While folks are still trying to project who the Vikings will take in next week's NFL Draft or guess what their new uniforms will look like and whether the new stadium will have a retractable roof, there's no more guesswork involved with at least one part of the team's future.
The 2013 NFL schedule was released Thursday night so we now know the "who, where and when" of the Vikings season. This also means it's time for VikesCentric and everyone else to analyze the schedule.
Before doing so let me first say that taking schedule analysis too seriously is kind of silly. Hyper-analysis is just dumb. The best we can do is look at the games and interpret things based on how good the opponents were last year and what improvements they have made. There is absolutely no magical formula for conducting a fool-proof schedule analysis. Myriad factors affect how teams perform from year to year, making accurate forecasts impossible. Coaching changes, free agency, trades, the draft, scheme changes, injuries and plain ol' luck all play a part.
Having said that, it's always kind of fun to kick around some observations… so let's have a look at the 2013 schedule.
|Vikings 2013 schedule
||at Detroit Lions
||at Chicago Bears
||Pittsburgh Steelers (in London)
||at New York Giants
||Green Bay Packers
||at Dallas Cowboys
||at Seattle Seahawks
||at Green Bay Packers
||at Baltimore Ravens
||at Cincinnati Bengals
My initial reaction upon eyeballing the schedule for the first time: it's tough – especially the stretch from Week 7 to Week 14.
The so-called "Strength of Schedule" data supports the hunch that the Vikings have a rough road.
The Strength of Schedule is based entirely on won-loss records from the previous season. The Vikings' 2013 opponents had a combined .516 winning percentage in 2012, which ties them with the Seattle Seahawks for the 10th hardest schedule in the NFL this upcoming season. The Vikings road schedule ranks as the fourth-toughest in the league, based on ESPN Stats and Information. And their home schedule is the 22nd-toughest. However, remember that one of their "home" games will actually be played across the pond in foggy London town against the Steelers. In my book that's going to be a pseudo road game against a franchise that has a fan base that travels well.
This year's schedule, surprisingly enough, isn't too much tougher than last year's schedule when using the "Strength of Schedule" won-loss metric. Last year at this time the Vikings were looking at the eighth-hardest NFL schedule against opponents that had a .512 winning percentage in 2011.
Opening 2013 with two games on the road is rough. Having both games against division rivals makes them tougher. I think we all know by now how well the Vikings usually fare in Chicago (Week 2). Their home opener against the Browns looks like good on paper, but a road trip to London followed by a Week 5 bye means their second game of the season at Mall of America Field will have to wait until October 13 against the Panthers.
The Week 5 bye will be the earliest Vikings bye week since 2010 when they had a Week 4 bye. They have not had a Week 5 bye since 2005. I'm not a fan of bye weeks that early. Byes in Week 7, 8, or 9 break the season up better. But surprisingly none of the schedule makers asked for my input.
Following the Vikings' Week 6 contest against the Panthers, as I mentioned earlier, things get really ugly.
Look at that stretch from Weeks 7 to 14, starting with road game against the Super Bowl champs from two years ago and ending with a showdown with the reigning Super Bowl champs in Baltimore. I'm not sure the Vikings will be favored in many of the games in this stretch. But again, things can change. What looks like a murderer's row of games now might look more like a lineup of cupcakes six months from now.
Regardless, that Week 11-12 pair at Seattle and at Green Bay will be awfully interesting. On the road to face a Super Bowl favorite in Seattle (and former Vikings Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield) followed by the annual trip to Lambeau, where I'm sure Greg Jennings will be welcomed back with open arms. Those two games in particular are being circled on calendars by numerous players as you read this.
The Vikings close out the season with home games in two of their last three, and actually all three games are allegedly pretty winnable. I'm guessing that Week 17 game against the Lions will be a raucous affair whether the Vikings are in playoff contention or not, as it will be the final regular season game in the Metrodome. Note I said "regular season." They're not planning to tear the dome down until February in order to accommodate some home playoff games in January. Wishful thinking?
Look at it this way: they don't face a team that made the playoffs last year until Week 8. Of course, then they have five games in seven weeks against playoff teams from last year, including the defending champs. Altogether, the Vikes have six games against 2012 playoff teams on this year's schedule.
So what do you think, Vikings fans? Tough schedule? Easier than some might think? What are your initial impressions? Have at it in the comments section below.