I know a lot of experts are high on the Vikings this season and believe they can make the playoffs -- but probably not win the NFC North division unless Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hurt. The Vikings have what looks to be a keeper at quarterback in second-year Teddy Bridgewater. After a predictably shaky start to his rookie season, the final pick of the 2014 first round completed 72.1 percent of his passes over his last five games, the NFL's second-highest mark during that period. And this year, defenses should be a bit easier to pick apart as they will have to deal with Adrian Peterson. Bridgewater didn't play a snap with arguably the NFL's best running back last season. And if there's any coordinator in football who can get the best out of a quarterback, it's Norv Turner. When he had Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, for example, the Bolts were one of the NFL's most explosive teams. In addition, the Vikes got Bridgewater a new weapon in trading for Miami's Mike Wallace.
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The defense should be a Top-10 unit -- that side of the ball is the specialty of second-year head coach Mike Zimmer. In their first two drafts since Zimmer became their head coach, the Vikings have used 10 of their 13 picks on players for Zimmer's defense. Their initial first-round pick last year was linebacker Anthony Barr, and he looks like a future Pro Bowler.
Minnesota was 2-6 on the road last season, 5-3 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." The Vikings' 2015 road schedule ranks as the 12th-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .531. It's tied with Chicago for the hardest in the NFC North.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds. Four of the road games are against 2014 playoff teams.
Sept. 14 -- at 49ers (-1): This is the nightcap in the Week 1 Monday night doubleheader. And it looks at lot less daunting of a trip that it would have a year ago at this time, that's for sure. I'll bet Peterson has a huge game in his return because he's really going to want a make a statement to the NFL world. Vikings have won three straight in series, last in 2012. They were last in San Francisco in 2007. Vikings win this. Key trend: Vikings are 6-4 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of 2 points or fewer.
Oct. 4 -- at Broncos (-7): Minnesota is off a Week 3 home game vs. San Diego, and this is ahead of team's bye, while Denver is in Detroit the previous Sunday night. Vikings last played Denver in 2011, so they haven't seen Peyton Manning in Broncos colors yet. Vikes lose this one. Key trend: Vikings are 6-0 ATS (and SU) in past six before a bye week.
Oct. 25 -- at Lions (-5): Minnesota off a Week 6 home game vs. Kansas City, while Detroit is home to Chicago the previous Sunday. This already finishes the season series as the Vikings host Detroit in Week 2. Minnesota lost 16-14 in Motown in Week 15 last year on a field goal with 3:38 left. The Vikings' Blair Walsh tried what would have been an NFL-record 68-yard field goal as time expired, but it was short. The Vikings were up 14-0 in the second quarter. Bridgewater was 31-for-41 for 315 yards with a touchdown and two picks. The Minnesota defense held Detroit to only 233 yards. Vikings lose this. Key trend: Vikings 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Nov. 1 -- at Bears (-2): Edge to Chicago here as it comes off its bye week. The Vikings came off their bye in Week 11 last year and lost 21-13 in Chicago. Ryan Mundy intercepted Bridgewater's 29-yard pass in the end zone in the closing minute. Minnesota had only 243 total yards and held the ball for just 21:22. Bridgewater was 18-for-28 for 158 yards with a TD and a pick. Vikings lose this. Key trend: Vikes 1-9 SU (3-6-1 ATS) in past 10 as road dog in series
Nov. 15 -- at Raiders (+1.5): Potential trap game here as Minnesota hosts Green Bay the following week. The Vikes are off a home game vs. St. Louis in Week 9 heading into this one. Oakland is off a trip to Pittsburgh. First meeting between what look to be the best two quarterbacks from the Class of 2014 in Bridgewater and Raiders second-round pick Derek Carr. Vikings win. Key trend: Vikings haven't been a road favorite since 2012. They are 3-7 ATS in the past 10 as one.
Nov. 29 -- at Falcons (-1.5): Potential trap game here on the other side of that Packers showdown for Minnesota. Atlanta hosts Indianapolis in Week 11. The Vikings beat the visiting Falcons 41-28 in Week 4 last season, the most points Minnesota scored all year. It was Bridgewater's first start and he threw for 317 yards and scored a 2-point conversion off a run to give the Vikings a 35-28 lead in the fourth quarter. Vikings win this. Key trend: Vikings 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC South teams.
Dec. 10 -- at Cardinals (-5.5): Thursday night game. Also the last indoor game for Minnesota, so its final three will be played most likely in wintry conditions. Vikings are off a home game vs. Seattle in Week 13, while Arizona is off a trip to St. Louis. Minnesota has won three straight in series, last in 2012, but will lose this one. Key trend: Vikings 0-9-1 SU (6-4 ATS) in past 10 as road dog of at least 5 points.
Jan. 3 -- at Packers (TBA): No line on the final Sunday of the regular season as with most games because there are too many potential intangibles. Maybe the Packers will have nothing to play for by this point with a playoff seed locked down. Otherwise, good luck winning at Lambeau. The Vikings were blasted there in Week 5 on a Thursday last season, 42-10. It was 28-0 at halftime and 42-0 entering the fourth. Bridgewater missed the game with a sprained ankle, and Christian Ponder, who is no longer with the team, predictably wasn't good in his place. He was 22-for-44 for 222 yards and two picks. Vikings lose this assuming Packers don't just lie down. Key trend: Vikings 4-6 ATS in past 10 at Green Bay.
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