Matthew Coller: Ranking the Vikings' schedule by entertainment value, difficulty

Happy schedule release day, everyone. The Minnesota Vikings’ slate for 2024 was announced on Wednesday so let’s dive into how the schedule is going to play out and the most interesting and challenging games along the way….

Week 1 — AT Giants

Entertainment value rank: 15

Difficulty rank: 16

As far as openers go, this one is a snoozer. If you were to make a list of the least compelling teams in the NFL, the Giants would probably be at the top. They are quarterbacked by a player they seemingly tried to replace in the draft and severely lack in star talent with Saquon Barkley playing in Philly now.

The only intrigue lies in top receiver Malik Nabers’ debut and the anxiety that will come from Vikings fans when their team starts the season against a team that everyone will expect them to beat. Week 1 feels like the worst time to play a bad team because there are always strange results in the opener.

Week 2 — Vs. 49ers

Entertainment value rank: 3

Difficulty rank: 2

The best moment of the Vikings’ 2023 season was beating the 49ers at US Bank Stadium — a game in which Jordan Addison introduced himself to the world with two touchdowns and 123 yards. Certainly the 49ers haven’t forgotten that loss.

With all the talent and recent success the 49ers have had, they make for a tremendous barometer for a Vikings team that we aren’t going to be sure about until a few weeks into the season. Last year we began to see Brian Flores’ defense come together in that game against so many offensive weapons — will it be even better this time around or still need time to galvanize because of the new players? Can the offensive line hold up for QB1?

The recent history between these two teams could be described as knock-down-drag-out so this one that everyone should be circling on the calendar.

Week 3 — Vs. Texans

Entertainment value rank: 12

Difficulty rank: 4

The Vikings and Texans have so many revenge game narratives that it’s hard to keep them all straight. Quick rundown:

— The last time Stefon Diggs faced his former team was in Buffalo 2022 and despite being shown up by Justin Jefferson he still caught 12 passes for 128 yards. You can bet he will want to repeat that part of playing his former team.

— The Vikings consistently kicked the can down the road with Danielle Hunter rather than going all in with a long-term deal. The Texans kept his contract relatively short but nearly fully guaranteed the money. Maybe he will do a money sign like Rudy Gobert if he gets a sack, just for a different reason.

— Likewise the Texans elected to let Jonathan Greenard and Blake Cashman walk after they had terrific 2023 seasons.

— The Texans cut Vikings corner Shaq Griffin during the 2023 season.

— The No. 23 overall pick that the Texans traded with the Vikings ultimately turned into Diggs for the Texans and Dallas Turner for the Vikings.

Good times. Oh, by the way, Houston is probably the most offseason hyped team in the NFL. With CJ Stroud exploding on the scene last season, DeMeco Ryans’ group is expected to be a legit Super Bowl contender. Coming off the game against San Francisco, this isn’t an easy draw.

Week 4 — AT Packers

Entertainment value rank: 6

Difficulty rank: 3

Just when you thought all those years of traveling to Lambeau wondering what magic Aaron Rodgers was going to pull out of his hat were over, now the Vikings head to the land of cheese and quarterbacks to see another magician in Jordan Love. Certainly everyone in Minnesota, including the team/coaches/front office is hoping that Love’s second half of 2023 was a small sample size fluke but his overall numbers and highlight reel point more toward the direction of a laser show in Titletown every year.

How will the Vikings slow down Matt LaFleur’s offense? Did they learn something from last year’s shellacking at US Bank Stadium at the hands of Love last year?

Oh, by the way, Aaron Jones’ return to Lambeau should add a layer of tension to this one.

The only downside is that the Vikings are going to Lambeau in the fall rather than winter. Well, actually that’s a downside for football lore more than the Vikings. They usually play much better in Green Bay when it isn’t zero degrees.

matthew coller: ranking the vikings' schedule by entertainment value, difficulty

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs (87) drops a pass against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (5) during their football game Sunday, December 31, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week 5 — Vs. Jets (London)

Entertainment value rank: 9

Difficulty rank: 10

Does Aaron Rodgers believe that England exists? We are going to find out.

OK the real question might be if Rodgers is healthy by Week 5 and how much of the old Rodgers that tortured the Vikings for nearly two decades is still there. The Jets still have a monster defense and playmakers that could prove quite difficult for the Vikings to slow down if Rodgers can get them the ball. The Jets might be one of the hardest teams to project in the entire league. You could see it coming together being a force or petering out quickly.

With Mike Zimmer now coaching in Dallas, this game doesn’t have an obvious narrative but Sauce Gardner vs. Justin Jefferson Round 2 is a battle worth paying for. Just try to ignore the “should there be an NFL team in England?” questions that Vikings players will have to answer repeatedly.

WEEK 6 — BYE

Week 7 — Vs. Lions

Entertainment value rank: 5

Difficulty rank: 5

Getting the bye week before playing a tough divisional foe is a bonus, especially when it comes to going against a team that was a dropped pass from the Super Bowl last year.

Every time the Lions come to US Bank Stadium something wacky happens. Goff’s three appearances in Minnesota since joining Detroit have been separated by a grand total of 12 points. Last year Nick Mullens was one wide open throw to Justin Jefferson away from upsetting Detroit. In 2022 the Vikings pulled off a last-second victory after Dan Campbell mismanaged a late-game situation. In 2021 the Vikings nearly blew the game but Kirk Cousins led a final drive that was capped off by a long field goal and Cousins angrily shaking Mike Zimmer.

Even going back to the Stafford days there was the 10-sack game, Dalvin Cook’s ACL tear, the Matt Prater moon kick in the final moments and Golden Tate overtime touchdown. Something about these two teams just screams madness.

By the way, if JJ McCarthy hasn’t been playing up until this point, is this where he could get his first start?

Week 8 — AT Rams

Entertainment value rank: 10

Difficulty rank: 8

The storyline is pretty clear for this one: Kevin O’Connell versus Sean McVay. You will be reminded ad nauseum throughout that week that KOC was the Rams’ offensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl in 2021. You can guess that the vibes will be all about the love between them and Matthew Stafford. Hopefully everyone has fun out there and they can go get ice cream together after the game.

The other angle on this one is how many Vikings fans travel to Los Angeles this time. Most West Coast road games in recent years have resulted in a total takeover of the opposing team’s stadium. Has the novelty of LA and Vegas worn off or will it look like a Prince concert at SoFi?

As far as the degree of difficulty goes, the Rams’ passing game could be tough for the Vikings to slow down. If their defense improves from 19th last year, LA could compete for the West.

Week 9 — Vs. Colts

Entertainment value rank: 13

Difficulty rank: 13

After two weeks of meaningful NFC matchups, the Vikings return home to face off with one of the under-the-radar rising teams in the league. The Colts nearly made the playoffs last year with Gardner Minshew and a band of misfits but they are presumably going to have their super athlete quarterback Anthony Richardson at the helm. After looking like he belonged in limited duty, Richardson has the potential to take a big step forward and be a problem for the Vikings defense.

Week 10 — AT Jaguars

Entertainment value rank: 14

Difficulty rank: 12

This is one of those matchups that you forget about happening as soon as the game is over. That is, unless the Jags end up being a great team. Last year they were disappointing in a season where they were supposed to take the next big step toward becoming an AFC powerhouse. Will that rise to the top come a year later? If it doesn’t, then the most compelling thing about facing Jacksonville will be if they can block or catch for Trevor Lawrence.

Week 11 — AT Tennessee

Entertainment value rank: 16

Difficulty rank: 17

Can we somehow make this a Will Levis revenge game? The Vikings had a chance to pick Levis and make him their franchise QB but they passed in favor of picking Jordan Addison and waiting until 2024 to draft JJ McCarthy. Yes, that does seem like a stretch, doesn’t it? There just isn’t much else to write home about here. The Titans are a rebuilding team that added some receiving talent to help Levis and they have a new coach who will lean into the passing game more particularly will Derrick Henry gone but this is a game that the Vikings will be expected to win if they are going to have a competitive season. A survive-and-advance type contest.

What a run of guaranteed noon kickoff games, by the way.

Week 12 — AT Bears

Entertainment value rank: 7

Difficulty rank: 6

Whenever the Vikings and Bears play each other in the coming years they will be connected by the quarterbacks but at Soldier Field the main determining factor might end up being the defensive minds going to battle.

Over the last five years the Vikings have only produced 90 total points on the road against the Bears and last season’s matchups with Matt Eberflus’s revamped group were both miserable for Kevin O’Connell’s offense. On the other side, Brian Flores caused havoc for young quarterbacks in 2023 with his robust pressure package. How will that impact Caleb Williams? Last year in college Williams struggled when opponents brought the heat so you can bet Flores won’t be backing off the gas.

Side note: Having the toughest game at the end of a three-game road stretch was not exactly a favor from the schedule makers.

Week 13 — Vs. Cardinals

Entertainment value rank: 17

Difficulty rank: 15

Right now this game looks like another one that you can miss and watch the highlights on local news later on but it’s possible the entertainment rank on Week 13 could end up being unfair. The Cardinals did add top wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and Kyler Murray will be a full season removed from tearing his ACL. There were times last year where the Cards were more spunky than expected despite starting Josh Dobbs to begin the year and then giving Murray very little in the way of help.

Only if the Cardinals really surprise us will this game draw attention. If they turn out to be as bad as most believe (BetMGM has them at over/under 6.5) then it will be an opportunity to get on a run during this stretch of winnable games.

Week 14 — Vs. Falcons

Entertainment value rank: 2

Difficulty rank: 9

Oh revenge game narratives here we come. Of course I’m referring to the Vikings versus the quarterback they really wanted to draft Michael Penix Jr. Who did you think I meant?

Kidding, kidding.

Yep, it’s Kirk Cousins versus the Vikings. What if it’s also the Falcons and Vikings chasing a playoff spot?

The only downside is that the Vikings heaped praise on Cousins so much last year and this offseason that there isn’t the same type of sting had it been an ugly breakup.

Week 15 — Vs. Bears (MNF)

Entertainment value rank: 1

Difficulty rank: 11

Get your popcorn ready. Will this be Caleb Williams vs. JJ McCarthy? The No. 1 overall pick coming to US Bank Stadium for the first time on its own makes this a fascinating game but if McCarthy is playing then the story writes itself. These two quarterbacks could be on the marquee against each other for many years to come. Williams is the chosen one, McCarthy is the national champion. The build up could be as big as we have seen for a Vikings-Bears matchup since 2018, especially with the game getting national TV treatment.

Unless the Bears are a monster at this point in the season, it still could very well be looked at as a game the Vikings should win. The Vikings’ home stadium, when at its best, has a tendency to eat up inexperienced quarterbacks and Chicago isn’t yet a complete team.

Week 16 — AT Seahawks

Entertainment value rank: 11

Difficulty rank: 13

The Vikings broke the tradition of playing on the road against the Seahawks the last few years so it’s time for them to head back to one of the loudest environments in the NFL. How that impacts [insert Vikings QB here] will be interesting to watch but this one is a little short on juice from some of the other games on the Vikings’ slate.

The Seahawks have slumped into just-another-team territory with Geno Smith at the helm. Are they going to be any stronger than a .500 style club?

Week 17 — Vs. Packers

Entertainment value rank: 4

Difficulty rank: 7

Who knows where the Vikings will stand at this point but if they are in the mix for a playoff spot or in the running for the top of the NFC North, this game could end up ranking extremely high on the excitement scale. If things have not gone as well throughout the year, there still could be value in trying to knock Green Bay off their spot in the postseason running.

Week 18 — AT Lions

Entertainment value rank: 8

Difficulty rank: 1

After years of the Vikings claiming an ownership stake in Ford Field, it has suddenly become a house of horrors for the purple. In 2021 the Vikings fell in Detroit to a team that was 0-10-1 on a last-second touchdown by Viking killer Amon-Ra St. Brown. In 2022 Ed Donatell’s defense got run out of the building to the tune of 34 points and then last year’s 30-20 loss was the final whimper of a lost season.

It’s not just the Vikings that have been taken to task by Detroit’s offense. The Lions ranked third in net yards per pass attempt and fifth in rushing yards per attempt in 2023 and produced points on 40% of their drives. Had offensive coordinator Ben Johnson left for a head coaching job there might have been some skepticism about sustaining the success but he turned down offers to chase a Super Bowl in Detroit so the Vikings can expect to have their hands full.

The Lions weakness against the Vikings has been their defense but this offseason they made several big additions on defense with defensive tackle DJ Reader and cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Amik Robertson and Terrion Arnold. If Detroit’s defense is even average, they will be the toughest opponent the Vikings face all year.

Should the Vikings be in the hunt, they will likely need to prove themselves worth a postseason berth against the mighty Lions. This could be the most compelling Vikings-Lions matchup in a long time.

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