After four straight seasons opening their regular-season schedule at home, the Vikings will begin their 2021 schedule on the road.
They will kick off their 61st season on Sept. 12 in Cincinnati, facing the Bengals in a noon kickoff. Fox announced the matchup on Wednesday morning as part of the NFL's schedule release day, which allowed the league's broadcast rightsholders to announce the entire Week 1 schedule before the rest of the matchups are announced this evening.
The Vikings last faced the Bengals in 2017, clinching their most recent NFC North title in a 34-7 win at U.S. Bank Stadium probably best remembered for Teddy Bridgewater's final snaps in a Vikings uniform after he returned from a 16-month rehab following knee surgery. Their last trip to Cincinnati in the regular season was in 2013, when a Bengals defensive coordinator named Mike Zimmer led a unit that produced four turnovers in a 42-14 Cincinnati win that effectively spelled the end of Leslie Frazier's tenure in Minnesota. Frazier was fired eight days later, and Zimmer replaced him as head coach in Jan. 2014.
They opened the 2016 preseason in Cincinnati, holding a joint practice with the Bengals thanks to Zimmer's close relationship with then-Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. The coach still spends part of his offseason at the ranch he built in Cincinnati's Kentucky suburbs; his return to face his former team will get plenty of attention in the lead-up to the 2021 season.
The matchup's other big storyline will be Justin Jefferson again sharing a stadium with his two most prominent teammates on LSU's 2019 national championship team: Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who's trying to return from a torn ACL in time for the start of the season, and first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase.
"So exciting, man," Jefferson said in a press conference on Tuesday. "To actually witness it and all the things we went through, all the fun times and bad times we had and to see him and his family excited to be picked No. 5 and teaming up with Joe Burrow, that's going to be amazing. But we do play them this year, so hopefully he don't do too much against us."
A leaked version of the Vikings' entire schedule surfaced online Wednesday morning; sources confirmed a Halloween night matchup against the Cowboys on NBC, followed by back-to-back road games on opposite coasts (against the Ravens on Nov. 7 and the Chargers on Nov 14) to begin a tough November slate. The Vikings will play at home on Dec. 26 against the Rams, before a Sunday night matchup at Lambeau Field on Jan. 2.
For the fifth time in U.S. Bank Stadium's six-year history, the Vikings will finish the season at home against the Bears, who made their earliest trip to the building with a Week 15 game last year. The Vikings won't face Chicago until a Monday night game (their fourth in six years) in Week 15, and will play them again on Jan. 9 to close out the regular season.