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Zulgad: Vikings likely to finish strong but will that be enough to repeat success of 2017?

By Judd Zulgad

Jimmy Garopollo, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

That’s a formidable list of NFL quarterbacks and also four of the QBs the Vikings will face in the opening five weeks of the 2018 season as they attempt to defend their NFC North title. The only question is whether Wentz will be back from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last December against the Rams.

Last season, the Vikings went 13-3 en route to losing at Philadelphia in the NFC title game. With Wentz out, it was Nick Foles who beat Minnesota as the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl.

That’s where the Vikings want to get this season and they have made some significant moves, including replacing Case Keenum with high-priced free agent Kirk Cousins at quarterback.

So how will the Vikings do in 2018? With the NFL releasing its schedule on Thursday, let’s take a game-by-game look at what might be ahead for coach Mike Zimmer’s team.

Sept. 9: vs. San Francisco, noon, Fox: The 49ers finished last in the NFC West last season at 6-10, but Garoppolo, acquired in a trade with the Patriots, went 5-0 after taking over and is now 7-0 as a starter. This isn’t going to be easy, but despite their struggles in the NFC title game the Vikings still have one of the league’s best defenses. For the second consecutive season, they will open with a victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. Win, 1-0

Sept. 16 at Green Bay, noon, Fox: After playing late-season games at Lambeau Field the past three seasons, the Vikings will head to Wisconsin when it’s still warm out to play their biggest rival. Last season, the Vikings swept the Packers and linebacker Anthony Barr essentially ended Green Bay’s season when his hit on Rodgers broke the quarterback’s collarbone. The Packers and Rodgers will be looking for revenge and they will get it. Loss, 1-1

Sept. 23 vs. Buffalo, noon, CBS: The Vikings will get a break from facing top quarterbacks as former Bengals backup and free agent acquisition A.J. McCarron is expected to start this one. Buffalo ended a 17-year playoff drought last season and is looking to make a return trip. The Vikings, however, won’t be gracious hosts. Win, 2-1

Sept. 27 at Los Angeles Rams, 7:20 p.m., Fox/NFLN: NFL teams and players hate Thursday night games, but the league doesn’t care because television is willing to pay for them. So four days after playing Buffalo in Minneapolis, the Vikings will have to try to stop Goff and what looks to be an improved Rams roster in Los Angeles. Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman can’t be happy about having to go to the West Coast on short rest. Loss, 2-2

Oct. 7 at Philadelphia, 3:25 p.m., Fox: Even if Wentz isn’t back, this game is going to be a difficult one. Foles and the Eagles cruised to a 38-7 victory in the NFC title game in Philly so the Vikings will have plenty of reason to seek revenge. They also will be rested after having some time off following the Rams game. Zimmer is going to make sure his defense doesn’t get embarrassed again. The problem is that might not be enough. Loss, 2-3

Oct. 14 vs. Arizona, noon, Fox: Assuming he’s healthy, and that’s a dangerous assumption, Sam Bradford will return to U.S. Bank Stadium to start against his old team. The last time Bradford played in downtown Minneapolis he was brilliant, throwing for 346 yards in a season-opening victory over New Orleans in 2017. He won’t have that type of success facing the Vikings defense. Win, 3-3

Oct. 21 at New York Jets, noon, Fox: It would be a great story if Teddy Bridgewater is starting for the Jets by this point and gets to face the team that drafted him in the first round in 2014. But I have serious doubts about whether Bridgewater will ever recover enough from his catastrophic knee injury to start again. The Jets, more likely, will be starting a quarterback they take with the third-overall pick in next week’s draft. The Vikings will make his life miserable. Win, 4-3

Oct. 28 vs. New Orleans, 7:20 p.m., NBC: The Saints will return to U.S. Bank Stadium for the third time in the past two seasons. The Vikings beat the Saints twice in Minneapolis in 2017, including in the NFC Divisional playoff when Keenum found Stefon Diggs on the last play of the game. The Saints, and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, certainly will have that loss in mind when this Sunday night game kicks off. Nonetheless, the Vikings will prevail. Win, 5-3

Nov. 4 vs. Detroit, noon, Fox: There was a time when the Vikings dominated the woeful Lions home and away. That’s no longer the case and the no-longer woeful Lions have won the first two games they have played at U.S. Bank Stadium. That run of success ends in 2018. Win, 6-3

Nov. 11 – Bye week: The Vikings should be happy about this, considering it will come at a time when players need rest. Much better than an early-season bye.

Nov. 18 at Chicago, noon, Fox: The Vikings are 6-2 against the Bears since Zimmer took over but Chicago should be improved under new head coach Matt Nagy. The key for the Bears will be if quarterback Mitch Trubisky shows improvement in his second year. The Vikings are 2-2 under Zimmer coming out of the bye. I sense a Bears’ victory here. Loss, 6-4

Nov. 25 vs. Green Bay, 7:20 p.m., NBC: Rodgers will have gotten his revenge in Week 2, but he won’t have similar success in this Sunday night game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Win, 7-4

Dec. 2 at New England, 3:25 p.m., Fox: Bill Belichick isn’t happy with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Tom Brady isn’t happy with Belichick. Brady might retire. No wait, he wants to play until he’s 50. Rob Gronkowski wants out of New England, unless he doesn’t. The Patriots’ dynasty is about to crumble. It all sounds so dramatic and yet … Loss, 7-5

Dec. 10 at Seattle, 7:15, ESPN: Russell Wilson remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but the Seahawks have started a rebuilding process and their once great defense has many new faces. The key is because this is a late-season game the Seahawks will have had time to build some chemistry. Plus, CenturyLink Field is an extremely tough place to play. Loss, 7-6

Dec. 16 vs. Miami, noon, CBS: After losing three of four, the Vikings start a strong bounce back here and cruise past the Dolphins. Win, 8-6

Dec. 23 at Detroit, noon, Fox: The Vikings visited Detroit on Thanksgiving the past two seasons but now will face the Lions in what the NFL hopes will be a very important NFC North game. The Lions have a new coach in former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. This one doesn’t go well for him. Win, 9-6

Dec. 30 vs. Chicago, noon, Fox: What is it about the Vikings ending the season against the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium? This will mark the third consecutive year it will happen and the fourth time in five years the Vikings will complete the season at home against Chicago. Minnesota is 3-0 in those games. The Bears are a better team now but it won’t matter. Win, 10-6

The post Zulgad: Vikings likely to finish strong but will that be enough to repeat success of 2017? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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