Minnesota Vikings schedule analysis

Breakdown: The Vikings' efforts to improve their defense under new coach Mike Zimmer will get a firm test early in the season; the team will have faced Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers by Oct. 2, with two of those three games coming on the road. The Vikings will have to handle that stretch of their schedule if they want to burnish their playoff chances with a soft stretch in the middle of the season -- four consecutive games against Detroit, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Washington, with a bye week coming at the end. And the NFL gave the Vikings their fair share of chances to play cold-weather games in their first season at TCF Bank Stadium; four of Minnesota's last six are at home.

Complaint department: If the Vikings were to have a gripe with this schedule, it would probably come right up front. They will open on the road for the sixth time in seven seasons, face Brady in their first game at TCF Bank Stadium and travel to two of the toughest venues on their schedule -- the Superdome and Lambeau Field -- in a five-week stretch. The other home game in there is against the Atlanta Falcons, who will be trying to rebound from a rare down year. It will be incumbent upon Zimmer to have the Vikings' defense in good working order early in the season, or the passers on the Vikings' schedule could make it tough to recover.

Getting acquainted with the elements: The Vikings haven't played well in cold weather in recent years, but they are going to have to learn, because the NFL loaded up the back half of their schedule with home games. They get three in a row at home from Nov. 23-Dec. 7, and close the season with Jared Allen's return to Minnesota on Dec. 28. In fact, the Vikings will play five of their seven games after the bye in cold-weather climates, with four of those at home and another in Chicago. The only breaks will come on Dec. 14 in Detroit's dome, and Dec. 21 in Miami.

Strength of schedule: 21st, .477 | Vegas over/under: 7

Vikings Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, New England, 1 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Atlanta, 4:25 p.m.

Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 2, at Green Bay, 8:25 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Detroit, 1 p.m.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Washington, 1 p.m.

Week 10: BYE

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Green Bay, 1 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Carolina, 1 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Jets, 1 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Detroit, 1 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Miami, 1 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Chicago, 1 p.m.