The Vikings should start strong
By: Grant Schwieger
Mike Zimmer has alternated playoffs and non-playoffs seasons ever since becoming the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He has led his team to the playoffs in every odd-numbered year in 2015, 2017, and 2019 with each team having a different starting QB.
If that trend is to continue, that means the Vikings will find themselves in the playoffs come this January, though likely again with Kirk Cousins. The team surely has expectations for that to be the case, and with there being an extra playoff team in each conference similar to last year, they have a higher chance of reaching that goal. 2021 is the first NFL season with 17 regular-season games. One would think a record of 10-7, or better, would be enough to secure a spot in the postseason. Will Minnesota reach that benchmark? The start of their schedule looks to be much more favorable than the middle/end, so they will need to get off to a hot start. Let’s take a look at predictions for each game until the bye week in Week 7.
Week 1: @ Cincinnati Bengals. Prediction: W
There will be plenty of storylines heading into the Week 1 Vikings-Bengals matchup. Justin Jefferson against his college QB Joe Burrow, Burrow’s first game back from a knee injury that ended his rookie season, and Mike Zimmer coaching in Cincinnati for the first time since leaving the Bengals to become Minnesota’s head coach. The Vikings should have the advantage even on the road, and they enter as 3-point favorites. As woeful as the Vikings offensive line has been in years past, the Bengals may have had it even worse. Expect the Minnesota defensive line to feast, and the Bengals defense to be unable to get enough stops to give them a chance to win. The Vikings start the year off with a road W.
Week 2: @ Arizona Cardinals. Prediction: W
Minnesota starts its season off with back-to-back road games, with the second of the two being a tougher test. Arizona has good weapons on offense and a defense that should be improved from last year after the addition of JJ Watt. This will also be a revenge game of sorts for Patrick Peterson after he spent 2011-2020 in Arizona. Zimmer’s revamped defense will not be able to completely slow down Kyler Murray and company, but they should be able to do enough to give Minnesota’s offense a chance to pull it out. The Vikings’ schedule starts with some very vulnerable defenses, so look for Minnesota’s offensive weapons to start the year on a high note.
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks. Prediction: L
Russell Wilson has never lost to the Minnesota Vikings. He has often had the benefit of playing at home, though, and the Seahawks finally visit Minnesota for the first time since Blair Walsh went wide-left in the 2015 NFC playoffs. Will the Vikings finally playing Wilson at home give them the advantage they need to overtake him? Probably not. He has some elite weapons, and the Vikings can never seem to quite bottle him up. It might come down to how much Minnesota’s offense can keep up. A win against Seattle would be huge, but do not count on it. Minnesota should be happy to be 2-1 through 3 weeks, though.
Week 4: Cleveland Browns. Prediction: L
Week 4 brings another week full of storylines. The main one being former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski returning to coach against Minnesota, fresh off the AP NFL Coach of the Year award in his first season as a head coach. Many people in Minnesota wish the Vikings had moved forward with Stefanski as their head coach after 2019. There are also debates over whether Baker Mayfield or Kirk Cousins is the better QB, and this game might give us a look into the answer to that question. While the QBs may be similar, the Browns boast a substantially better offensive line and a stronger secondary as well. These differences will prove to be the deciding factor as the Vikings fall to 2-2.
Week 5: Detroit Lions. Prediction: W
When the Minnesota Vikings need a bounce-back game, there is nothing better than a home game against the Lions. Kirk Cousins has yet to lose a game against Detroit while with Minnesota, and the last time we saw these teams square off we saw Cousins hitting the griddy in the endzone. The Lions do have a new head coach in Dan Campbell, so they could be much improved over their previous teams. Their roster does look like they are in for a long rebuild, however. Anyone reading this could likely start at receiver for the Lions this year. Detroit just has too many weaknesses to be able to beat Minnesota on the road. The Vikings get back on track with their first home win of the season.
Week 6: @ Carolina Panthers. Prediction: W
Minnesota goes back on the road in Week 6 to take on Sam Darnold and the Panthers. The Jets somehow managed to trick Carolina into trading second, fourth, and sixth-round picks for Darnold this offseason after he struggled mightily for three seasons in New York. Not only did Carolina make that trade, but it also made them pass on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft. The Panthers have impressive skill players on offense in DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr, and Christian McCaffrey, but not much else to scare Minnesota. They paid former Viking Pat Elflein a good chunk of money immediately in free agency this offseason. Minnesota should put up a lot of points on a young Panthers team and head into their bye week at 4-2.