MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL releases its 2014 schedule tonight at 7 p.m. Central time, and to get you ready for how the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 slate will look, we've prepared a handy primer on what to expect.
First, the Vikings' 2014 opponents:
Home: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Atlanta, Carolina, Washington, New England, New York Jets
Away: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Buffalo, Miami
Now, some things to watch:
Prime-time candidates: Coming off a 5-1o-1 season, the Vikings probably shouldn't expect to have a full slate of nationally televised games, but they're guaranteed to play in at least one Thursday game, and one of their divisional matchups with the Bears or Packers usually finds its way onto national TV. In our schedule prediction, we guessed Jared Allen's return to Minnesota with the Bears will be on a Sunday night, and posited the theory that a Vikings-Packers game will be part of the early season Thursday night schedule as the NFL tries to dress up the new slate of games for CBS. But the Vikings don't have many options to host night games on Monday or Thursday night, thanks to their agreement with the University of Minnesota that prevents the team from hosting a prime-time weeknight game while school is still in session. Considering the Vikings won't play in either of the traditional Thanksgiving games (Detroit will face an AFC team and Dallas isn't on the Vikings' schedule), they would either have to host the Thanksgiving night game, get the final Monday night game of the year on Dec. 22, or play at home on Sunday night.
The Vikings probably wouldn't mind if they don't play at night that much, anyway; they've lost 13 of their past 16 prime-time starts, and went 1-2 last season.
The 'other' frozen tundra? For the first time in 33 years, the Vikings will play their home games outdoors, and by the time the weather turns cold, they won't be trying to work around the Gophers' football schedule. If they get a couple December home games, they could offer the NFL its newest winter tableau; on three of the five Sundays last December, the high temperature in Minneapolis was 12 degrees or below. Generally, the league has tried to alternate the order of division home-and-home games, which means the Vikings would likely go to Green Bay before they'd play host to the Packers. Our guess? The Vikings' first December game will be a late-afternoon border battle with their biggest rival, featuring plenty of stock footage from Vikings-Packers games at the old Met Stadium and talk about the 'new' frozen tundra. That seems like the kind of thing TV would love -- and the Vikings fans we've heard from have said they would love it, too.
High-profile home games: Fans at TCF Bank Stadium will get to see some headline-grabbing opponents in the Twin Cities this fall. Tom Brady will make his first trip to Minnesota since his prolific Monday night performance at the Metrodome in 2006, and the New York Jets' trip to Minnesota will allow Adrian Peterson to resume his rivalry with Chris Johnson. The Carolina Panthers also come to town, giving Captain Munnerlyn a chance to face his old team, and the Washington Redskins visit the Vikings for the second consecutive season -- this time with Robert Griffin III's newest toy (DeSean Jackson) in tow.
Reunions galore: Allen's return to Minneapolis will be the first of his two games against his old team, Munnerlyn faces the Panthers, and the Vikings' offense will try to solve a defense coordinated by their old coach. That would be Leslie Frazier, who is now the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay after the Vikings fired him last December. In Tampa, he's working for former Bears coach Lovie Smith, running a defense that has some impressive young players. And the familiar Green Bay-to-Minnesota route traveled the other way this winter, when the Packers signed former Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion. It's not as spicy as Brett Favre or Greg Jennings facing their old team, but hey, it's something.
Closing in Chicago? The NFL has put 16 division games on its Week 17 schedule for the past four seasons, and the Vikings' Week 17 slate since 2010 has looked like this: at Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Green Bay, vs. Detroit. If that rotation keeps up, the Vikings should close the season in Chicago this season. It would be the first time they have closed the regular season in Chicago since 1971. Although, truth be told, if the NFL was going to ditch its division games in Week 17, we wouldn't mind -- so long as the Vikings play one of their road games that week in New Orleans, Miami or Tampa.