Yes, it’s true. The Minnesota Vikings, who finished last season with a 3-13 record, are 1-0 to start the 2012 season.
Now headed into a Week 2 matchup with the 0-1 Indianapolis Colts, the Vikings will be looking to get off to their best start since 2009. Whether or not that happens will depend largely on their ability to contain Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck.
The first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck has quickly asserted himself as one of the best young gunslingers in the game. Although he struggled in his first regular season outing against the Chicago Bears, Luck has the tools to help the Colts survive the post-Manning era and will surely be ready to use them against the Vikings defense.
In hopes of slowing down Luck and the Indianapolis passing attack, the Vikings will need a big game from rookie free safety Harrison Smith. A first-round pick this past April, Smith proved in his first start for the Vikings that he’s the difference-maker they’ve been so desperately missing in their secondary. He brings a physical presence and the leadership that should help this unit grow as the season progresses. He’ll routinely be lined up against rookie tight end Coby Fleener, and will have his hands full keeping Luck’s college teammate contained.
Another Viking worth watching in Week 2 is rookie cornerback Josh Robinson. Playing against a pass-heavy offense with a quarterback who’s still learning the ropes, the third-round pick out of UCF will have numerous opportunities to shine for the Vikings. He had an impressive first outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, making four tackles and displaying impressive coverage skills. Assuming that he’ll be locked up with Colts slot receiver Donnie Avery for much of the game, it’ll be crucial for Robinson to nullify the speedy receiver with some speed of his own.
The continued development of Jasper Brinkley will also be interesting to keep an eye on. The Vikings’ inexperienced starter in the middle showed some promise in Week 1, racking up six tackles and showing some stout run defense. If he hopes to keep his starting job past this season, though, he’ll need to display an ability to produce from week to week. The Colts have a decent running game with Donald Brown, so it’ll be a good test for Brinkley moving forward.
As for the Vikings offense, the load will be split between quarterback Christian Ponder and running back Adrian Peterson.
Ponder, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2011, put on an impressive performance in their Week 1 win against the Jaguars. Completing 20 of his 27 throws – 74.1 percent – Ponder amassed 270 yards while avoiding any costly interceptions. After a slow first quarter, he elevated his game in the second half and helped lead the Vikings to victory. Minnesota will be hoping for a similar performance against the Colts as Ponder continues to display outstanding growth as an NFL quarterback.
Peterson, eight and a half months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, blew the football world away in his 2012 debut. The Vikings were skeptical about playing their All-Pro running back but still opted to put him on the field against the Jaguars. Luckily for them, he went off with an 84-yard, two-touchdown performance. Although the Vikings will definitely be cautious with their star runner, don’t be surprised to see Peterson explode for a second week in a row.
Above all, defensive end Jared Allen must be a factor against the Colts. Allen failed to notch a single tackle against the Jaguars and has stumbled out of the gates in the race for the 2012 sack title. Especially with the potential that Luck holds as a dominant NFL quarterback, the Vikings need to get pressure on him early and often and Allen is pretty good at the whole pressuring the passer thing.
Much like last week, this game should come down to the wire for the Vikings. Luck and his Colts will be looking to bounce back from a rough loss at the hands of the Bears, and should see Minnesota as a beatable opponent. Don’t think for a second that the Vikings will lie down and take it, though.
My prediction: Vikings win 24-23