Kids, we did it. Somehow, someway, we managed to survive another off-season. Each off-season seems to get longer and longer, and the beginning of the new season is like seeing an old friend after a long absence.
And we are reunited with our old friend, the Minnesota Vikings, once again this Sunday. They take on an enigmatic Detroit Lions team that went to the playoffs in 2011, but fell to 4-12 last year. The Vikings have a daunting schedule the first month of the season, and need to get out of the gate fast, and come out of Detroit with a win. How will they go about getting that done?
Stop me if you've heard this before: Unleash Purple Jesus. Adrian Peterson is the straw that stirs the drink in Minnesota's offense, and the Vikings were wise to limit him in the pre-season. But Sunday, they will unleash him, and he should do very well. In 11 career games against Detroit (he missed one in 2011 due to his knee injury) he has rushed for 1165 yards, or 106 yards per game, on average. He has eclipsed 100 yards seven times against the Lions, and in those games the Vikings are 7-0. In the other four games, the Vikings are 1-3. The Lions were also the first team that Peterson went over 100 yards on last year, so hey, let's keep this little tradition going.
Keep an eye on the secondary. It's no secret that Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are one of the best QB-WR tandems in recent memory. They can't be stopped, but they can be limited in the damage they do. I would expect Chris Cook to match up on Johnson most often, and if Megatron lines up in the slot, we'll see what kind of mettle Xavier Rhodes is made of. We'll also see if Marcus Sherels can keep up in the dime package...and if he struggles, I wonder, just maybe, if Antoine Winfield might be interested in coming back.
Ezekiel Ansah v. Matt Kalil. This is the game within the game that I love. Ansah is considered the biggest boom or bust pick in the first round of the 2013 draft, and most people think he'll be boom. Kalil was the Vikings first round pick last year, and quickly developed in to one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Kalil struggled this pre-season, and Ansah will be a very good first test. Was Kalil just not into it this pre-season, or is was there something wrong with him? Well, we'll find out Sunday. If it's the former, Christian Ponder's blind side will be fine. If it's the latter, he'll be running for his life.
Riley Reiff v. Jared Allen. The other game within the game is Jared Allen against Detroit's left tackle and first round pick Riley Reiff. When the Vikings have success, they bring a ton of pressure up front and force opposing quarterbacks into making hurried, bad throws. This will be especially true with Stafford, and if he gets time he'll pick apart the Vikings. And could it be the beginning of the end of the Jared Allen era in Minnesota? He's in the final year of his contract, and he's north of 30. He could be playing for another extension for the Vikings...or he could be auditioning for other teams.
Greg Jennings, son. Jennings was the big money free agent acquisition in the off-season, it's time to start earning that paycheck, and Ponder needs to find a rhythm with his receivers. Yes, Cordarrelle Patterson is the cool new toy out wide, but Jennings will set the tone for this receiving corps in 2013. If Ponder gets time, Jennings will get open, and since he believes in himsmelf and can deliver breakfast in bed while scoring a touchdown, he could be the recipient of some big plays. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT WASN'T REAL?
Blair Walsh needs to hit like four 50 yard field goals. This is purely selfish, simply because my DN fantasy football team I Jacquizzed Myself (is that a great name, or what?), only has one Viking player in my starting lineup. Yep, you guessed it, Blair Walsh people. And since we get something like five points for each field goal over 50 yards, I need all the help I can get. Now, I also want them to score a bunch of TD's and roll Detroit like a two dollar hooker, but yeah, fantasy football has a way of making me kind of selfish in this regard.
Joe Webb's march to the hall of fame begins Sunday. Okay, just kidding. But seriously, Webb is one of the most intriguing guys on this roster. You guys all know I have not supported Webb as the quarterback over Ponder, but I will be interested to see how they utilize Webb Sunday. If I had to guess, I would think they would use his size advantage down on the goal line. He caught a TD pass in one of the pre-season games in just that situation, thrown by...somebody (look man, it's pre-season, it all ran together for me). Webb, if used properly, could become a pretty decent weapon for the Vikings this season. Just not under center.
I mentioned earlier the Vikes schedule--after Detroit, they go to Chicago, home against Cleveland, the London game against Pittsburgh, then the bye. They need to come out strong and get a win, because they'll only play one game in the Metrodome in the first five weeks of the season.
I think they are more than capable of doing so.