For the Vikings in 2017, the road to the Super Bowl begins at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Whether it ends there on Feb. 4, when Minneapolis plays host to Super Bowl LII to cap off the postseason, will be largely determined by whether coach Mike Zimmer’s team can keep several of the NFL’s top passers under wraps, show up for a trio of prime-time games and weather three consecutive road games near the end of the regular season.
The NFL unveiled its regular-season schedule on Thursday night for the 2017 season. For the first time since 2012 and only the second time in the past decade, the Vikings will open the season at home. On Sept. 11, they play host to perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on a Monday night, in the first half of the NFL’s opening-week “Monday Night Football” doubleheader.
It will be the second time in three years that the Vikings kick off the regular season on “Monday Night Football.” It did not go so well for them in 2015 when they got bullied by the San Francisco 49ers on the road, though they did rebound to win the division.
The Vikings also play prime-time games in Chicago and Green Bay, in addition to traveling to Detroit to play on Thanksgiving for the second consecutive season. The Vikings will also have to make sure their passports are up to date, as they head back overseas to England in Week 8 to play Cleveland at London’s Twickenham Stadium.
Their bye week conveniently comes at the season’s midway point, after they return from playing their second-ever game in London. The first was four years ago.
Despite those challenging road trips, the road to the 2017 postseason is reasonable for the Vikings, who have the league’s fifth-easiest schedule based on 2016 records. Their opponents had a .453 winning percentage last season, per CBS Sports.
The Vikings will, however, have to defeat some of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks. After Brees, they face Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Washington’s Kirk Cousins, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Carolina’s Cam Newton in addition to twice seeing Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford in NFC North showdowns.
In Weeks 12-14, the Vikings will play Stafford, Ryan and Newton, all on the road. As a result, the Vikings will go 28 days without playing a game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer will coach the Vikings against his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 15. This year, the Vikings are matched up with the AFC North and the NFC South, giving Zimmer his first chance to go up against his old squad in a game that actually counts in the standings. They met in the preseason last summer.
And for the second consecutive season, the Vikings will play host to the Bears in the season finale.
No Super Bowl host in the previous 51 seasons fared well enough to make it a home game. To become the first, the Vikings must bounce back from 2016 in a big way.
The Vikings went 8-8 in 2016, squandering a 5-0 start by losing eight of their final 11 games. Their Super Bowl hopes were sacked because of injuries along their offensive line, and their lost season will be remembered for the unrelenting drama, which included offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s midseason resignation, Zimmer’s emergency eye surgery and the Vikings’ plane getting stuck in snow at an airport outside of Green Bay.
Attempting to regroup after that stunning collapse, the Vikings parted ways with running back Adrian Peterson, the leading rusher in team history, and several other free agents. And they splurged on a pair of offensive tackles, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Next up is the draft, which starts Thursday, and the Vikings likely need an impactful draft class, too, to have a realistic chance at that hometown Super Bowl.