The 2021 season will look a little different now that we know there will officially be a 17-game season.
But one NFL expert believes that could actually be good for the league in terms of close playoff races down the stretch.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com recently wrote that while the extended season will likely mean more broken records and will be physically taxing for players, it should also create more parity with all 32 NFL teams.
The league isn't disturbing things too much by adding a 17th game, but there's going to be a more subtle impact on the standings. The first-place teams, who already typically have the toughest schedules relative to the rest of the league, are getting another game against the best teams in football. The last-place teams — whose schedules were already supposed to be easy — get another game against their fellow cellar dwellers.
This extra game is likely to push the teams at the top and bottom of the standings toward the middle. The league's best teams are more likely to lose against other great teams, and the bottom-feeders are more likely to come up with a win when they're up against similar competition. As a result, we're less likely to see extreme performances than we were during the 16-game schedule. It'll be much tougher for a team to go 17-0 in the regular season than it was for the Patriots to go 16-0 there. Browns and Lions fans will be heartened to hear that there's probably not going to be an 0-17 team on the horizon.
The Vikings are scheduled to play eight home games and nine road games in 2021, with the league announcing last week that Minnesota will play the Los Angeles Chargers on the road.
Because the Vikings have an extra road game, they have two home preseason games compared to one on the road. (The league added a 17th regular-season game and reduced the preseason by a game).
One interesting note Barnwell added was that the Falcons will be away from their home stadium the most of any team in 2021. In addition to having nine road games, Atlanta is also scheduled to be the home team in a London game, meaning the Falcons will be away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium for 10 of their 17 total games.
The Athletic evaluates top offensive line prospects
The status of the Vikings offensive line is seemingly always a relevant offseason topic, and it's no different around Minnesota in 2021.
And with the 2021 NFL Draft a little more than three weeks away, Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently looked some potential players up front who could land in Purple with the 14th overall pick.
Hasan featured nine different offensive linemen in his piece, but we'll only focus on three of them here.
Hasan began with Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, who is generally regarded as the draft's second-best tackle behind Oregon's Penei Sewell. Some experts have Slater moving to guard in the pros.
We don't know if the Vikings see Slater as a guard or a tackle, but he has been discussed in draft circles as a contender to play either position. (Given the fact that Ezra Cleveland was discussed exclusively as a tackle by draft analysts but played guard for the Vikings, there may not be too much meaningful discussion to be had here.) He put together the best performance any tackle could manage against Chase Young in 2019 (Slater opted out of the 2020 season), has remarkable on-field athleticism, plays with a lot of intelligence and has quick hands.
He doesn't, though, have the size or length to convince every team he should play tackle and has some power issues when going up against bull rushers. For the most part, he sounds exactly like the kind of player the Vikings have picked over the past several years, though he has more technical skill and a better track record of college success.
Slater made 37 straight starts at tackle (including 26 on the right side in 2017 and 2018) before switching to the left side for 11 starts in 2019.
Hasan also highlighted Alijah-Vera Tucker out of Southern California, who played both guard and tackle for the Trojans.
Vera-Tucker played tackle his last year at USC and could be thought of as a player capable of both tackle and guard, but like Slater, he doesn't have the height and arm length of a traditional tackle. He played well at tackle for the Trojans, but his movement profile does fit an NFL guard a bit better, making his switch back to the interior more likely than Slater's. Footspeed is typically the way tackles are expected to make up for a lack of length, and his average on-field work there points to more work at guard. He met the Vikings athletic standards at both positions and should be a system fit regardless, but he will likely see his best years in the NFL on the inside.
Vera-Tucker played in 31 career games in college, making 19 starts in his final two seasons.
Hasan also wrote about center Quinn Meinerz, who hails from Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) and also seems to have position flexibility.
Unrecruited by Division I programs out of high school, Meinerz moved himself up draft boards throughout his final season for Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater and seemingly hasn't stopped. With a dominant showing in the Senior Bowl, his first experience against this level of competition, followed by a fantastic pro day that aligns with his athletic skill set, Meinerz showed that he can overpower big nose tackles and demonstrate the quick feet necessary to take on quick 3-techniques. His size should allow him to play guard as well as center, though it has hurt his agility a bit. He needs to be more technically consistent, but his natural ability should allow teams to feel comfortable taking him on Day 2.
Meinerz did not play in 2020 as all of Wisconsin-Whitewater's games were canceled due to COVID-19.
For a deeper look at the current state of the Vikings offensive line, check out the Monday Morning Mailbag.