Football season is finally here. Training camps are in the rear-view mirror, and the preseason games are over.
Now, every snap matters and every game is meaningful. That’s probably a good thing for the first-teamers with the Minnesota Vikings, who had a largely ugly preseason. We’ll find out if they’re completely ready for games that matter next Monday as the Vikings host the New Orleans Saints on national television for Monday Night Football.
One very familiar face returns to Minneapolis in Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings’ defense will want to tackle him for a loss as much as he wants to carve them up and score touchdowns.
It’s a big year for the Vikings, who have five of their first seven games at home. They’re also aiming to be the first NFL team to be playing in the Super Bowl as a home game. But it all starts with Week 1. Here are four things to watch against the Saints.
Adrian Peterson’s Return
It’s the biggest story line entering Week 1 for the Vikings. Adrian Peterson, one of the best running backs in the history of the franchise, returns to U.S. Bank Stadium. But he’ll be wearing a Saints jersey after being cut by the Vikings in the offseason. Peterson was a free agent for far longer than he envisioned as he felt he was worth more than the standard value of current NFL running backs.
Business aside, Peterson will want nothing more than to take it to the team that he spent 10 seasons with. He played in just three games last season due to a knee injury after running for more than 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. And the last thing the Vikings’ defense wants to do is let one of their old teammates back in and run all over them. It’ll be an interesting match-up, and the Vikings will need to contain him along with all the other weapons the Saints have, led by Drew Brees.
With Floyd Out, Can Treadwell Step Up?
One of the biggest story lines heading into this season is the emergence and development of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. A first-round pick two years ago, Treadwell had just one catch in his rookie year and was largely a non-factor. That’s not OK for a first-round draft choice.
The Vikings know they have potential in the passing game with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph. But Michael Floyd is suspended for the first four games of the season after being arrested for extreme DUI last year, before being released by the Arizona Cardinals. Floyd is set up to be one of the Vikings’ top receiving threats, but his absence gives Treadwell every change to emerge in the offense. He was making progress to do so before suffering a setback with an injury in training camp after an altercation.
If Treadwell can run the right routes and make the catches when the football is thrown his way, it gives Sam Bradford and the offense one more weapon to work with, and opposing defenses one more thing to think about.
How Will the Offensive Line Look?
The Vikings’ offensive line is arguably the team’s biggest question mark heading into the regular season. And there was a shake-up on cut day with Rick Spielman parting ways with Alex Boone, who they signed in free agency before last season. The offensive line had some good moments in the preseason, but they continued their inconsistent play that left a black eye on last year. It’s a new look with Pat Elflein likely at center to go along with Joe Berger, Nick Easton, Jeremiah Sirles, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers among the regular players.
They have to make the biggest stride among any group on the team for the Vikings to have any chance at the postseason. They’ll need to do whatever they can to create holes for Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook, and give Bradford time to find his receivers down field. The reality for the Vikings’ offense it will only go as far as the offensive line takes it.
Will the Secondary Limit Brees?
The Vikings’ defense left fans frustrated and concerned after their Week 3 preseason performance against the San Francisco 49ers. They looked disinterested on the field and let Brian Hoyer throw for 176 yards and two scores in the first half. The theory is that the defense will ramp things up to an entirely different level in a regular season game, where the result actually matters.
The Vikings’ defense, in particular the secondary, will have to play a lot better than it did in the preseason with Drew Brees coming to town next Monday. And after that, it doesn’t get much easier. They face Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Pittsburgh Week 2, then face Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay, followed by Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions (twice). They also get Aaron Rodgers twice. If the Vikings don’t put pressure on quarterbacks, the secondary will get tested early and often. Those are huge tests for the likes of Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Mackenzie Alexander, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes, Andrew Sendejo and even the experienced newcomer in former Gopher Tramaine Brock.
We’ll find out if the Vikings are ready next Monday night, and fans are anxious after a less than stellar preseason. It doesn’t mean anything, but you at least like to see your team playing good football heading into the regular season. They better be, because there is no other option.