While the official NFL schedule for 2014 is yet to be released, the opponents for each team have been announced, as well as the location for each game. The first five previews in this series will look at the non-divisional road games for the Vikings in 2014.
As the only team that was unable to win a road game in 2013, the Minnesota Vikings will need to make big improvements away from TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 should they want to play January football following the conclusion of the regular season.
The good news for the Vikings is that they have the ninth-easiest road schedule this upcoming season (based on last season's results), with road games against the Saints, Buccaneers, Bills, Rams, and Dolphins to go along with their annual trips to Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit.
Despite the fact free-agency is yet to begin, and the NFL Draft is still two months away, I figure this is as good a time as any to start looking ahead to the challenges facing the Vikings on the road when the season begins this September (Only 7 more months!!!!).
Just to give a broad overview, here is a look at the numbers each team was able to put up last season, as well as how they ranked in the NFL:
Passing Yards per Game: 214.2 (23)
Rushing Yards per Game: 130.1 (8)
Opponent Passing Yards per Game: 287.4 (31)
Opponent Rushing Yards per Game: 110.4 (16)
Passing Yards per Game: 307.4 (2)
Rushing Yards per Game: 92.1 (25)
Opponent Passing Yards per Game: 194.1 (2)
Opponent Rushing Yards per Game: 111.6 (19)
In looking at those numbers, the thing that should stand out immediately to everyone is that the second best passing attack in the NFL last season will be going up against the second worst pass defense in the NFL last season.
On top of that mismatch, the game will be played in the Super Dome in New Orleans (obviously, as this is a Vikings road-game preview). I only bring this up as Drew Brees, and the entire Saint's team, thrives off playing in front of the home fans, as demonstrated by their 8-0 home record last season (3-5 on the road).
Adding to further obvious statements, the Saints top offensive weapon in that passing attack is Jimmy Graham. There are very few teams in the NFL who are able to contain him, as he is a match-up nightmare. The Vikings are ill-equipped to handle Graham with their current roster construction, as they do not have a linebacker that can keep up with him, nor a defensive back able to match his physicality.
For the Vikings offensively, they should be able to run the ball on the Saints. However, in anticipation of the Vikings being behind multiple scores in this game, they will have to resort to throwing the ball against one of the most improved secondaries in the NFL on a year-to-year basis, as this season's Saints defense allowed almost 100 yards per game less through the air than they did in 2012. Some of the credit can be attributed to the tandem of Cameron Jordan (DE) and Junior Galette (LB) who combined for 24.5 sacks, pacing a defense that accumulated 49 sacks and forced 19 turnovers in 2013.
February game prediction (i.e. place next to no stock in this prediction):
I do not expect the Vikings to win this game. New Orleans is an extremely difficult place to play, and they do not match up well against the Saints.
Match-up outcome: Loss
Preview Series: 0-1*
*I will keep track of my predictions to try to provide some sort of context for how I anticipate the Vikings season to turn out. I think if the Vikings can win 10 games, they will be in the playoff hunt once again.