The Vikings' schedule has been released and it looks relatively favorable. Of course, there's so much that can happen before the first game, let alone the seventh, tenth, or sixteenth, so really, any talk about how the schedule plays out is ridiculously premature. (Honestly, how the heck did ESPN get an hour long special out of it? And who watched that?)
The first five games set up for a fast start for the Purple, even with two road games against the Browns and Lions to open the season. After that, the Vikings return home for games against the 49ers and Packers before traveling to St. Louis. All five of those teams are drafting in the top ten next Saturday, and while the NFL is known for it turnarounds from season to season, it's still better to start against teams that are likely to be bad (especially with the possibility of the Williams having to sit out due to a suspension). The Vikings' goal should definitely be 4-1 through this stretch, as the schedule gets harder before their bye in Week 9.
For their three final games before the bye, the Purple face the two teams that faced off in the AFC Championship and their arch rival. They host Baltimore and then travel to Heinz Field to play the Steelers' imposing defense and try to deal with their awful turf. They then close out the first half of the season with a trip to Lambeau to face the Packers and, hopefully, take a shot at sweeping Green Bay. Realistically, the Vikings should hope to win 1 of these 3, and if they can pull off 2-1, that would be amazing.
So, hopefully, after the bye, the Vikings will be sitting at 5-3, and their schedule likely starts to get harder, but only after the Purple get to host Detroit and Seattle and hopefully push their record to 7-3. And then comes the stretch run, with Chicago and Jay Cutler coming to the Dome in Week 12, followed by a trip to Arizona to play the NFC Champions, a "break" against the Bengals at home (no team with Carson Palmer is a break) followed by trips to Carolina and then Chicago, which will likely decide the NFC North title. Finally, the Vikings once again face the Giants to close the season, hopefully with the same results.
As of right now, it looks a lot like the final five games will really be the deciding factor in whether the Vikings' get a bye, winning the division or even if they make the playoffs. The Vikings could just as easily finish the year 4-1 as they could 1-4. And it makes their start all the more important, because if they don't beat the bad teams, it won't be easy to get the wins they need to make the playoffs in the final weeks of the season.