Like children on Christmas morning, fans everywhere are taking their time dissecting the Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 schedule, presuming there may be some sense of normalcy by the time we hit fall. After the 16-game slate was released on Thursday night, there will be several games that have a case for the most interesting on the schedule.
The Vikings will look to build momentum with an opening game at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Green Bay Packers. A Sunday night trip to Seattle and a Monday night game in Chicago could draw plenty of deja vu and negative narratives from the national media. But there’s one game that should catch the eye of Vikings fans, and that is a Week 14 trip to Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers figure to be a national media darling thanks to their offseason acquisition of Tom Brady. Adding a six-time Super Bowl champion in free agency is enough to put any team on the map, but it’s especially true in this case. Much like the Vikings when they flew to Hattiesburg to lure 40-year-old Brett Favre out of retirement, Tampa Bay is going full 2009 Vikings by landing Brady as their signal-caller.
Tampa Bay is similar to that Vikings team, which before Favre was relying on a young quarterback to take them to the next level, but ultimately failed in the process. While the Buccaneers have the added pain of whiffing on a No. 1 overall pick in Jameis Winston, they are loading up hoping to get over the top and get to the Super Bowl.
That backstory is enough to make every Bucs game must-see television, but for the Vikings, they could be in a similar situation. The Week 14 matchup is a time where every team attempts to make a playoff push, and even if Brady isn’t done and has the Bucs in contention, a win could be what both teams need to either secure home-field advantage or to become the seventh team in the revamped NFL playoff format.
By the time the Vikings head to Tampa Bay, we should have a good idea on what this Vikings team is going to be. In the early stages, the Vikings’ roster is a giant question mark as they rely on an NFL-record 15 draft picks to help patch the holes that were created in free agency. Should the Vikings get off to a strong start against three-quarters of the AFC South and survive early-season matchups at Indianapolis and Seattle, they should have some cushion for a playoff spot.
The biggest questions with the Vikings should be answered by Week 14, and Minnesota’s rookie cornerbacks in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler (along with potential rookie Harrison Hand) should be battle-tested. They’ll need that experience against a team that still ranked first in passing yards (4,845) despite seeing Winston chuck 30 interceptions.
Matchups with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were going to be rough no matter who the Vikings threw out at corner, but the Bucs also pulled Rob Gronkowski away from a potential WWE career to pair with O.J. Howard. The Buccaneers still might not have much of a running game, but with so many weapons and an offensive line that was solidified with Tristan Wirfs, it may not matter.
Which also brings the other side of the equation: This could be a total clunker.
The Vikings are relying on a young team and with 15 rookies looking to learn the playbook, they won’t be able to hit the field unless they’re strapping on an Oculus. With a steep learning curve even if training camp starts on time, it’s possible the Vikings could be well out of contention by the time they board the plane to Tampa, where they could also have their dreams dashed.
As mentioned, Brady is 42 years old. His yards per attempt in 2019 was 6.6, which was his lowest total since 2002 (6.3 YPA). Perhaps that was a case of the Patriots trying to hide Brady, but there will be no such issue with Bruce Arians, who let Winston throw it up 630 times last season. Brady should improve with better weapons, but there’s also a chance that this is the 2010 Vikings more than the 2009 Vikings.
Mix in the fact that one of his top targets (Gronk) sat out an entire year to rest his ailing back and this Buccaneers season could be so disappointing they’ll break out the creamsicle jerseys for old time sake.
So what will happen? Will the Vikings and Bucs be contenders in a loaded NFC playoff picture? Or will they both fall flat on their face? Plus, if fans are allowed by that point of the season, will the same fan base that flooded Dignity Health Sports Park last December head on the first plane to Tampa to occupy Raymond James Stadium?
This is a game that deserves attention months before it’s played, and it could result in one of the more interesting matchups of 2020.