2015 Minnesota Vikings game-by-game predictions

The Minnesota Vikings' hopes of returning to the playoffs in 2015 will be tested by a tough early schedule that has them playing six straight games against teams that went 8-8 or better last year. But a depleted San Francisco 49ers team could help take some of the early sting out of the schedule, and the Vikings will play three of their final five games at home, where they'll get one final chance to turn Minnesota's frigid December weather into an advantage.

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 14, at San Francisco, 10:20 p.m. ET

Some of the particulars that made this a tough opening matchup -- the late start time, the long flight out West -- still remain. But the 49ers appear in even more disarray than they did when the schedule came out, and the Vikings should head into their prime-time opener with some confidence after a solid preseason. Vikings 24, 49ers 13. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, Detroit, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings return home and have a short week to prepare for a Lions team that should present a tough test at TCF Bank Stadium. We predicted this would be a loss back when the schedule came out, but Adrian Peterson's future wasn't determined then. With the running back primed for a big day against a remade Lions front, the Vikings will pull one out here. Vikings 20, Lions 17. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, San Diego, 1 p.m. ET

Peterson has a chance for another big day here, against a defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season. The Chargers' offense will present some challenges, especially with Melvin Gordon looking for his own big day against a run defense that struggled last year, but high school teammate Trae Waynes hangs onto bragging rights as the Vikings get to 3-0. Vikings 27, Chargers 23. Record: 3-0

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, at Denver, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Broncos will be returning from a Sunday night game in Detroit before this one. Peyton Manning, though, has beaten Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer in five of their six meetings, and assuming he's healthy, he gets the best of the Vikings here. Broncos 31, Vikings 20. Record: 3-1

Week 5: BYE

Week 6:Sunday, Oct. 18, Kansas City, 1 p.m. ET

If the Vikings get behind in this one, they could have a tough time against Jamaal Charles and a Chiefs defense that's built to close out games. But at home after a bye week, the Vikings should be able to keep from dropping two in a row to AFC West opponents. Vikings 17, Chiefs 13. Record: 4-1

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings will catch the Lions at the end of a three-game homestand, and it's tough to expect them to sweep the season series against a team that's beaten them four of the past five years at Ford Field. Lions 26, Vikings 17. Record: 4-2

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at Chicago, 1 p.m. ET

Something always seems to happen to the Vikings at Soldier Field. Two years ago, it was a late-game meltdown, and last year it was a malfunctioning clock that led Bridgewater to think he needed to heave a last-second pass. The Bears' defense appears toothless enough this year, though, that the Vikings will leave with their first win in Chicago since 2007. Vikings 34, Bears 17. Record: 5-2

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, St. Louis, 1 p.m. ET

This is one to watch out for. The Rams have one of the toughest defensive fronts in the league (Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Nick Fairley, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers), and their offense should be better with Nick Foles and Todd Gurley in the backfield. The Vikings' offensive line could have its hands full here, and they'll drop one at home to another one of the NFC's chic dark horse picks. Rams 21, Vikings 16. Record: 5-3

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Vikings' second trip West features another winnable game and a matchup of the two most successful quarterbacks from the class of 2014 thus far. The Raiders' spread looks will present a challenge, with Amari Cooper catching passes from Derek Carr, but it's tough to pick against a Zimmer defense when it's facing a Bill Musgrave offense. Vikings 31, Raiders 14. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, Green Bay, 1 p.m. ET

This has the potential to be a big one in the NFC North standings, and the Vikings have reason to think they can take one from their rivals at home, especially in light of the Packers' run of preseason injuries. But the bet here is that by late November the Packers will have figured out how to function without Jordy Nelson. Packers 28, Vikings 23. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, at Atlanta, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta is trying to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season, and rookie Vic Beasley should help spruce up a pass rush that was among the league's worst last season. The Falcons have a dangerous passing game with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but the Vikings will need a win here to stay in the playoff chase, and the guess is they get one. Vikings 30, Falcons 21. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, Seattle, 1 p.m. ET

A December tilt with the two-time defending NFC champions comes in what might be the toughest stretch of the Vikings' schedule. Now that the Seahawks have Jimmy Graham, they'll be an even tougher matchup for a Vikings defense that will already have to contend with Marshawn Lynch. If the Vikings already have a tough time protecting Bridgewater, they'll be hard-pressed to match Seattle. Seahawks 21, Vikings 13. Record: 7-5

Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 10, at Arizona, 8:25 p.m. ET

Four days after the Seahawks game, the Vikings have to head West for a Thursday night matchup that puts them in front of another physical defense. The Cardinals could have their eye on a second consecutive playoff berth in December, and they'll be tough to beat in a prime-time game at home. Cardinals 20, Vikings 17. Record: 7-6

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Chicago, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings haven't lost to the Bears at home since 2011, and they'll certainly need a win here. They might find a season sweep easy to come by if the Bears are headed for a last-place finish and quarterback Jay Cutler has checked out to some degree. Vikings 31, Bears 14. Record: 8-6

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

In the Vikings' final scheduled outdoor home game, they'll have to contend with the Giants' potent passing game. But the Vikings will be motivated to conclude their home schedule with a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and against the Giants' defense, Peterson should find yards there for the taking. Vikings 21, Giants 16. Record: 9-6

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Green Bay, 1 p.m. ET

It will be the first time the two teams have ever played a January regular-season game, and just the third time they've squared off in January. The first two were playoff meetings, and the third one could carry the weight of the postseason. Will the Packers be resting starters by this point, or could this matchup have playoff implications for both teams? Assuming the postseason is in play, it's tough to pencil the Vikings in for a win at Lambeau Field, where they've won just once since 2005 and where the Packers were undefeated last season. But if the NFC North title is on the line? Oh, what a fun game this would be. Packers 27, Vikings 24. Record: 9-7