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Quest for playoff appearance No. 32: Vikings game-by-game picks

Optimism is warranted for the Minnesota Vikings after one of its most successful regular seasons in recent memory. In 2022, the Vikings exceeded expectations by winning 13 games in Kevin O’Connell’s first season at the helm, coming with tight wins and a trio of blowout losses. Analytically, it made no sense for the Vikings to have a high win total with a negative point differential, but anything can happen in the NFL. With less than 100 hours until kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, let’s predict every regular season game for the Purple and Gold.

Sep. 10, Week 1, Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers don’t have the same intimidation factor they’ve had the past three seasons as Tom Brady finally rides off into the sunset, and Baker Mayfield takes over as starter. Vita Vea and the Bucs defense will be a handful for the Vikings interior offensive line, and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will test the Vikings secondary. Still, this team struggled last season, even with the greatest quarterback of all time in 2022. With fans in the stands, the Vikings have not lost a week one home game since 2005, and expect that streak to continue Sunday.

Prediction: Vikings win (1-0)

Sep. 14, Week 2, @ Philadelphia Eagles

For the second year in a row, the Vikings travel to Lincoln Financial Field for a week two primetime matchup on a short week. The Eagles, despite losing both coordinators, are still loaded with Jalen Hurts, A.J Brown, a solid offensive line, and a tough defense.

Last year, the Vikings suffered a 24-7 defeat to the eventual NFC Champions, where they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot over and over again. Irv Smith Jr. dropped a wide-open touchdown, T.J. Hockenson now replaces him, and Kirk Cousins threw not one, not two, but three red zone interceptions. Will the Vikings perform that poorly against the Eagles again? If not, this will be a much closer game. The Vikings playmakers will shine in an upset bid on Thursday Night Football.

Prediction: Vikings Win (2-0)

Sep. 24, Week 3, vs. Los Angeles Chargers

The first of two consecutive reunions on the Vikings schedule. Eric Kendricks returns to U.S. Bank Stadium after being released on March 6. Coming with him is a talented Chargers offense with Justin Herbert, Austin Eckler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, rookie Quentin Johnston, and new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. I expect offensive fireworks on both sides, but the Chargers defense dealing with the Vikings new three deep of Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn will be too much on the road.

Prediction: Vikings win (3-0)

Oct. 1, Week 4, @ Carolina Panthers

A more emotional reunion as for the first time since 2012, Adam Thielen won’t be on the sidelines, for the only state he’s played for but rather playing against them. Minnesota will be playing the first overall pick in Bryce Young, making it a perfect opportunity for a defensive mastermind like Brian Flores to go after a rookie quarterback.

Prediction: Vikings win (4-0)

Oct. 8, Week 5, vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Take inspiration from the Bills game last year. There’s always that one game on the Vikings schedule that seemingly gets written off. Like the Vikings, the Chiefs played in an incredible amount of one-score games in 2022. This is a bolder prediction, but in a 3:25 p.m. matchup Jefferson shows up and the Vikings move to 2-0 against the AFC West with a victory over perhaps the best coach/quarterback duo in Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

Prediction: Vikings win (5-0)

Oct. 15, Week 6, @ Chicago Bears

Soldier Field historically is a house of horrors for the Vikings, but this hasn’t been the case in recent years. Many expect Justin Fields to take a Jalen Hurts-type lead in 2023, especially with the addition of D.J. Moore. But, I just don’t see it happening, and the Bears roster is still not at a point where it will elevate Fields’ level of play. This game will be close, but costly errors by Fields doom any chances at handing the Vikings their first loss.

Prediction: Vikings win (6-0)

Oct. 23, Week 7, vs. San Francisco 49ers

No matter who is playing quarterback for the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan will have an offensive game plan ready to go. The Niners defense is still excellent even after replacing DeMeco Ryans, and the offensive creativity and playmakers will give the Vikings’ defense fits. San Francisco takes an early double-digit lead, and offensive miscues prevent the Vikings from completing a comeback as they fall on Monday Night Football.

Prediction: Vikings lose (6-1)

Oct. 29, Week 8, @ Green Bay Packers

After starting 6-0 and suffering their first loss, there are two seasons that come to mind: 2003 and 2016. Now, the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field where any win is hard to get. No one knows if Jordan Love will pan out, but the Packers still possess a good defense and a running game that will excel with Aaron Jones and A.J Dillon. It’s not a complete embarrassment like week 17 of 2022, but an annoying loss drops the Vikes to 6-2.

Prediction: Vikings lose (6-2)

Nov. 5, Week 9, @ Atlanta Falcons

A trap game presents itself at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Like the Packers, the Falcons have their question marks at quarterback but feature an outstanding run game, rookie Bijan Robinson, and some notable names on defense. The Vikings fueled up by back-to-back disappointing weeks, come out firing and end a two-game skid.

Prediction: Vikings win (7-2)

Nov. 12, Week 10, vs. New Orleans Saints

The Saints will try it again with a different quarterback this year as Derek Carr arrives in Big Easy. He’ll have some talented offensive weapons in Alvin Kamara, Chris Olave, and Michael Thomas, and Dennis Allen has kept that defense . The Vikings avoid playing this team in the Superdome for the second straight season and come away with an overtime victory.

Prediction: Vikings win (8-2)

Nov. 19, Week 11, @ Denver Broncos

Will Sean Payton turn it around for the Broncos in one year? He’ll surely do a better job than Nathaniel Hackett, but it may not happen as quickly as possible. He’s already gone on the record by telling Russell Wilson “Will you f–ing stop kissing all the babies? You’re not running for public office,” and “You false-star, I’m pulling you out. Take a lap around the whole f–ing complex.” It’s safe to say the Vikings are ahead of schedule when comparing to their week 11 opponent.

Prediction: Vikings win (9-2)

Nov. 27, Week 12, vs. Chicago Bears

Another Monday Night matchup for the Vikings, this time its the second meeting with the Bears. A ruckus crowd in primetime overwhelms the Bears and this one isn’t as close as it was in week six.

Prediction: Vikings win (10-2)

Week 13, Bye Week

Dec. 10, Week 14, @ Las Vegas Raiders

The Vikings head to Sin City after two weeks preparing for Josh McDaniel’s Raiders. Kevin O’Connell proves who the better coach is, and Jefferson makes a statement postgame saying we will be back in Las Vegas in early February.

Prediction: Vikings win (11-2)

Dec. TBA, Week 15, @ Cincinnati Bengals

This one should be fun. Both the Bengals and Vikings are fighting for division crowns and likely the top seeds of their conference at this point. Ja’Marr Chase, Jefferson, Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow put on a show. In this one home field advantage in December matters, and the Bengals come away with an exciting win.

Prediction: Vikings lose (11-3)

Dec. 24, Week 16, vs. Detroit Lions

Will the Lions be as good as people expect? History tells us, no, but they will make this game interesting following a common theme the past three times at U.S. Bank Stadium. There’s a chance that the division is also likely at state here, but the Vikings pull away in this one late after some costly decisions by Dan Campbell.

Prediction: Vikings win (12-3)

Dec. 31, Week 17, vs. Green Bay Packers

Ending the 2023 calendar year on a high note, the Vikings get to the 13-win mark with revenge over the Packers. Jefferson torches the Packers secondary, ending any last gasp for the Packers making the playoff while re-claiming braggin’ rights of Jaire Alexander.

Prediction: Vikings win (13-3)

Jan. TBA, Week 18, @ Detroit Lions

With playoff positioning wrapped up, the Vikings back ups get plenty of playing time in the season finale meaning a lot of Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall. The Lions though, playing to keep their season alive keep the Vikings at 4-2 in the division.

Prediction: Vikings lose (13-4)

Record Prediction: 13-4

It’s extremely hard for a team in the NFL to repeat the success of a 13-win season, but its not impossible. Yes, the Vikings offense said goodbye to both Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen, but those two lost a step from when they were in their primes. Other than that, the offense isn’t missing a beat. Defensively, Brian Flores gives the unit a boost over Ed Donatell, which should elevate it above the floor of 2022.

With all that being said, these factors should help the Vikings overcome their deficiencies from a year prior, which can result in a wider margin of victory, and less humiliating losses. With a 13-4 record, the path to Super Bowl 58 runs through Minnesota.

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