If the Vikings want to go a step further than their run to the NFC Championship Game in 2017, they’ll have to make sure they begin the 2018 season on solid footing.
The team’s 2018 schedule, which was released Thursday night, is highlighted by a tricky opening five-week stretch that includes road games with the Packers, Rams and Eagles. The Vikings open the season at home for the second year in a row, facing the up-and-coming 49ers on Sept. 9 at U.S. Bank Stadium, and their second home game is on Sept. 23, against a Bills team that made the playoffs a season ago.
The Vikings’ schedule, which is tied for the eighth-toughest in the NFL, features four prime-time games, including two on the West Coast. The Vikings are the only NFC team that will play both of the 2017 conference champions (all four AFC South teams play both of them as well).
Early reports out of Philadelphia had the Vikings opening the 2018 season in the stadium where they lost the NFC title game in January. Instead, Kirk Cousins will make his Minnesota debut against Kyle Shanahan — his former offensive coordinator from Washington — and the 49ers. The rematch with the Eagles comes on Oct. 7 in a late-afternoon kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Vikings make their earliest trip to Lambeau Field since the 2008 opener, when Aaron Rodgers made his first career start. This year, they’ll be in Green Bay on Sept. 16 after two straight trips to Lambeau on Christmas weekend.
For the second time at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings’ home game against the Packers will be on Sunday night. The nationally televised game on Nov. 25 figures to bring up plenty of retrospectives about the Anthony Barr hit that led to Rodgers fracturing his right collarbone last Oct. 15.
Minnesota’s other home prime-time game, on Oct. 28, is against the Saints in a rematch of last season’s dramatic NFC divisional playoff game. The Vikings will play the Rams in a Thursday night game on Sept. 27 and then get 10 days off before playing the Eagles.
Four of the Vikings’ first seven games will be on the road, after the team played five of its first seven at home last year. The Vikings have a Week 10 bye, before another four-game stretch that figures to determine their fate.
They’ll come out of the bye against the Bears at Soldier Field on Nov. 18 before their Sunday night game against the Packers. Then, it’s on to New England for a late-afternoon kickoff on Dec. 2, and then a trip to the opposite coast the following week for a Monday night game in Seattle on Dec. 10.
The reward for the Vikings comes in the form of two home games in the last three weeks; they’ll host the Dolphins on Dec. 16 and finish the season for the third straight year at home against the Bears on Dec. 30.
After the Vikings played on Thanksgiving Day the past two years, they’ll be home for the holiday this season. Their annual trip to Detroit comes on Dec. 23.
The Vikings also finalized the dates for their preseason schedule on Thursday night and will open in Denver on Aug. 11. That means the earliest the team can begin its first training camp in Eagan is July 27, 15 days before the first preseason game. Minnesota will be at home on Aug. 18 against Jacksonville and Aug. 24 against Seattle before a trip to Tennessee on Aug. 30.