Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr (55) lines up against the Miami Dolphins during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 41-17. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings had high expectations in 2018 but finished outside the playoffs. They will hope 2019 is a much different story.

There was a lot of confidence at this point last year after adding Kirk Cousins to a team that was 13-3 the year before with the No. 1 defense in the league. Unfortunately, few things went right and the squad ended up going 8-7-1, just outside of the final wild-card spot.

The good news is there are still the same pieces on the roster that could make this team a Super Bowl contender. If the players can remain healthy, there is a path back to the playoffs and possibly a deep run in January.

The team will need to start in the regular season with this schedule, courtesy of the team’s official site.

          

Vikings’ 2019 Schedule

Week 1: vs. Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 2: at Green Bay Packers on Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 3: vs. Oakland Raiders on Sept. 22 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 4: at Chicago Bears on Sept. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Week 5: at New York Giants on Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 6: vs. Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 7: at Detroit Lions on Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 8: vs. Washington Redskins on Oct. 24 at 8:20 p.m. ET on Fox/NFL Network

Week 9: at Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 10: at Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Week 11: vs. Denver Broncos on Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS

Week 12: BYE

Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 2 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN

Week 14: vs. Detroit Lions on Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Week 15: at Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 15 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Week 16: vs. Green Bay Packers on Dec. 23 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN

Week 17: vs. Chicago Bears on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox

         

Analysis

Jose Juarez/Associated Press

With Anthony Barr back in the fold, the defense remains loaded at all three levels. Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and others should keep the secondary at an elite level when healthy, while Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and the defensive line can match up with nearly anyone in the NFL.

Although the unit ranked just ninth in points allowed last year, it still has the talent to be a No. 1 group.

On offense, there are plenty of playmakers from Dalvin Cook to Adam Thielen to Stefon Diggs.

Still, everything comes down to Cousins.

The quarterback had a career-high 30 passing touchdowns last year but was mostly a disappointment with his inability to make plays against quality opponents.

There will be a lot of stingy defenses on the schedule this year, including the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers. Overall, this is the 10th-toughest schedule in the 2019 season, per John Breech of CBS Sports.

Cousins will have to prove he can succeed against the best in the leagueotherwise, this season will be a lost one for Minnesota.

        

Pivotal Matchups

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 06: Khalil Mack #52 of the Chicago Bears anticipates a play against the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Soldier Field on January 06, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Eagles defeated the Bears 16-15.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Vikings fans have been focusing on games against the Green Bay Packers for years, but it’s time to circle the two matchups with the Bears instead.

Minnesota will host its divisional opponent in Week 17 and go to Chicago in Week 4, and both could determine the outcome of this season.

The Bears finished last year with a 12-4 record and return the majority of a defense that ranked first in the NFL in points allowed. With Mitchell Trubisky expected to improve, this team isn’t going away in 2019.

The Vikings will need to, at the very least, split their games against this team if they want to win the division. Otherwise, they are likely looking at the wild card or worse.

Road games against the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks could also be important, while the five primetime games will be fun to watch.

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