EAGAN, Minn. - The Vikings 2021 schedule was announced yesterday, and games are surely being circled on the calendar already.
But what about some deeper battles to look forward to?
There will be plenty of those, too, especially now that the league has expanded to a 17-game schedule. Check out information for single-game tickets here.
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Here are the best matchups between the Vikings and 11 non-division foes in 2021.
Week 1 at Bengals: WR Justin Jefferson vs. WR Ja'Marr Chase
No, Jefferson and Chase won't be on the field simultaneously in this one. But there's certainly a connection between these two friends and standout wide receivers.
First-round picks? Yep. Jefferson went 22nd overall in 2019, and Chase was the No. 5 pick in 2020.
Former teammates at LSU? Check. They helped the Tigers win a national title in 2019.
Lofty rookie expectations? Certainly.
Jefferson was the fifth receiver taken in 2020 and promptly lit up the league with a rookie-record 1,400 receiving yards, not to mention a Vikings rookie record of 88 catches.
He set the standard for rookies in 2020 and beyond, and there's no doubt his good buddy will be trying to equal or better those numbers in his own rookie season.
Week 2 at Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson vs. WR DeAndre Hopkins
Peterson is among the best defensive players to ever wear a Cardinals uniform, as he was a three-time All-Pro and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010s All-Decade Team after his selection by Arizona with the No. 5 overall pick of 2011.
He headed north this offseason, signing a one-year deal with the Vikings to help boost a cornerbacks group that had some ups and downs in 2020. Peterson will undoubtedly have some emotions against his former team, especially at State Farm Stadium.
But he'll also be counted upon to help that secondary against a Cardinals passing attack that is highlighted by Hopkins, one of the league's premiere wide receivers.
Hopkins has 10,009 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns in just eight seasons and thrived in the desert in 2020, his first with the Cardinals. Whether it's a deep shot down the field or a spectacular sideline catch, Hopkins has shown he can change a game with one play.
If he gets matched up against Peterson, the Vikings will need No. 7 to come up big against his former team.
Week 3 vs. Seahawks: RB Dalvin Cook vs. LB Bobby Wagner
Count Cook among the game's best running backs. That's evident by his 2,692 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons.
The back-to-back Pro Bowler should have some motivation against the Seahawks, a team the Vikings have played on the road the previous three seasons. But Cook was banged up and unable to finish either of the past two contests.
Wagner will be waiting on the other side of the line of scrimmage as one of this generation's greatest linebackers. A seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time First-Team All-Pro, Wagner was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010s All-Decade Team. And he anchored a Seattle defense that ranked fifth against the run in 2020.
This one is (finally) at U.S. Bank Stadium, and is the Vikings home opener. It should be one of the best 1-on-1 matchups of the entire season.
Week 4 vs. Browns: HC Mike Zimmer vs. HC Kevin Stefanski
There is plenty of familiarity - and respect - involved in this one.
Zimmer is among the league's top defensive minds and has been for decades, whether it's his famed Double-A gap scheme or other exotic blitz packages. He's also enjoyed a strong level of success in Minnesota, going 64-47-1 in seven seasons that include three postseason appearances.
But if anyone knows Zimmer's defense, it's Stefanski, a man who spent 2006-2019 in Purple and was Minnesota's offensive play caller in his final season. Stefanski enters his second season with the Browns with high expectations after leading Cleveland to the postseason as a rookie head coach. He was also theTheAssociated Press' 2020 Coach of the Year for his efforts a season ago.
Stefanksi, the Browns offensive play caller, will be out to prove that his team belongs among the league's best in 2021. And Zimmer, Minnesota's defensive play caller, will be eager to prove that the Vikings 2020 performance on that side of the ball was an aberration.
This one should be fun.
Week 6 at Panthers: LB Eric Kendricks vs. RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey tallied 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns in 2019 as he cemented himself among the league's most versatile running backs.
But his 2020 season was a disappointment due to injuries, as he played in just three games and missed the Week 12 game at U.S. Bank Stadium between the teams.
And while McCaffrey will be hungry for a bounce back season, Kendricks will be, too, in some ways.
He missed the final five games of the 2020 season, which likely kept him from adding another All-Pro accolade because of the injury. It's not a secret anymore that Kendricks is at or near the top of the list in terms of the league's best linebackers.
While he might not be tasked with shadowing McCaffrey on every play, Kendricks will certainly have a big hand in trying to limit the Panthers most explosive playmaker.
Week 8 vs. Cowboys: Minnesota's Secondary vs. Dallas' Wide Receivers
The Cowboys boast perhaps the league's top trio of wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. And that group has fared well against the Vikings of late.
In 2019, Cooper had 11 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown while Gallup added 76 yards and a score himself. In 2020, Lamb delivered an acrobatic score and Cooper recorded 81 yards on six catches in a game the Cowboys were missing quarterback Dak Prescott due to an injury.
Assuming Prescott is healthy, the Vikings cornerbacks will be in for a tough test, but not one they can't overcome. Peterson brings veteran leadership and eight Pro Bowls to the room, while Mackensie Alexander is among the game's best slot cornerbacks.
Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney showed flashes as rookies, and Mike Hughes has potential despite battling a multitude of injuries. It will likely be an all-hands-on-deck approach against Dallas' aerial attack in this one.
Vikings safety Xavier Woods, formerly of the Cowboys, could also play a key role in this one.
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Week 9 at Ravens: DE Danielle Hunter vs. QB Lamar Jackson
Perhaps the biggest Vikings storyline from the 2020 season was the loss of Hunter, an elite defender (no, he's not just a pass rusher) who is among the game's best players on that side of the ball.
While he can certainly get after the quarterback (a reminder he was the youngest player in league history to reach 50.0 career sacks), he can also more than hold his own against the run.
Well, Jackson can both throw and run, and is considered the game's best dual-threat quarterback at the moment. If you don't keep him contained, Jackson is apt to bust loose and pick up yards by the dozen.
Hunter will be tasked with leading a defense that needs to corral Jackson and keep him in the pocket by all means necessary, especially on the designed quarterback zone reads.
The Ravens led the league with 191.9 rushing yards per game in 2020, ranking first in that category for a second consecutive season. Baltimore ranked second in 2018.
Hunter vs. Jackson is a matchup of two of the game's best players at their respective positions.
Week 10 at Chargers: S Harrison Smith vs. QB Justin Herbert
The last time the Vikings played the Chargers in Los Angeles, the game was at a soccer stadium with Philip Rivers as the opposing quarterback.
Minnesota notched seven takeaways in that game, including three picks on Rivers, not to mention a fumble by the retired gunslinger that was scooped up and returned for a score.
This time around, the game will be played in sparkling SoFi Stadium with the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year - Herbert - leading the Chargers huddle.
Herbert thrived in 2020 with 4,336 passing yards and 31 touchdowns after being the No. 6 overall pick in 2020. He took care of the ball well, too, finishing his rookie season with 10 interceptions out of 595 attempts.
But the second-year QB will need to know where Smith is at all times, as the do-it-all safety could come on a blitz or snag the pigskin from out of nowhere.
Smith had an interception the last time these two teams met. If he gets one again, it could help turn the tide in Minnesota's favor on the West Coast.
Week 12 at 49ers: Vikings Run Defense vs. 49ers Run Offense
Minnesota's run defense had a rough go in 2020, allowing 95-plus rushing yards in all but one game. The lowlight was obviously a Christmas Day game in which Minnesota gave up 264 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns on national television.
But Minnesota's struggles against the run extended to the end of the 2019 season, too, as the Vikings allowed 186 rushing yards to the 49ers in a Divisional Round playoff loss. At one point, San Francisco ran the ball on 12 consecutive offensive plays (for 55 yards and a TD) in that postseason contest.
The Vikings run defense is expected to be much improved in 2021, especially with the additions of defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson. If the 49ers are playing No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance in this game, they could look to the run game to help get the rookie from Marshall, Minnesota, comfortable.
Can the Vikings front step up this time around in the Bay Area?
Week 14 vs. Steelers: QB Kirk Cousins vs. S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Cousins is still the unquestioned starter in Minnesota, and has proven to be at his best in recent seasons when he does not turn the ball over.
The quarterback threw 10 interceptions in Minnesota's first six games in 2020, but responded with just three in the final 10 contests. The Vikings were 1-5 in that first stretch, and 6-4 in the second run of games.
Cousins will have to be wary of a lurking Fitzpatrick in this one, as the ballhawk safety has made a name for himself with his interception ability in his first three years in the league. He has 11 in three seasons, including nine in 30 games with the Steelers since being acquired in a trade with the Dolphins.
Fitzpatrick has made the most of those picks, too, with three total interception returns for scores in his young career.
Another matchup to watch in this one that could determine the Cousins-Fitzpatrick outcome is Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt against Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill. If O'Neill can limit Watt's ability to pressure Cousins, the quarterback could limit the turnovers.
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Week 16 vs. Rams: Entire Vikings OL vs. DT Aaron Donald
It won't take the entire Vikings offensive line to block Donald on one play, but you can be sure that each member of the unit will likely get their chance against the game's best defensive player.
Donald's versatility allows him to line up all over in the trenches, whether that's out on the edge or on the interior. That means everyone from the left to right tackle (and perhaps a few tight ends and fullback C.J. Ham) will have to account for him on every play.
Donald has made the Pro Bowl in all seven of his seasons and has been a First-Team All-Pro six times. He has also earned TheAssociated Press' Defensive Player of the Year award four times. Donald was named a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010s All-Decade Team, despite not entering the league until 2014.
It appears the Vikings will enter the 2021 with a young and talented offensive line. This is undoubtedly their biggest test of the season.
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