The National Football League season is finally upon us, and the Minnesota Vikings will be attempting to get what they should have gotten last year, that being a trip to the Super Bowl. The 16-game NFL schedule is always a grind, and this year's Vikings schedule is significantly tougher than the one they went through last year. The reason for that is because this season they match up with teams from both the AFC and NFC East, generally considered the two best divisions in the NFL. As a result, the Vikings will be tested a lot more in 2010 than they were in 2009.
With that, we'll take a look at the five toughest tests that the Vikings will face this season. (All times Central Daylight/Standard Time)
1) Week 1 at New Orleans (Sept. 9, 7 p.m.)
Yes, let the tests begin immediately. This game will be on in prime time for the entire world to see, and will feature the luckiest team in recent memory raising what should be Minnesota's championship banner to the roof. This won't be a test so much based on the quality of the opponent, but on the atmosphere that will be generated by the excitement and hype of opening night and everything else that comes with it. The Vikings will be out to show that they are, indeed, the better team, and the Saints will be attempting to show that the NFC Championship Game wasn't a fluke (even though Viking fans know that it was). Hopefully, when the dust settles, the Vikings will be coming back to Minneapolis with a 1-0 record, prepared to move on to the rest of the season.
2) Week 5 at New York Jets (Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.)
Coming off of their Week 4 bye. . .which I absolutely hate for a veteran team like Minnesota, but that's another discussion. . .the Vikings need to make a trip to
the New Meadowlands the New Giants' Stadium the new place that the Jets play their home games for a Monday night match-up. The Jets had the top-ranked defense in the National Football League in 2009, and have finally gotten cornerback Darrelle Revis into camp after an offseason filled with much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. The weather isn't really going to be a factor or anything like that, given that it's only early October, but the Jets are a chic pick to be one of the AFC's best teams, if not represent the conference in the Super Bowl, so this game should give the Vikings an early barometer of where they stack up against the AFC's elite.
3) Week 16 at Philadelphia (Dec. 26, Noon)
The Vikings, at first glance, have only one game on the schedule where weather could play a significant role, and this is the one. The average high temperature in Philadelphia in December is a bright, balmy 44 degrees, so it promises to be a cold, soggy day in the City of Brotherly Love for this one. The Eagles finally got rid of the "burden" (he said sarcastically) that was Donovan McNabb in the offseason, and have turned the team over to Kevin Kolb at the quarterback spot. While that may appear, on paper, to be a downgrade, the Eagles have a lot of confidence in their young QB. Also, Andy Reid just seems to have the Vikings' number, and has for as long as he's been the coach in Philadelphia. If the Vikings are still battling for a playoff spot when we get to Week 16, this could prove to be an even tougher test with the added pressure they'll be experiencing.
4) Week 7 at Green Bay (Oct. 24, 7:20 p.m.)
The Green Bay Packers have, apparently, somehow become the best team in the NFC North, according to just about every media outlet in America. While this may or may not be true, Aaron Rodgers and his team have yet to prove that they can beat the Favre-led Minnesota Vikings on the field of play. The NFC North division should be a dogfight between these two teams all season, and the games in the Viking-Packer rivalry are almost always close, regardless of how good the two teams are. Throw in the fact that the game is on a Sunday night. . .where the Vikings put on more than one abysmal performance in 2009. . .and that makes this game very intriguing, as well as very tough.
5) Week 8 at New England (Oct. 31, 3:15 p.m.)
Hey, why not follow up one hellacious road game with another one, right? Halloween night up in Bah-ston will bring us face-to-face with the high-powered offense of the New England Patriots, with Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and the rest of their weapons ready to take on the Vikings' outstanding defense. The last time the Vikings and Patriots got together, it wasn't pretty for Minnesota. Brady and company used a short passing game to march up and down the field at the Metrodome and thump the Vikings 35-7 (with Minnesota's only touchdown coming on a punt return). Of course, back then there was no Jared Allen, there was no Adrian Peterson, and there was no Brett Favre in Minnesota. We'll see how much of a difference that makes this time around in Foxboro.
You'll notice that all of these games are road trips. Why? Because the Vikings are an outstanding team at home at the Metrodome, and I see no reason to think that they'll be anything but that this season. If the Vikings take care of business at home. . .which they should. . .and achieve at least a split on the road, then they should be looking at a third consecutive NFC North division championship and some serious momentum going into the postseason once again.