Zulgad: Five thoughts on the Vikings' schedule for 2014 season
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
The Vikings' two-year move to the great outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium did not cause the NFL schedule-makers to load them up with home games early in the 2014 season.
In fact, the Vikings will play five of their first eight games on the road. Mike Zimmer will make his debut as an NFL head coach on Sept. 7 in St. Louis, before his team plays host to New England the following Sunday.
Here are five thoughts about the Vikings' schedule, which was released Wednesday evening.
1. Out of the spotlight: Restrictions limiting when the Vikings can play prime-time games on the University of Minnesota campus, plus a disappointing record in 2013 (5-10-1), not to mention a lack of star power, means Zimmer's team isn't considered a prime-time player.
The Vikings have 14 games scheduled for noon kickoffs and only one at night. That will be on Thursday, Oct. 2 in Green Bay in a game that will be shown by CBS and NFL Network as part of the new package between those networks.
The previous Sunday the Vikings will play host to Atlanta in a 3:25 p.m. kickoff. The potential for games to be flexed to a later start time begins in Week 6, so if the Vikings surprise they could end up getting a game or two shifted to prime time, but the sun will be up when the majority of their games end.
2. For openers: Attempting to predict the difficulty of an NFL schedule is nearly impossible because the parity in the league, it's really mediocrity, means that what you think about a team's success, or lack of it, from the previous season can mean little by the time the new year starts.
Nonetheless, when you examine the first quarter of the Vikings' season, it's worth noting that they take on two teams coming off very good years and two that will be looking to make substantial improvement.
The Rams (Week 1) were 7-9 in 2014 and the Falcons (Week 4 at home) were 4-12. The Patriots (Week 2 at home) were 12-4, winning the AFC East, and the Saints (Week 3 on the road) finished second in the NFC South with an 11-5 record. If you throw in Green Bay in Week 5, three of the Vikings' first five opponents made the playoffs in 2013.
By the way, the Vikings' opponents have a 2013 winning percentage of .477, putting the team's strength of schedule 21st in the NFL.
3. Good bye: If you polled NFL teams, odds are that most would prefer their bye week come later in the season and not near the start. Last year, the Vikings had their bye in Week 5 because they played the previous week against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.
While the Vikings welcomed the time off after the long trip, they also then went 12 weeks without a break. This season, the Vikings' bye will be in Week 10. That means that while the start of the season will be a grind, Zimmer's team also will get to rest to prepare for a potential stretch run that could come if the Vikings are able to surprise.
4. Home cooking: The Vikings will play host to Washington on Nov. 2 before getting their off week.
Upon their return, the Vikings will start a stretch in which they will be home for five of their final eight games, including a three-game stretch against Green Bay (Nov. 23), Carolina (Nov. 30) and the Jets (Dec. 7). The Vikings will close the regular season on Dec. 28 against the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.
5. The cold factor: This is where it could get interesting for everyone.
That three-game stretch at home, not to mention the season finale, will be a throwback for long-time fans who missed the arctic conditions at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
Aside from the 2010 home final, which was played on Dec. 20 at snowy and frozen TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome roof collapsed, the Vikings have been accustomed to the comforts of an indoor stadium at home since 1982.
The good news is that unlike in that 2010 game, when Brett Favre suffered a concussion after his head slammed into the turf as he was sacked by then-Bear and now-Viking Corey Wooten, the field at TCF now will be heated.
It's difficult to say who might be more uncomfortable, considering Vikings players have had to brave the elements at times on the road. Many Vikings fans have no idea what it's like to sit outside in the winter cold and watch football.
At least, the players will be happy knowing their two December road games will be indoors at Ford Field in Detroit and in the pleasant conditions of Miami.
That Dolphins game on Dec. 21 likely will be a big hit with Vikings fans looking to get out of the winter. Other attractive road matchups, and we mean fun cities to visit, will be New Orleans (Sept. 21) and Tampa Bay (Oct. 26).