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Vikings vs. Saints Preview: Requiem, Not Revenge

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Adrian Peterson returns to Minnesota in a different uniform, but it isn’t a “revenge game.” Will AP’s new team or old team start the season with a win on Monday?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints
Adrian Peterson will dip back into US Bank Stadium on Monday night.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! Be some other name:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

These days, when it comes to Adrian Peterson, my mind often wanders to this famous passage from Act II of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Why, you might ask? Well, for those of you that don’t already know, it’s sort of awkward to explain. Especially knowing what we know now.

My oldest daughter was born in 2013. Although she started preschool last week, it seems like only yesterday I was holding her in the hospital, wearing my Vikings zip-up sweatshirt over my mock-vintage Vikings t-shirt.

I remember exactly what I was wearing that day because of what a momentous day it was for both myself and the Vikings.

My daughter was born just hours before the 2013 NFL Draft. A draft that was supposed to change the fortune of the Minnesota Vikings for years to come. After all, they had snagged three first round picks that night—Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson. I was 100% convinced that those three players would help form a promising foundation and save Leslie Frazier’s career!

Whoops.

At least Rhodes panned out like we had hoped, right? Unfortunately, that was only the second most erroneous Vikings-related premonition I had that season.

A couple months before that fateful draft day, I woke up kind of giggling to myself one morning. My wife asked what was up. I explained that I had remembered a funny dream, which was a rarity for me.

I asked, “You know how we have the first name picked out for our little girl, right?”

“Yeah...”

“Well I had a dream that we had picked her middle name.”

Her interest was piqued. “Really? Do you remember what it was?”

“We were watching a Vikings game, and in my dream you said you liked Adrian for her middle name. As in...Adrian Peterson.”

My wife laughed it off. But after thinking about it for a few seconds, she said, “You know, I actually don’t hate it.”

And the rest was history.

Double whoops.

Of course this was the year before...that...happened with Adrian Peterson. In retrospect, perhaps giving my daughter a middle name that coincides with the name of a player that would later strike his own child with a switch to the point of bleeding wasn’t the greatest idea.

(Ya think, Captain Obvious?!)

Look, I’m not about to turn my Week 1 preview into a Burn Book on AP now that he’s no longer a member of my favorite team. Yes, some of the things that Peterson did and said off the field during his time in Minnesota were indefensible. But when he was between the lines—an event that was much too scarce in his final years with the Vikings—Adrian Peterson remains one of the greatest running backs the game of football has ever seen. His combination of God-given ability and relentless work ethic often gave him the aura of a real-life superhero. Of course, like so many quasi-protagonists in television and film these days, we learned about his darker side. It made us question why we were rooting for him at all.

I truly believe that AP usually means well and deep down isn’t a bad person. He’s just incredibly egotistical and tone deaf on a lot of issues, especially in this over-analyzed and hyper-sensitive age. Peterson is someone that probably could have benefited greatly from both saying and hearing the word "no" more times in his adult life.

AP will always be one of the greatest football players I have ever seen in person. I won't be at the game on Monday, but if I was at US Bank Stadium, I'd stand and applaud him when he was introduced. My ovation would be for his incredible accomplishments and the lifelong memories he provided Vikings fans during his decade in Minnesota; nothing more, nothing less.

However, staying true to form, Peterson seems to be trying to make it as difficult as possible for Vikings fans to cheer for him. He told Mark Craig of the Star Tribune that he wants to “stick it” to the Vikings on Monday. As if the team didn’t pay him nearly $100 million over his career and stick by him after the PR nightmare he created three years ago. Instead of showing appreciation, Peterson wants revenge!

But this isn’t a “revenge game,” regardless of what Peterson claims. Instead, I consider it a “requiem game.”

A requiem is defined as an act of token or remembrance for those that are gone, usually as part of a mass or musical composition. I think Vikings fans should refrain from directing their vitriol at all of Peterson’s flaws. They should stop rolling their eyes at writers swooning over how he looks so explosive and is in such great shape for the umpteenth year in a row. We already know the old dog isn’t going to learn new tricks when it comes to things like pass blocking and political correctness. Booing him on Monday won’t change that.

Instead, let’s use Monday to reflect upon all of the incredible moments he provided. Besides, wouldn’t singing the “Skol Vikings” song several times be the perfect musical composition in our football cathedral for celebrating the career of one of the best football players to ever wear the purple? You know, right before beating his new team to open a new season?

Either way, my daughter's middle name obviously won't be my proudest moment as a die-hard Vikings fan. Instead, it will be a teachable moment about choosing her role models. No matter how idyllic and superhuman your heroes might appear, they're all flawed human beings underneath the shiny facade. (And as much as I hate to admit it, Daddy falls under that category too. But my daughter still thinks I’m cool for now. So I’m gonna keep that going as long as I can until she inevitably despises me by her teenage years.)

Here's another teachable moment: no matter how passionately you feel about Peterson one way or the other, your opinion of him is going to have zero impact on the outcome of Monday's game. Heck, even Adrian himself might not have that much of an impact with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara crowding the New Orleans backfield with him.

Ingram and Peterson will likely get the lion’s share of the carries out of the backfield on Monday. Both players are dangerous in their own right, but they might be the preferred poison based on what we saw from Kamara in the preseason:

Even if the Vikings are able to stymie the Saints’ rushing attack, there’s the small matter of stopping one of the most prolific passers in the history of the NFL, Drew Brees. With Brandin Cooks jettisoned to New England in the offseason, second year wideout Michael Thomas looks to be Brees’ main target in the passing attack. You may know Thomas better by his full name on Vikings Twitter: THE GUY WE COULD HAVE DRAFTED INSTEAD OF LAQUON TREADWELL. While Treadwell infamously caught one pass for 15 yards in his rookie campaign, Thomas caught at least 4 passes in every single game he played in last year. He finished with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns. Brees can make a lot of receivers look better than they are, but Thomas is the real deal. His precise route running and shiftiness after the catch are a problem for any secondary.

Thankfully, the Vikings have Rhodes, who is as good as anyone at keeping a team’s top target quiet. And as potent as the Saints offense can be, they won’t be at full strength on Monday night.

Willie Snead is suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the league’s personal policy. Ted Ginn Jr. will likely be lining up against Trae Waynes a lot in Snead’s absence. That could be a favorable matchup for the Vikings third year corner since Waynes’ strengths in coverage coincide with Ginn’s propensity for deeper routes. (That said, between Ginn’s reputation for drops and Waynes’ reputation for penalties, I have a feeling that both players will be making their respective fans nervous throughout the game.) Terron Armstead, one of the better left tackles in the league, is still out recovering from offseason surgery. Instead, rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who had some injury issues himself early on in camp, is set to have a baptism by fire against the likes of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Center Max Unger had Lisfranc surgery in May and was limited for most of the preseason. If the Minnesota secondary can avoid getting dinked and dunked by Coby Fleener and the Saints wide receivers, their front seven could do plenty of damage.

It has been well-documented that the Vikings first team offense did next to nothing in the preseason. The Panic Meter is already at dangerously high levels and the Vikings haven’t even played a regular season snap. But they couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to start the season against.

There actually a few nice pieces on the Saints defense. Cameron Jordan is one of the better edge rushers in the NFL. (Obviously due to the great genetics passed onto him by his dad, former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan.) Vonn Bell is a solid free safety and Kenny Vaccaro can be effective in multiple areas of the secondary. Sheldon Rankins is healthy and could cause a lot of problems for the Vikings’ new-look interior line. But after that, New Orleans is r-e-e-e-ally young and unproven on defense. Football Outsiders had them dead last in defensive DVOA last year, and they have the Saints projected to be the worst defense in the NFL again this season. If the Vikings can’t move the ball effectively at home against this defense, we could be looking at 2016 all over again.

I understand how this game could go terribly wrong for the Vikings. After all, it’s a prime time game, a situation where the Vikings have gone 7-18 over the past eight seasons. The Saints have had the Vikings’ number for the past several years. You know, ever since...that game in January 2010. Drew Brees’ lightning-fast release could neutralize Minnesota’s formidable pass rush and pick apart a secondary that still has lots of uncertainty heading into Week 1. Jordan and Alex Okafor could give Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers fits, which could lead to more Sam Bradford checkdowns on third and long, which would lead to us incredibly rational Vikings fans declaring the season over halfway through the third quarter. And of course, it would be the most #BecauseVikings thing ever to watch AP run roughshod all over US Bank Stadium a year later than we all wanted.

But like my daughter’s middle name, I’m going to spin a possible embarrassment into something more positive. The Vikings are 5-5 in prime time games at home over the past eight seasons; they’re 3-1 in such games under Zimmer with the only loss being that coulda-woulda-shoulda against Dallas last year. While the current offensive line didn’t play any live snaps together during the preseason, I believe the Vikings settled on the five best players for Week 1. (Well, maybe Rashod Hill at right tackle would be better, but I digress.) I think the additions of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray to the backfield should pay immediate dividends for keeping the offense on the field. Brees will get his yards—he always does—but I have faith that the Vikings will make just enough big plays and crucial stops in the red zone to tilt the game in their favor.

And last but not least, Adrian Peterson will have to explain to the media why he only had something like 7 carries for 19 yards in his homecoming.

A perfect requiem, indeed.

Prediction

Vikings 24, Saints 23

And now for the rest of my Week 1 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

PATRIOTS over Chiefs

I’m not messing around with my Survivor Pool pick out of the gate. Kansas City will be good again but New England doesn’t lose games like this.

Falcons over BEARS

Dan Quinn is quietly building “Seattle Lite” on that defense in Atlanta. Which of course means that the Mitchell Trubisky chants should start about halfway through the first quarter at Soldier Field.

BILLS over Jets

Doing the “whoever’s playing the Jets, especially when they’re on the road” strategy every week in survivor pools should probably work well this season. But Buffalo seems to be tanking nearly as much as their division rivals. The Bills might trade away six more players before kickoff on Sunday.

Steelers over BROWNS

The good news for Vikings fans: Pittsburgh might be overconfident next week after beating Cleveland for what feels like the 217th consecutive time.

Cardinals over LIONS

I wouldn’t be shocked if either team went 11-5 or 5-11 this year. This should be a good litmus test for both teams. When in doubt, pick in favor of Alex Boone and schadenfreude for the biggest contract in NFL history.

TITANS over Raiders

Last year’s darlings of the AFC vs. this year’s darlings of the AFC. Expect a metric ton of “Are the [winning team] legit Super Bowl contenders?” and “Are the [losing team] overrated?” takes next week.

MOTHER NATURE over Football

Yes, the Dolphins and Buccaneers will have to play 16 straight games. But for some perspective, they didn’t have bye weeks before the 90’s. Hurricanes like this are nothing to mess with. Stay safe, South Florida. If you can help the Houston and Caribbean areas that have already been hit, please do.

REDSKINS over Eagles

As of this posting on midday Thursday, Philadelphia is actually favored in this one. I have no idea what to make of the NFC East this season, but that line seems a little fishy to me. I’ll take the home dog.

TEXANS over Jaguars

What will be more Savage after this game: Tom, or the relentless torrent of memes making fun of another horrible Blake Bortles performance?

RAMS over Colts

Somehow, Blake Bortles vs. Tom Savage isn’t even the worst quarterback matchup of the week!

PACKERS over Seahawks

Nothing would give me more pleasure than watching Green Bay blow this one followed by Packers fans jumping off proverbial cliffs while calling for the firing of everyone. But in order to make their inevitable march to US Bank Stadium in February, they’ll have to win this game to avoid another NFC Championship Game loss in Seattle.

(Please, football gods, let this reverse jinx work. If Green Bay actually makes the Super Bowl this year I’m going to have to leave the country for those two weeks.)

Panthers over 49ERS

Bold take: I think the NFC South (which the Vikings play) could be the best division in football this year. Less bold take: I do not think the 49ers will be good this year. Even less bold take: I think the one player that the announcers will talk about most during this broadcast doesn’t even play for San Francisco (or anyone else).

COWBOYS over Giants

Roger Goodell: “Ezekiel Elliott must be punished! We must suspend him for six games!”

[Looks at schedule, sees the Cowboys play the Sunday Night Football opener]

“Well, let’s take our time upholding this suspension so he can play Week 1. But after that, SIX GAMES!”

Chargers over BRONCOS

Denver’s quarterback situation is a mess. Their defense probably won’t be as good as they were last year. Philip Rivers has given the Broncos fits in Denver over the past several years. The late Monday night games on opening weekend are always wonky. (Remember that San Francisco game two years ago?) Eff it, I’m going for the upset here.

(So congratulations to the Broncos on winning by 3 touchdowns.)

2017 season so far: 0-0
2016 season: 157-96-2