Zulgad: Projecting what the Vikings’ 2023 schedule will look like

The springtime is a time when many media members and fans offer up their mock NFL drafts. What often gets lost is the small community of us who attempt to mock the schedule for certain teams.

The NFL schedule release has become a prime-time event for television and gives you the first real look at what teams will have to do to get into the playoffs. Yes, the Vikings’ opponents were known the day the season ended but it’s the order that’s important, not to mention which games will fall in prime time, or on holidays.

We will find that out on Thursday evening.

That means I will mock (OK, guess) the Vikings’ schedule for the Purple Daily podcast I do with Phil Mackey and Declan Goff on SKOR North. So what will the schedule look like? Here’s one man’s best guess, starting with a prime-time meeting in the Mile High City.

Also, for Sunday games, we will offer a Red Zone ranking. In other words, how much will Scott Hanson (the host I watch on cable) and Co., be focusing on the game.

Again this is a predicted Vikings schedule and not the real thing. If you want the full audio version, watch the video embedded at the end of the article.

Week 1, Sept. 11: at Denver, 7:15 p.m. (Central)

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings will open on Monday night against the Broncos.

Denver, which fired coach Nathaniel Hackett before his first season was complete, will be playing its first game under new hire Sean Payton and there will be plenty of interest in what the veteran coach’s presence will mean when it comes to Russell Wilson bouncing back from a terrible season.

The Broncos will be the headliner for this game, but this matchup should make ESPN happy, considering the Vikings are coming off a 13-win season and have one of the NFL’s top players in wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Week 2, Sept. 17: vs. San Francisco, 3:25 p.m.

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The Vikings will open their home schedule with a Sunday game in a featured late afternoon time slot. The 49ers are coming off a run to the NFC title game, and it’s never a bad thing to have Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins going against 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

It’s no secret how much Shanahan likes Cousins, and Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell comes from the Shanahan/Sean McVay coaching tree. The only downside is that Sam Darnold might be the 49ers’ starting quarterback.

If I didn’t have the Vikings opening in prime time, I’d have been tempted to project this one being under the lights.

Red Zone ranking (1-10): 8

Week 3, Sept. 24: vs. Detroit, noon

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The Lions are expected to be the primary threat to take the NFC North title from the Vikings, so this should be a good early-season test.

These teams also met in Week 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium last season, with the Vikings escaping with a 28-24 victory. The Vikings won their first three games, all at home, last year against NFC North opponents.

Another good start within the division probably will be necessary for the Vikings to repeat.

Red Zone ranking: 6

Week 4, Oct. 1: at Atlanta, noon

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This one figures to get lost in the shuffle of noon starts.

Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke could be starting at quarterback for the Falcons, but either way you have to figure the Vikings will be road favorites against a team that finished 7-10 last season and remains a work in progress.

Red Zone ranking: 4

Week 5, Oct 8: at Green Bay, 7:20 p.m.

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The Vikings will play under the lights again, this time on Sunday night in Lambeau Field. You can’t go wrong by putting these rivals in prime time, and while Aaron Rodgers’ departure figures to cut down on the Packers’ popularity among the networks, there is going to be plenty of curiosity about how Jordan Love will fare at quarterback.

The Vikings’ figure to approve of this trip to Lambeau because it will put them in Green Bay before the weather turns nasty.

Week 6, Oct. 15: vs. Chicago, noon

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Back-to-back NFC North games won’t be easy, and the Bears figure to be improved with quarterback Justin Fields entering his third season. Of course, it would be difficult for the Bears to be worse,  coming off a 3-14 finish in 2022.

This will complete a stretch of three division games in four weeks for the Vikings.

Red Zone ranking: 5

Week 7, Oct. 19: at Carolina, 7:15 p.m.

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Adam Thielen playing against his former team will be featured on Thursday Night Football. While the Thielen storyline will be a big one for Vikings fans, nationally this will give fans a chance to see first-overall pick Bryce Young at quarterback for the Panthers.

Week 8, Oct. 29: vs. Los Angeles Chargers, noon

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The Vikings will face a tough quarterback schedule and this one could be one of the toughest. Justin Herbert and the Chargers will provide a quality test for the Vikings’ new-look defense under Brian Flores. This could turn into an aerial show between Herbert and Cousins.

Red Zone ranking: 8

Week 9, Nov. 5: Bye week

Don’t laugh, this is important.

The bye weeks will fall between Weeks 6 and 14 and nobody wants an early off week. The Vikings had their bye in Week 7 the last three seasons and this year it will fall a few weeks later.

There will be no complaints.

Week 10, Nov. 12: at Chicago, noon

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There’s a possibility the weather could impact this game at Soldier Field — certainly the wind, given the time of year — and that might make things interesting for what should be a dangerous Vikings passing game. Kicker Greg Joseph also isn’t won’t be a fan if the winds are howling off the lake.

Red Zone ranking: 5

Week 11, Nov. 19: vs. Kansas City, 7:20 p.m.

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This game has Sunday night written all over it. The defending Super Bowl champions and Patrick Mahomes going against one of the NFL’s wizkid coaches in O’Connell. No matter where this game does land, it will be a shocker if it’s not in one of the NFL’s featured prime-time windows.

Week 12, Nov. 26: at Cincinnati, noon

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This will complete a tough back-to-back against two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks as the Vikings will go on the road to face Joe Burrow and the Bengals. Going against Mahomes and Burrow in consecutive weeks will tell us how much of a difference Flores has made.

Red Zone ranking: 8

Week 13, Dec. 3: vs. Tampa Bay, noon

Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield should be starting at quarterback for the Buccaneers, but Tampa Bay figures to be awful. Much like with the 2022 Bears, that might not be an accident. This will be a game the Vikings shouldn’t overlook, but one they definitely should win.

Red Zone ranking: 4

Week 14, Dec. 10: at Las Vegas, 3:05 p.m.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one game that Vikings fans are eager to learn the date and time, it’s this one. The NFL might have created the perfect travel experience when it paired the Raiders with Las Vegas. I’m putting this game in December because it’s the perfect time of year to get out of the cold and head to a place where you can combine football, gambling and drinking.

Red Zone ranking: 5

Week 15, Dec. 17: vs. New Orleans, noon

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The NFC South was putrid last season with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers all finishing 7-10 and the division champion Buccaneers going 8-9. One has to think it can’t be much worse and the Saints do have Derek Carr at quarterback.

Red Zone ranking: 6

Week 16, Dec. 25: at Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m.

USA Today Sports

Clear room on the schedule for football on Christmas Day.

Just as the Vikings played the Saints in 2020 on Christmas, they will again travel to play as part of the NFL’s tripleheader on this day.

The Eagles figure to be a marquee team among the networks, given their appearance in the Super Bowl last season and Jalen Hurts’ emergence as a top quarterback. The Vikings are, for now, the most attractive team from the NFC North.

The start time gives everyone plenty of time to open their presents and eat a big breakfast or lunch. Or both.

Week 17, Dec. 31: at Detroit, noon

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The NFL puts division rivals against each other in the last couple weeks of the season and with the Lions expected to be the Vikings’ top challenger atop the North, this is a logical matchup for New Year’s Eve day.

Red Zone ranking: 7

Week 18, Jan. 7: vs. Packers, 3:25 p.m.

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Will the Packers’ strike it rich for a third time and find that Love is their next great quarterback? Or will Love falter and, thus, the Packers will be hopelessly out of the division race by the time this game arrives. Either way Vikings fans will have this one circled on the calendar.

Red Zone ranking: 8

Purple Daily

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire