The NFL didn’t waste any time in scheduling Mike Zimmer’s return to the city where he previously coached.
The league announced its 2021 schedule on Wednesday, and the Vikings will open at Cincinnati at noon on Sept. 12 in a game televised by Fox. It will mark their first regular-season appearance there since 2013 and their first since Zimmer became Minnesota’s head coach in 2014 after six seasons as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator.
The Vikings opened the 2016 preseason at Cincinnati, and won 17-16. That game followed two days of joint practices between the teams.
Prior to Wednesday, all of the Vikings’ foes were known for the 2021 season, the first in NFL history that is 17 games, and it was known they would play nine games on the road and eight at home. The home opener will be Sept. 26 against Seattle after Minnesota opens with road games at Cincinnati and at Arizona on Sept. 19. It marks the first time the Vikings have played their first two games on the road since 2013, and the latest home opener the team has had since Sept. 27, 2009.
The Vikings will have four prime-time nationally televised games. They will be Oct. 31 against Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Dec. 9 at home against Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football, Dec. 20 at Chicago on ESPN’s Monday Night Football and Jan. 2 at Green Bay on Sunday Night Football. It will mark the fourth time in six seasons the Vikings have played at Chicago on Monday.
All NFC teams will play nine road games. It was announced in March that the Vikings’ 17th game would be on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, and it will be on Nov. 14. It will be their first game at luxurious second-year SoFi Stadium.
The home opener against Seattle will be followed by visits to U.S. Bank Stadium of Cleveland and Detroit, giving the Vikings three straight home games.
Perhaps the most difficult stretch of the season will be having four games out of five on the road in November and December, Minnesota will be at Baltimore on Nov. 7, at the Chargers, home to Green Bay on Nov. 21, at San Francisco on Nov. 28 and at Detroit on Dec. 5. That stretch will be followed four days later by the Thursday home game against Pittsburgh.
For the second straight year, the Vikings will have their bye in Week 7. The difference this year is it will be followed by 11, rather than 10 more games.
The Vikings last year didn’t have any fans at home games due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, executive vice president of public affairs Lester Bagley told the Pioneer Press earlier this week the team is hopeful this season of “full houses at U.S. Bank Stadium.”
For the opener, there are number of connections between the Vikings and the Bengals. Tackle Riley Reiff and cornerback Trae Waynes will make their Cincinnati regular-season debuts after their former team. Reiff played with the Vikings from 2017-20 before being released and Waynes played with them from 2015-19 before leaving as a free agent and missing all of last season due to injury.
Vikings first-year senior defensive assistant Paul Guenther was a Bengals assistant from 2005-17, including 2014-17 as defensive coordinator. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander will face his former team after he played for the Vikings from 2016-19, spent 2020 in Cincinnati and then returned to Minnesota. And first-year Minnesota linebacker Nick Vigil will go against the team he played for from 2016-19.
There also will be some LSU connections from its 2019 national championship team. The Vikings feature second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson off that team and the Bengals have second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
But the most scrutinized connection will be Zimmer returning to Cincinnati, where he had one of the NFL’s better defenses for a half-dozen seasons.
The 2021 Vikings regular-season schedule, along with the preseason schedule, also released Wednesday:
Aug. 13 or 14: Denver, Fox 9
Aug. 20 or 21: Indianapolis, Fox 9
Aug. 27 or 28: at Kansas City, Fox 9
Sept. 12 at Cincinnati, noon, Fox
Sept. 19 at Arizona, 3:05 p.m., Fox
Sept. 26 Seattle, 3:25 p.m., Fox
Oct. 3 Cleveland, noon, CBS
Oct. 10 Detroit, noon, Fox
Oct. 17 at Carolina, noon, Fox
Oct. 24 Bye
Oct. 31 Dallas, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Nov. 7 at Baltimore, noon, Fox
Nov. 14 at Los Angeles Chargers, 3:05 p.m., Fox
Nov. 21 Green Bay, noon, Fox
Nov. 28 at San Francisco, 3:25 p.m, Fox
Dec. 5 at Detroit, noon, CBS
Dec. 9 Pittsburgh, 7:20 p.m., Fox, NFL Network, Amazon
Dec. 20 at Chicago, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 26 Los Angeles Rams, noon, Fox
Jan. 2 at Green Bay, 7:20 p.m. NBC
Jan. 9 Chicago, noon, Fox