2017 Minnesota Vikings game-by-game predictions

Can the Minnesota Vikings engineer a better finish to the 2017 season than they could in 2016, when they followed a 5-0 start with a 3-8 slide that caused them to miss the playoffs? They'll have to do it by winning on the road, as they try to tackle a schedule that includes three road games against Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina in 17 days.

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 11, vs. New Orleans Saints, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Vikings open on Monday night for the second time in three years, and their defense will get an early test from Drew Brees & Co. as the Saints bring the league's top-ranked passing game from a year ago to U.S. Bank Stadium. Mike Zimmer gets an extended stretch of time to scheme against his old friend Sean Payton, who coached with Zimmer when both were in Dallas. The game will be an immediate test for presumptive slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander, but since Zimmer gets that extra prep time, the Vikings will do enough to slow them down at home. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

After facing Brees in Week 1, things don't get any easier for the Vikings' defense, with one of the toughest road trips on their schedule coming in Week 2. Zimmer has plenty of experience facing Ben Roethlisberger from his days in Cincinnati, but a trip to Heinz Field early in the season could make it difficult for the Vikings to go to 2-0. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings' early slate of tough quarterbacks continues, with Jameis Winston coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3. The Buccaneers are a team on the rise, but Winston's penchant for turnovers last season could play into the hands of a defense that became more proficient at creating turnovers in 2016. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings will be itching for a victory against the Lions after two close losses to Detroit last year. They'll have to try to get pressure against a revamped Lions offensive line that includes T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner, who'll help Matthew Stafford get the better of the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium again. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Monday, Oct. 9, at Chicago Bears, 8:30 p.m. ET

There's a strong case to be made that the Vikings' Monday night trip to Chicago last year was the one that sent their season off the rails, with Norv Turner resigning after the game and the team turning in one of its flattest efforts. This time, with Vikings killer Jay Cutler no longer in Chicago, the defense will turn in a better effort to keep the team's old Soldier Field woes from returning. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

For the third year in a row, the Vikings get the Packers at home before a late-season trip to Lambeau Field. They'll have to deal with a Packers offense that figures to be more prolific, with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks joining Aaron Rodgers' group of weapons. If Green Bay's defense is able to stand on its own two feet, the Packers' offense might be too difficult for the Vikings to stop. Record: 3-3

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

Another one of Zimmer's familiar opponents comes to town in Week 7, as the Vikings end a long stretch of home games by facing Joe Flacco and a team that threw more than any team in the league last season. That generally proves to be a good formula for the Vikings' defense, and they'll get enough pressure in this game to get back on track before a trip to London. Record: 4-3

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Cleveland Browns (London), 9:30 a.m. ET

Yes, the trip overseas throws off the Vikings' typical routine. No, Zimmer probably isn't excited about it. But the good news about the Vikings' second trip to London is, it comes with a winnable game. The Browns' roster will be stocked with young draft picks, but a team that had the league's second-worst offense and third-worst defense during a 1-15 season is still a ways from being competitive. The Vikings follow up their 2013 win vs. the Steelers at Wembley Stadium with a victory over the Browns at Twickenham Stadium. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Bye week

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

If the 2017 schedule gives you flashbacks to 2016, you're not alone. The Vikings went to Washington during the same weekend last year, and they'll get a Redskins team with enough weapons to make things difficult for them once again. Record: 5-4

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m. ET

Jared Goff is the kind of young quarterback against whom the Vikings' defense should do well, and the Rams had the league's worst offense a year ago. It's difficult to see them improving enough this season to cause major problems for the Vikings, who'll win once again at home. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 23, at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET

The Lions figure to be tough enough that the Vikings could slip up here again on Thanksgiving Day, especially if Stafford finds some time to throw in what figures to be a low-scoring game. As the Vikings begin a difficult road stretch, they'll fall again during a short week. Record: 6-5

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

Matt Ryan and the Falcons had the league's top offense a year ago, and in Atlanta's new stadium the Vikings could have trouble with the Falcons on a fast track. Expect Xavier Rhodes to cover Julio Jones for much of the day, but it's the Falcons' other weapons that might make things difficult. Record: 6-6

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings won here a year ago, but the Panthers shored up their offensive line and added several pieces to their defense, including Julius Peppers and former Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Cam Newton and the Panthers will be fighting for a playoff spot, just like the Vikings will, and they'll have the edge here. Record: 6-7

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

In Zimmer's first matchup against his former team and his good friend Marvin Lewis, you can count on the coach taking this one personally. The Vikings will be in dire need of a win at home, and they'll get the better of the Bengals to keep their playoff hopes alive. Record: 7-7

Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 23, at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET

A night game at Lambeau Field is where the Vikings' playoff hopes probably fade. Rodgers shredded the Vikings in Week 16 last season, and he'll get the better of them again, as the Packers move toward a division title in prime time. Record: 7-8

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings will finish 2017 exactly how they finished 2016, by beating the Bears at home to end the year at .500. They've got a better roster than the Bears and they'll have enough veteran pride to finish without a losing record. Record: 8-8