Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) takes the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Early Look at Vikings 2014 Opponents

The NFL is being very coy with the release of their 2014 schedule. The release is supposed to come out in the middle of April but so far there have been no hints as to the date or time when the schedule might appear.

Fans got a small appetizer of the release when the preseason schedule was released yesterday, but the entree is still yet to come.

While we don’t know how the schedule will look yet, we do at least already know  who the Vikings opponents will be for all of next season. With that in mind, it’s time to take an early look at those teams, how they performed last year and how they seem to be trending after free agency.

Note: In addition to playing twice against every member of their division, in 2014 the Vikings will play every team from the NFC South and AFC East

NFC North:

Chicago Bears

2013 Record: 8-8

Outlook for 2014: Trending Up, but in question

While Chicago had a prolific offense last year, their defense was near the bottom of the league along with the Vikings. To improve on that side of the football, the Bears used free agency to overhaul their defensive line, signing Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and of course, Jared Allen. The Bears also improved one of the worst safety duos in the league by bringing in Ryan Mundy to potentially start. With an improved defense the Bears could battle for the division crown yet again, but a major asterisk exists in the form of Jay Cutler’s health. Now that Josh McCown has signed with Tampa Bay, the Bears no longer have a solid insurance policy and could crash if Cutler goes down (as he is prone to do) and they don’t find a better backup plan.

 

Detroit Lions

2013 Record: 7-9

Outlook for 2014: Who knows?

It’s really hard to know what to make of the Detroit Lions right now. Every year it seems they become a trendy offseason pick as a surprise team, and every year they seem to disappoint. New head coach Jim Caldwell could possibly help straighten Matthew Stafford out, but after last season Stafford didn’t seem incredibly willing to work to improve himself. His job could get easier with the addition of Golden Tate, but the Lions defense is still lacking talent in the secondary, which is dangerous when you have to face the receivers of the NFC North so often.

 

Green Bay Packers

2013 Record: 8-7-1

Outlook for 2014: Trending Up

The Packers aren’t trending up because of any major free agent signings, they’re trending up because Aaron Rodgers collarbone figures to be healthy at the start of the season. Like it or not, with Rodgers at the helm the Packers are going to be Super Bowl contenders for a little while longer. Signing aging pass rusher Julius Peppers was a splashy move, but Peppers is already on the decline and may not actually be that big of a factor on defense. The Packers biggest obstacle has always been health, as they never seem to get their core talent on the field at the same time. If they ever did, Rodgers could have more than one ring on his fingers right now.

NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons

2013 Record: 4-12

Outlook for 2014: Trending Up

The Falcons were fairly active in the early hours of free agency, signing players to help them get better in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines. None of those players by themselves should make a huge impact, but together they help solidify the Falcon’s depth chart and make them less of a “soft” team. Atlanta seems certain to improve after bottoming out in 2013, but with Tony Gonzalez retiring and few options in the backfield it’s hard to see them as playoff contenders either.

 

Carolina Panthers

2013 Record: 12-4

Outlook for 2014: Trending Down

The Panthers have not had a sharp offseason so far, and David Gettleman will have to ace the draft in order to get his team back in the playoffs. The Panthers lack of talent at wide receiver has been well publicized at this point, but the position the team should really be worried about is left tackle. Cam Newton’s blindside does not have a proven protector right now, and the team might not be able to grab a good option at the bottom of the first round. With Newton coming off of angle surgery, keeping him healthy needs to be a priority for this franchise as well.

 

New Orleans Saints

2013 Record: 11-5

Outlook for 2014: Same

The Saints have had plenty of losses this offseason but they made one of the biggest flashes in free agency by signing safety Jarius Bryd. Rob Ryan’s defense is shaping up to be an elite unit, and for the first time in many years the Saints offense has more concerns than its defense. The loss of Darren Sproles will be hard to make up, and the team doesn’t have a ton of depth at wide receiver.  Sean Payton and Drew Brees also have to figure out how to win on the road, which is certain to be a storyline again this season.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2013 Record: 4-12

Outlook for 2014: Trending Up

The Buccaneers have been perhaps the most active team this offseason, hiring Lovie Smith as head coach and signing 17 free agents. Smith has been swift to remake his roster the way he wants it, though his most important decision will come later in training camp at quarterback. Smith says Josh McCown in his starter for now, but rookie Mike Glennon showed some promise last year  even though he was surrounded by very challenging circumstances. Running back Doug Martin will return from injury to help spark the offense, and the Buccaneers should stay in the playoff hunt until late in the season.

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

2013 Record: 6-10

Outlook for 2014: Trending Down

The Bills have made no major additions in free agency, and they lost one of the best safeties in the league in Jarius Bryd. The team still doesn’t have its quarterback situation figured out, as EJ Manuel did almost nothing to stand out his rookie season. It could be another long winter in Buffalo this year, as the team could sit out of playoff football for another year. In the meantime, thoughts and prayers go to Jim Kelly in his family in the hopes that he is able to win his battle with cancer.

 

Miami Dolphins

2013 Record: 8-8

Outlook for 2014: Trending Up

The Dolphins seem to be trending up right now, just because their offensive line couldn’t get any worse, right? After giving up a league leading number of sacks this season, the Dolphins have already added a left tackle and guard though free agency, and the team will probably pick up several more lineman through the draft. Knowshon Moreno should also make the Dolphins running game….existent, which should make life a lot easier for young quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

 

New England Patriots

2013 Record: 12-4

Outlook for 2014: Same

Each and every year, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick work their magic and take the AFC East crown. After adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to their defense this offseason, it’s clear the Patriots are loading up for another run at the AFC title, and possibly the team’s sixth Super Bowl of the Brady/Belichick era. The offense still has plenty of holes, especially at receiver and tight end with Rob Gronkowski recovering, but Brady seems to always find a way. He certainly did last year.

 

New York Jets

2013 Record: 8-8

Outlook for 2014: Trending Down

The Jets had a miraculous a run as any team last year, as finishing 8-8 with their roster should have made Rex Ryan a serious Coach of the Year candidate. It’s unlikely Ryan can squeeze eight wins out of this team again though, because his quarterback situation is already muddled and the team has some serious defensive holes. Right now the team is lacking talent and depth at corner, which is one of the most important positions in Ryan’s defensive schemes. Eric Decker is a nice new weapon, but if the Jets have to rely on their offense even a little bit they’re going to struggle through 2014.

 

Well, that’s how the offseasons for the Vikings 2014 opponents have looked so far. Soon, we’ll figure out the order they actually play these opponents when the NFL schedule gets released!

How do you feel Vikings fans? Are there any teams you’re particularly worried about this season? Are there teams you feel I over/under valued? Sound off in the comments below or on Twitter @Goatman102!

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