carried by the NFL Network as part of the league's pledge to give every team at least one prime time-game when they would be the only game airing at the time. This time around things are considerably different.
The Vikings will play three games in prime time – all coming in a four-week span. In Week 7 (Oct. 21), the Vikings will play at the New York Giants on Monday night. The following week (Oct. 27), the Vikings will host the Packers on Sunday night and in Week 10 (Nov. 7), the Vikings will host the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night Football.
One of the aspects of last year's schedule that appeared to be an advantage for the Vikings was that, based on records from the previous season, the easiest part of the Vikings schedule came early. In their first eight games, four of them were against teams that had lost 11 or more games the previous year. This time around, the Vikings play just four games all season against teams that lost double-digit games last season (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit twice). There isn't what would be termed an "easy" portion of the schedule.
Coming off the bye week last year, the Vikings faced a Murderer's Row of opponents in the final five games, which many thought would be the death knell of their playoff run, as they met the Bears and Packers twice each, as well as the Houston Texans in the final six games. This year, the elite teams just keep on coming.
Ten of the Vikings' final 13 games are against teams that had records of .500 or better, including seven games against teams that won 10 or more games in 2012. In a nine-week stretch from late October to late December, the Vikings will play six teams that made the playoffs, including four in a five-week span from October 27 to Nov. 24 (Washington, Seattle and Green Bay twice).
One of the other elements that will come into play for the Vikings is their lack of home games early on in the season. From the start of the season Sept. 8 until Week 6 Oct. 12, the Vikings will play just once at the Metrodome. The team will open on the road at division rivals Detroit and Chicago before technically being given three straight home games against Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Carolina following the bye week.
However, as fans know by now, the home game with the Steelers will be played at Wembley Stadium in London, a neutral site that the Vikings will have counted as a home game on their schedule. As a result, not only do they lose the Metrodome advantage for a game, but their bye week will come on the heels of the trip to London – a portion of which will be used simply to get over the jet lag of playing a game overseas. After that, it will be marathon to the finish, as the Vikings will play the final 12 games after their bye week, while most of the league has the other byes weeks landing later in the season.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, in the Vikings' 2013 season is the expectation of the quarterbacks they're going to face. Last year, the Vikings were slated to play a slew of young and, at the time, unproven quarterbacks – rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson and first-year starters Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. In 2013, just the opposite is true.
In a quarterback-driven league, the Vikings are going to face some of the game's elite QBs, including a ton of Pro Bowl quarterbacks – Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford twice each, as well as Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RG3, Wilson, Joe Flacco, Michael Vick and Andy Dalton. Of their 16 opposing quarterbacks, 12 games will be played against quarterbacks that have been named to at least one Pro Bowl (three of those four non-Pro Bowl games coming against Stafford and Flacco) – giving the Vikings as difficult a schedule in terms of defensive game planning as any in the league.
In contrast to last year's schedule, which was hailed for its favorable nature given the teams they played and when they played them, if the Vikings are going to repeat as a playoff team they're clearly going to have to earn it. The way the 2013 schedule lays out, nothing is going to come easy for the Vikings this season.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.