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Vikings at Broncos Preview and Week 4 Picks: QB or not QB

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Quarterback is the most important position on the field. But are Teddy Bridgewater and Peyton Manning the biggest factors in deciding who wins in Denver?

It's weird to face a team led by Peyton Manning and not have him be the main concern.
It's weird to face a team led by Peyton Manning and not have him be the main concern.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It's like ordering an expensive steak and being more concerned about the vegetables that come with it. Like choosing a hotel based on what kind of shampoo they have. Like going to the movies and picking out what you're going to watch because you heard good things about the assistant production manager.

It's like actually reading Playboy for the articles.

I get the same out-of-whack feeling as we approach Sunday's matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.

Each week we get bludgeoned with the old cliché that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and there isn't a more important position in sports. For my money, the best overall quarterback that I have seen in my lifetime is Peyton Manning. Now this isn't meant to spur a thousand Brady vs. Manning vs. Whoever Else takes--I'm simply stating my opinion. I believe Manning has done more at the quarterback position at a high level than anyone else throughout his career. He will have nearly every significant career passing mark in league history when he finally calls it quits. He has been an extra offensive coordinator on the field; nobody can diagnose a defense like Manning can. Outside of Manning's sub-par playoff history, his career is pretty unassailable.

So why am I not all that concerned about him this week?

Sure, Manning's play has declined a bit this season. He had a solid game in Detroit, but Denver basically won their first two games in spite of him. Long gone is the laser rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy. Instead we have seen a lot of passes like this:

Manning incomplete Ravens

That throw had cable. However, last week Manning proved that some of his passes still have DirecTV:

Manning TD to Daniels

Even if he is at his 39-year-old best--let's face it, the Manning that the Vikings saw a few times when he was in Indy no longer exists--he is still pretty far down on my list of concerns when it comes to the Broncos. Why? One word: defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Everson Griffen is fifth in the league with 16 total pressures through three games. Griff has been an absolute beast the past two weeks. But guess which players are tied at first with 21 pressures each? Denver teammates DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.

Having two players like Ware and Miller on the same line is like Barcelona having Neymar, Messi, and Suarez--it really isn't fair. (Sorry, that was a soccer analogy. I promise to not let it happen again.) Just look at how fast Miller is around the edge:

Miller sack

T.J. Clemmings is probably having nightmares in the film room this week. I would assume the Vikings plan to use a lot of two and three tight end formations against the Broncos. Clemmings and Matt Kalil are going to need all the help they can get in the form of chip blocks from Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt to keep Ware and Miller at bay. Kalil is having a much better season in 2015 but what really killed him last year were athletic speed rushers. And besides, it's not like the Vikings wide receivers are going nuts through the first three games. Mike WallaceCharles Johnson (who is banged up and questionable to play), and Jarius Wright (who might miss a week or two with a hand injury) have combined for only 23 receptions and 268 yards this year--in other words, an average half for Julio Jones. So you might as well have more blockers in there to prevent seeing that Von Miller pelvic thrust dance over and over.

The Vikings have already had some success with big sets. In the San Diego game, Adrian Peterson's 43-yard touchdown run came out of the "13" personnel set (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) and featured a nice block from Pruitt to set the edge and allow AP to bounce outside:

Pruitt block AP TD

These big sets under center may not be where Teddy Bridgewater is the most comfortable, but it is sure as hell a lot more comfortable than ending up on your back every play.

MIKE WALLACE, CHARLES JOHNSON, AND JARIUS WRIGHT HAVE COMBINED FOR ONLY 23 RECEPTIONS AND 268 YARDS THIS YEAR--IN OTHER WORDS, AN AVERAGE HALF FOR JULIO JONES.

Even if the pass protection is decent and Peterson runs well enough to keep the Denver defense off balance, it's still going to be hard for Bridgewater to find yards through the air. Denver has allowed only 176 yards passing per game because their secondary is nearly as good as their pass rush. Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., and Bradley Roby are one of the best cornerback troikas in the league. Safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart are no slouches either. Looking for holes to attack on the Broncos defense might be an exercise in futility.

The guy in charge of the defense is pretty good too. Like Norv Turner on offense, Wade Phillips is a very highly regarded coordinator on his side of the ball. (And also like Turner, not as highly regarded as head coach.) Between Phillips' schemes and Denver's personnel, the Broncos will be the toughest task Bridgewater has faced in his young career.

Will Teddy be up for it? There has been a bit of unrest here at Daily Norseman regarding the play of the Vikings' second year QB, even though his supporters will tell you he hasn't been nearly as mediocre as the stats suggest. Overall I think Teddy has shown patience and good pocket presence this season, but there's also no denying that he has missed some opportunities.

I went back and looked at the San Diego film and Bridgewater really didn't play as poorly as the numbers suggested. There were two bad throws in the first quarter--his interception and another pass to Adam Thielen that should have been picked. He also missed Kyle Rudolph pretty badly on a corner route in the second quarter. Other than that, Teddy actually did OK. As I sat down to watch the film, I was pretty certain that my Junk Bond rating of him in the Stock Market Report was going to be more than justified. It's hard to think a quarterback that scored only 3 fantasy points didn't have a disastrous game. To be honest, he was decent overall.

But decent isn't going to cut it against this Broncos defense. Bridgewater has done "enough" over the past two games; that "enough" is going to get quantitatively larger this week. The good news for Teddy: like Peyton, he probably doesn't top the list of concerns for his opposition either. There's that Peterson fella you might have heard of, and the Minnesota defense is pretty damn good as well.

After what can only be explained as the sixth preseason game in San Francisco, the Vikings defense has been excellent the past two weeks. They held the Lions and Chargers to 2.9 yards a carry, which would actually be an improvement for the Broncos--Denver is only averaging 2.6 yards per rush this season. (Everyone that has C.J. Anderson on their fantasy team is screaming "I KNOW!" at their screen right now.) Outside of every Vikings fan's favorite wishlist guard Evan Mathis, the Broncos offensive line has been pretty terrible in run blocking. If the Vikings can shut down the run and make Denver one-dimensional, they can dig in and get after Manning.

Minnesota might not have the defensive statistics of Denver, but I'm guessing that if you asked Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers how they felt the day after playing the Vikings, their testimonies of the defense's effectiveness would be very convincing. Mike Zimmer and George Edwards have their guys playing great team defense. Just about everyone (outside of strong safety) is playing well and swarming to the ball. Amazingly it looks like the Vikings may actually have the services of Xavier Rhodes after he nearly had his head taken off by Andrew Sendejo last week. The importance of his presence cannot be overstated in a game like this. Not only can he cover a big receiver like Demaryius Thomas, he can help make sure Denver's running game never gets going with plays like this:

Rhodes run stop

So a game between one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is probably going to be decided by which one can simply survive the opponent's defense better. That's not supposed to happen in today's NFL. Points are going to be at a premium with both defenses clicking and the offenses struggling to find consistency. Unfortunately I'm going to have to side with the quarterback at home with 243 more career starts than his opponent this week. As good as the Vikings defense has played the past two games, the Broncos could have one of the best in recent memory. I think Manning will get away with just enough wily old man tricks to string together a sufficient amount of scoring drives. Bridgewater hasn't shown me the sharpness or consistency yet to make me believe he'll do the same against the league's best defense.

But if I'm wrong and the Vikings pull the upset, it might be because I underestimated just how important their quarterback actually is. Let's hope that's the case.

Prediction

Broncos 20, Vikings 13

And now for the rest of my Week 4 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

Ravens over STEELERS

If Baltimore can't salvage their season against Michael Vick and the beat up Steelers they're really going to be in the dog house this year. (What? Too soon?)

Jets over DOLPHINS

"You know who I really miss? Joe Philbin," said no Packers fan ever. Miami is easily the worst coached team in the league, and now Philbin's ineptitude is going to be on display for an international audience. (8:30 AM CT London kickoff alert!)

FALCONS over Texans

Can J.J. Watt cover Julio Jones? No? Then I'm sticking with Atlanta.

BILLS over Giants

Here's a sentence I never thought I would type: I was genuinely upset when I didn't get Tyrod Taylor on the waiver wire in one of my fantasy leagues this week. Buffalo might just break their playoff drought with him and that defense.

Raiders over BEARS

Because future sixth round picks you acquired in an early season fire sale can't cover Amari Cooper.

BENGALS over Chiefs

I'm already getting excited to watch Andy Dalton melt down in the playoffs again.

COLTS over Jaguars

My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 2-1 on the season after the easiest survivor pick ever (Seattle over Chicago) hit last week. I'm not picking the Colts because I think they're going to suddenly get their shit together; I'm picking them because Jacksonville hasn't won on the road since December 1, 2013.

Eagles over REDSKINS

This game might inspire at least two dozen "NFC Least" headlines along the east cost.

Panthers over BUCCANEERS

Carolina is proving that wide receivers aren't actually that important in today's pass-happy NFL--as long as you're playing against crap teams.

CHARGERS over Browns

I care about this game as much as Jay Cutler cares about everything. Seems like a good time for the Gratuitous Picture of the Week.

"We're only 1-2, but don't feel down / We're wearing bikinis and we play the Browns!" (image via chargers.com)

Packers over 49ERS

Green Bay will finally get to feel what it's like to beat Colin Kaepernick. We'll always have those wonderful playoff games, Kap. Thanks for the memories.

CARDINALS over Rams

If you're somehow still alive in your survivor pool, don't pick this game. St. Louis is notorious for upsets like this. I mean, I'm not actually going to pick that horrid Rams offense to win, but be wary of it.

Cowboys over SAINTS

Let's see Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth try to polish this Brandon Weeden vs. Luke McCown turd for three and a half hours.

SEAHAWKS over Lions

Poor Detroit. They're probably going to start 0-5 and they won't even have a chance at the first pick because they aren't even the worst team in their own division.

Last week: 13-3
Season so far: 26-22