The NFL regular season concluded a few days ago, which meant all 32 teams pretty much immediately knew their entire 2018 home-and-away schedule.
The NFL follows a simple but effective scheduling formula that can be credited with being among the primary reasons for the parity the league has experienced through the years. Each team plays: six division games (three each, home and away); four games against each team in a rotating AFC division; four games against each team in a rotating NFC division; and two games against the other two teams in their conference who finished in the same place in the standings as they did the previous year.
As such, the last place team in a division has two games against last place teams. First place teams have two games against first place teams. In a 16-game season, that can produce a significant swing in the standings. If you don’t believe that, consider that five of the six NFC teams who made the playoffs this season did not make it a year ago. Only Atlanta, the No. 6 seed, made it in both 2016 and 2017.
All of that is a long windup to say this: The Vikings’ schedule appears more challenging next season — particularly on the road — because Minnesota plays a first-place schedule instead of a third-place schedule.
The Vikings didn’t make the playoffs in five of the previous seven seasons before this one, and in those years the announcement of the next year’s schedule was a bigger deal as fans looked for rays of hope. Most of the focus this season, of course, is still on the playoffs ahead.
But let’s at least take a quick look at the Vikings’ 2018 slate. Here are their home and away opponents (schedule order will be announced at a later date):
Home: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints.
Away: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, New England Patriots.
Thoughts: While it’s hard to predict how seasons will play out given so much about opponents can change through free agency and the draft — not to mention we don’t even know who the Vikings’ QB will be next season — there appears to be on paper a significant disparity between the home and away schedule.
No other team in the NFC North made the playoffs this season, and only two of the Vikings’ other five home opponents are playoff teams this year (Buffalo and New Orleans). San Francisco looks to be on the upswing, but overall the Vikings could be favored in every one of their home games.
The road slate, on the other hand, looks really tough. The Vikings face three 2017 division winners on the road (Rams, Eagles and Patriots), while playing at Seattle and at the Jets won’t be a picnic. All five non-division games are on coasts — three East, two West — which can be tricky.
Minnesota made the playoffs each of the previous three seasons it faced the full NFC West (2009, 2012, 2015), but the Vikings went just 2-4 in road games against the division in those years, including 0-2 in 2015 with losses at San Francisco and Arizona.
Anyway, you can file all this away for a later date. Not much about 2018 matters right now beyond Feb. 4.