The Vikings 2022 schedule was released yesterday, and there are plenty of contests and storylines to anticipate.
Minnesota is scheduled to play six contests against division rivals Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay. The Vikings are slated to open the 2022 season at home against the Packers, which they also did in 2020 but without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, Minnesota is scheduled to host all three of its division foes at U.S. Bank Stadium in the first third of the season and will visit all three in the final third, a scheduling rarity. But take away the recurring NFC North battles, and there are still 11 games that include plenty of top-level competition. We'll highlight some head-to-head matchups below.
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Intriguing matchups between the Vikings and their non-division foes include the following:
Week 2 at Eagles: TE Irv Smith, Jr., and S Anthony Harris
The Vikings will meet a familiar face early in the season when they visit Philadelphia for a Monday Night Football showdown.
Eagles safety Anthony Harris signed with Minnesota in 2015 as an undrafted free agent and played his first six seasons in Purple before signing with Philadelphia last spring.
Harris and tight end Irv Smith, Jr., battled against each other in 2019 and 2020 Vikings practices, and now they'll have a chance to do so under the prime-time lights.
Smith is expected to return to the field after missing all last season due to a knee injury that required surgery. Being that he was poised last offseason to make a big splash, he'll certainly draw lots of attention.
For the Eagles in 2021, Harris started all 14 games he played. He recorded 72 tackles, two tackles for loss, three passes defensed and an interception.
He and Smith might be friends off the field, but all bets are off once the coin is flipped for Week 2.
Week 4 vs. Saints (in London): T Brian O'Neill and DE Cam Jordan
Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill and Saints defensive end Cam Jordan have gone against each other multiple times, but this October will mark their first time doing so across the pond.
Minnesota is slated to play New Orleans in London for a "neutral site" game as part of the NFL's 2022 International Series.
The last time O'Neill faced Jordan was on Christmas Day in 2020, when the Vikings fell to the Saints at the Superdome.
"He's a really good player. I have tremendous respect for him and how he's been able to play at such a high level," O'Neill said of Jordan ahead of that game.
Jordan has also spoken highly of O'Neill, and the rivals present each other with a solid challenge on game day.
The Vikings will try to bounce back against New Orleans in this overseas matchup, and a large part of keeping the Saints in check will be containing Jordan.
Week 6 at Dolphins: WR Justin Jefferson and CB Xavien Howard
Pro Bowler meets Pro Bowler.
Dolphins corner Xavien Howard had a head start in the league over Vikings phenom receiver Justin Jefferson, but both have made an impact.
Howard and Jefferson participated in the past two Pro Bowls, though they were on the AFC and NFC squads, respectively, and never shared a practice field. When they faced each other during the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas last year, Howard broke up a pass intended for Jefferson.
This season marks the first time Jefferson and Howard have the opportunity to meet in a game that counts, and it will be in Howard's territory.
The Dolphins are sure to pay close attention to Jefferson, knowing he's arguably Minnesota's top offensive weapon, which means Howard could have his hands full.
Jefferson said the first thing he looks at when the NFL schedule comes out is which corners he'll be facing.
"Really, I just mostly look at the cornerback matchups," Jefferson said. "What cornerbacks they have on their team, seeing who I'll be matching up against, some guys I'm looking forward to going up against. ... Every game is going to be the same. I'm treating it the same and just trying to do the best I can, so I'm cool with [the schedule]."
Week 8 vs. Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson and WR DeAndre Hopkins
There's always something special about playing your former team.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson spent 10 seasons in Arizona before joining Minnesota last spring as a free agent. The Vikings visited the Cardinals last year in Week 2 and had a chance to win in the final seconds but lost on a missed field goal attempt.
Peterson was targeted just once by his former team, but he'll have another chance this season - and at the Vikings home stadium, no less. He re-signed with Minnesota this spring and said he's looking forward to another season in Purple.
"I think the Wilf family did a great job bringing in some great leaders and great innovators on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to see if they can take us to where we want to be," Peterson said. "I wanted to be a part of that because a majority of the team was coming back."
Peterson could very well be matched up against All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, whom he overlapped with in Arizona for the 2020 campaign. Hopkins was recently suspended six games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, meaning the Week 8 meeting with Minnesota will be just his second game back.
There's also the possibility that Peterson will go against A.J. Green, who was selected fourth overall - just one spot ahead of Peterson - in the 2011 NFL Draft.
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Week 9 at Commanders: T Christian Darrisaw and DE Montez Sweat
Vikings tackle Christian Darrisaw got a late start to his rookie season but made up for lost time.
The former Virginia Tech standout missed time at the beginning of the 2021 campaign due to a college injury but made an impact once he hit the field, showing steady improvement through the 12 games (10 starts) he played.
Darrisaw, who grew up about 10 miles southeast of FedEx Field, could have a tough test ahead of him with Washington defensive end Montez Sweat.
A first-round draftee in 2019, Sweat has started all 42 games he's played for Washington. He did miss time last season due to injury but totaled 5.0 sacks over the 10 games he played. Darrisaw will be tasked with keeping Sweat in check and allowing Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins opportunity for success against his former team.
Week 10 at Bills: Vikings secondary and Bills WR Stefon Diggs
If we're being honest, the Week 10 game at Buffalo is ripe with storylines.
After all, two major cast members of the Minneapolis Miracle are on the Bills roster: receiver Stefon Diggs and quarterback Case Keenum, who is backing up Josh Allen.
The trade that sent Diggs to Buffalo has worked out well for both parties; the Vikings drafted Jefferson with the pick received in the transaction, and Diggs has continued to be one of the league's top wideouts.
It's tough to say exactly if one Minnesota corner will shadow Diggs, so for this matchup we're tabbing the entire Vikings secondary to mix up coverages on the playmaker.
This will be the first time Diggs faces his former team, and there's sure to be some extra juice headed into the matchup.
Also worth mentioning is that Vikings running back Dalvin Cook will play in the pros against his younger brother for the first time. Buffalo drafted James Cook, also a running back, out of Georgia with the 63rd overall selection.
Week 11 vs. Cowboys: WR Adam Thielen and CB Trevon Diggs
And speaking of Diggs - and of brothers - the Vikings will face Stefon's younger brother, Trevon, in Week 11.
The Cowboys drafted Trevon Diggs 51st overall in 2020, and the cornerback has impressed early on. In 16 starts last season, Diggs racked up 11 interceptions for 142 yards and two defensive touchdowns. The stellar season earned Diggs a nod to his first career Pro Bowl and an All-Pro designation.
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen became close with Stefon Diggs when the two teamed together in Minnesota, and now he'll have a chance to go against his younger brother.
Thielen has played the Cowboys three times (2016, 2020 and 2021) in his Vikings career but has yet to notch a win. (He was sidelined with an injury during Minnesota's win at Dallas in 2019). He will be looking for his fourth career touchdown against the Cowboys but will likely have to contend with Diggs to do so.
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Week 12 vs. Patriots: Kevin O'Connell and Bill Belichick
In his first season as an NFL head coach, Kevin O'Connell will get the chance to coach against one of the league's best in Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.
And not only that, but O'Connell will be scheming against the coach who gave O'Connell his first shot in the NFL.
Belichick and the Patriots selected O'Connell with the 94th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. The young quarterback rushed for a touchdown in the 2008 preseason against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter. O'Connell made his NFL debut on Sept. 21, 2008, in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, throwing his first four career passes and completing three.
The Patriots waived O'Connell in August 2009.
After his hire by the Vikings, O'Connell spoke with media members and shared his philosophy on game management that's been influenced by his time in New England. He emphasized "the middle eight," meaning the final four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second.
"Games can catastrophically swing without you really having a lot to do with it other than the initial decision you made," O'Connell said. "There's nobody better than Coach Belichick at that middle eight. I can remember, I wasn't there long, but I can remember some dialogue about that. You constantly see that play out each and every week. You really do."
Week 13 vs. Jets: S Harrison Smith and TE Tyler Conklin
Another meeting of familiar faces will occur in Week 13 when the Vikings host the Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time ever.
The scheduled worked out well for tight end Tyler Conklin, who signed with the Jets in free agency and will get to play his former team during his first season with Gang Green.
Conklin spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in Minnesota, and he especially made an impact in 2021 when the Vikings were without Irv Smith, Jr.
Safety Harrison Smith is the longest-tenured Viking and remains one of Minnesota's top defensive players. With four years in the bank of practicing against each other, it's sure to be a fun matchup for Conklin and Smith at U.S. Bank Stadium Week 13.
It's fair to expect some low-key banter between these two, but it's sure to all be in fun. They may no longer share a locker room, but Conklin and Smith do share an affinity for Nic Cage flicks.
Week 15 vs. Colts: LB Eric Kendricks and RB Jonathan Taylor
The Vikings haven't defeated the Colts since 1997.
So needless to say, Minnesota will be champing at the bit (see what I did there?) when the Colts visit U.S. Bank Stadium in December.
In order to stop Indianapolis, the Vikings will need to rein in Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who was named a 2021 All-Pro and received a Pro Bowl invite.
Enter Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. New Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has said Minnesota will be multiple on defense but likely implement a 3-4 base system, which will be anchored up the middle by Kendricks and free agent addition Jordan Hicks.
Taylor was drafted 44th overall by the Colts in 2020, and the league immediately felt his presence.
Over his first two pro seasons, Taylor has totaled 2,980 yards and an incredible 29 touchdowns on 564 carries.
If anyone's able to wrangle him, though, it will be Kendricks, who made this flying tackle in 2020:
Week 16 vs. Giants: DT Dalvin Tomlinson and RB Saquon Barkley
Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson will have his first opportunity to play his former team since signing with Minnesota in free agency during the spring of 2021.
Tomlinson spent four seasons playing for the Giants, during which he overlapped with running back Saquon Barkley from 2018-20. The two served as team captains together during the 2020 season, along with four of their Giants teammates.
Barkley, who earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie after racking up 1,307 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, had experience practicing against Tomlinson but now will need to face him in the real thing.
Barkley played just two games in 2020 but returned to the field last season to start all 13 of the games he played. He totaled 593 yards and two touchdowns on 162 carries.
Minnesota will look to Tomlinson to play a big role in helping stop New York's run game.