Vikings

What Should Vikings Fans Hope For In the Upcoming Schedule Release?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 schedule sits on Roger Goodell’s desk on a quiet night at NFL headquarters. In many ways, it’s just a stack of papers and a list of games that will take place in the fall. But that list will plan vacations, occupy Sundays, and dominate the American landscape from September until early January.

If you think the schedule means something to the fans, imagine what it means to the Minnesota Vikings. It’s an 18-week gauntlet where the Vikings will face one of the best divisions in football and a slew of talented quarterbacks. They will do so while trying to develop a signal-caller and achieving the ultimate goal of being super competitive.

In other words, Kevin O’Connell will probably sweat just as much thinking about the schedule as you are planning your trip to Nashville or Jacksonville. Still, what would a dream schedule for the Vikings would look like? And what would be the best path for them to succeed in 2024?

To start thinking about this process, we must consider the current state of the Vikings. Sam Darnold is the current starter, but J.J. McCarthy is behind him as the quarterback of the future. While fans want to see McCarthy as soon as possible, Minnesota is committed to ensuring he’s ready before he takes his first snap.

With this in mind, the best thing that could happen is to have a challenging start to the season. Sure, that means Darnold is facing the most difficult opponents. However, it would also buy time for McCarthy to get through O’Connell’s Miyagi-like benchmarks to become the starting quarterback.

That could mean that the Vikings want that primetime matchup with Kirk Cousins returning to U.S. Bank Stadium early in the season, and maybe Kyle Shanahan and Brock Purdy are looking for revenge for that Monday Night Football loss from last October.

Maybe it means getting some challenging road trips out of the way early; visits to Seattle and Green Bay would be much better in the fall than during the winter. It’s also an excellent time for Minnesota’s trip to London to be out of the way sooner rather than later to prevent McCarthy from preparing for his first start on an eight-hour flight.

If the Vikings get their best opponents out of the way early, it could clear the path for McCarthy to come in and start learning against lesser competition. If Minnesota stumbles immediately, it could also relieve some of the pressure for him to perform at a high level in the crucible of a playoff race.

That sounds like a great idea. However, you could also argue that it should be reversed, especially when it comes to divisional opponents.

Perhaps playing in Green Bay and Chicago early seems like a good idea. However, the Vikings would likely want to face most of their divisional opponents when they are either trying to make up ground or fending them off in the final weeks of the season.

We already know that the Vikings will have one divisional opponent in the final week of the year. Still, a schedule similar to last year could play in their favor. In 2022, Minnesota didn’t play their first divisional game until traveling to Chicago in Week 6. They also only played two divisional opponents in their first 11 games.

The pendulum swung the other way, beginning with a Week 12 game at home against Chicago. The Vikings controlled their destiny with four divisional opponents in the final six games, including two games against the Detroit Lions in the final three weeks.

Such a schedule could also benefit this year’s team. We don’t know who the Vikings are coming out of the gate, and they’ll be missing one of their most important weapons in T.J. Hockenson.

While most reports have been positive about Hockenson’s recovery from a multi-ligament knee injury, the team has been mum about his Week 1 status. If he needs to go on the Physically Unable to Perform list to open the season, the Vikings could allow him to take his time and hit the field when they play some of their most important games down the stretch.

There’s also something about playing games at home late in the season. The Vikings aren’t as much of a dome team as they used to be; they posted a 2-7 record at U.S. Bank Stadium last year. However, a road-heavy schedule to start the season would mean that some of those divisional opponents must come to Minneapolis late in the season.

That didn’t work last year. The banged-up Vikings lost games to the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit at home. However, it could be beneficial in other years when they don’t have to go to frigid Soldier Field and Lambeau Field with their playoff destiny on the line.

So, what would the ultimate Vikings schedule look like? Let’s take a stab at it.

Week 1 vs. the Atlanta Falcons – Cousins’ return to Minnesota is a juicy matchup, and network executives may want this in front of a national audience. However, we don’t know if the Vikings will be competitive this year, so this could be an early game to avoid a flex situation.

Week 2 at Green Bay – If the Vikings were to pick, they’d rather play at Lambeau Field earlier in the season. It would be better to have divisional games later, but they could win this game.

Week 3 vs. the San Francisco 49ers – This would get the reigning NFC Champions out of the way early and give the Vikings a tough home opponent before flying out to London.

Week 4 vs. the Houston Texans (in London) – The official date of the London game is unknown, but the Vikings faced the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 during their last trip in 2022. This also removes another playoff opponent from the schedule.

Week 5 vs. the Arizona Cardinals – When the Vikings traveled to London a few years ago, they opted to play another game at home before their bye week. They may want a bye if that game is later in the schedule. However, the Vikings may want to get one of their weaker home games out of the way.

Week 6 Bye – Is this the week McCarthy prepares to take over?

Week 7 at the Tennessee Titans – One of the most anticipated trips for fans on the Vikings schedule could bring a sea of purple to Nashville if McCarthy makes his first career start.

Week 8 at Detroit – After four “home” games in the first five weeks, the pendulum swings back for a crucial divisional road game.

Week 9 vs. Chicago – Getting the Bears at home would help continue the soft launch for McCarthy as the starter.

Week 10 vs. the New York Jets – Aaron Rodgers returns to U.S. Bank Stadium. Hide your ayahuasca.

Week 11 at the Seattle Seahawks – Heading west to visit the Seahawks in November isn’t ideal, but Seattle could be a worse team than expected.

Week 12 at Los Angeles Rams – O’Connell faces his mentor Sean McVay in what could be a nationally televised game.

Week 13 vs. the Indianapolis Colts – Indianapolis could be good in the second year of the Anthony Richardson era. A pit stop before the Vikings head back on the road.

Week 14 at New York Giants – The Vikings will seek revenge for the Daniel Jones playoff game. But will he be benched by now?

Week 15 vs. Detroit – A string of three divisional opponents in the final four games begins when Dan Campbell goes wild at a Twin Cities Starbucks.

Week 16 at Chicago – Not an ideal matchup with the weather, but the Vikings had to go there at some point.

Week 17 at the Jacksonville Jaguars – Greatly makes up for having to go to Chicago in December.

Week 18 vs. Green Bay – Could the NFC North title be on the line?

The exercise is harder than it looks. However, with a tough start, a lull in the middle, and a division-heavy finish, this schedule could set up the new-look Vikings for success. We still won’t know how they fare for a few months. But as of Wednesday, we’ll know what the path looks like.

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