The Vikings are back in prime time.
After playing only one regular-season night game in 2012 — a mandatory Thursday nighter — the team is again registering as a strong draw for the under-the-lights TV slots. Last season’s surprising 10-6 surge into the playoffs and the presence of MVP Adrian Peterson helps. And with the full NFL schedule released Tuesday evening, the Vikings have been slotted to play three night games in a span of 18 days during the middle of the season. They will have an appearance on “Monday Night Football” (at the New York Giants in Week 7); a Sunday nighter (home vs. Green Bay in Week 8); and a Thursday night cameo against the Redskins at Mall of America Field in Week 10.
So just how does the 2013 campaign set up overall? Here’s your quick look at what’s ahead …
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8 at Detroit, noon (Ch. 9)
Highlight reel potential. Set the DVR. The NFL’s reigning rushing champ (Adrian Peterson) against the league’s current receiving king (Calvin Johnson).
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15 at Chicago, noon (Ch. 9)
The quest to halt the Soldier Field slump continues. The Vikings are 1-10 there since 2000 and have lost their past three in the Windy City by a combined 61 points.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22 vs. Cleveland, noon (Ch. 4)
A later-than-usual home opener appears favorable against the Browns, who have finished above .500 just twice in the 21st century.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh (in London), noon (Ch. 4)
For fans and the media, this may be the most appealing road getaway of the year. For the Vikings, it’s a critical business trip with more attention devoted to Big Ben the quarterback than Big Ben the clock.
Week 5: Bye
In conjunction with the trip overseas, this will be an early week off just a quarter of the way into the season. Will it mark a good regrouping point or come too soon?
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13 vs. Carolina, noon (Ch. 9)
The Vikings bested Cam Newton during his rookie year but will have to be sharp again defensively to repeat that result. The Panthers, like the Vikings, rallied to win their final four regular-season games last year.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 21 at N.Y. Giants, 7:40 p.m. (ESPN)
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will play the role of host on the Vikings’ return to “Monday Night Football.”
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27 vs. Green Bay, 7:30 p.m. (Ch. 11)
We can only hope for a game as entertaining as the 2012 season finale when Peterson and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers put on quite the show during the Vikings’ 37-34 playoff-clinching win.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3 at Dallas, noon (Ch. 9)
A field trip to Jerry World should be a fun way to conclude the season’s first half. The Vikings have won their last two meetings against the Cowboys, including a 34-3 blowout in the 2009 playoffs.
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 7 vs. Washington, 7:25 p.m. (NFLN)
The Vikings may still be having nightmares over the 76-yard touchdown run Robert Griffin III delivered last October. RG3’s recovery from major knee surgery will be worth monitoring leading up to this game.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17 at Seattle, 3:25 p.m. (Ch. 9)
Should be a warm and fuzzy reunion with receiver Percy Harvin and cornerback Antoine Winfield, no? They joined a loaded Seahawks team that has its eyes on the Super Bowl.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24 at Green Bay, noon (Ch. 9)
Christian Ponder’s Lambeau Field history: two starts, 28-for-59, 309 yards, one TD, three interceptions. In losses by a combined 68-21 count. Then came a DNP in a playoff game due to a severely bruised triceps.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1 vs. Chicago, noon (Ch. 9)
New Bears coach Marc Trestman (a St. Louis Park native) comes back to the Twin Cities. Trestman’s offensive intelligence is supposed to energize an attack led by Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. By this point, we’ll know whether the anticipation was justified.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8 at Baltimore, noon (Ch. 9)
The Ravens lost a ton of key cogs from last year’s Super Bowl run, most notably Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk and Paul Kruger. They still, however, have the league’s highest paid man in QB Joe Flacco.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15 vs. Philadelphia, noon (Ch. 9)
No one knows quite what to expect from the union of Eagles coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Michael Vick. If things click, the Philly offense — which also features LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson — could be scary.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22 at Cincinnati, noon (Ch. 9)
Expect something lopsided. These teams’ past three meetings have been decided by an average of 23 points. The Vikings last trip to Cincy was a 37-8 loss in 2005 during which they were torched by Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29 vs. Detroit, noon (Ch. 9)
In what could be the final game ever at Mall of America Field, the Vikings and Lions reunite 112 days after their first meeting.