It was an interesting offseason for the Vikings, who parted ways with Percy Harvin and replaced him with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. The Tennessee product showed well during the preseason, flashing some spark as a return specialist and receiver. This outing against the Lions will give the Vikings a chance to see if Patterson can make an impact similar to the one that Harvin made recently.
Another big change the Vikings made this offseason was parting ways with Antoine Winfield, the NFL’s best cornerback in run defense in 2012. The veteran signed with the Seattle Seahawks, got cut, and subsequently retired from football. With him now out of the picture, the Vikings are going to be looking to replace the run support as well as the leadership that Winfield brought to the Minnesota defense. Will someone like Chris Cook or Harrison Smith step up and be the difference-maker in the secondary?
One change that they didn’t make was improving on the offensive line. They drafted Jeff Baca (fifth) and Travis Bond (seventh), but Baca isn’t expected to make a significant contribution and Bond is on the practice squad. The line didn’t get worse, though, so we’ll see how it can hold up against the Lions’ defensive line, one of the best in the NFL.
The biggest challenge for the Vikings on Sunday will be slowing down elite receiver Calvin Johnson, who broke the NFL single-season record for receiving yards last season. Cook has flashed an ability to cover big receivers in the past, but is extremely inconsistent and injury prone. The Vikings also drafted physical cornerback Xavier Rhodes this offseason, so finding a confident cover man to keep Johnson will be vital to their success on Sunday.
One way the Vikings will be able to help their secondary keep Johnson out of the end zone is putting pressure on quarterback Matt Stafford. Minnesota boasts one of the better defensive end duos in Jared Allen and Brian Robison, who must get to Stafford early and often. It will hurt if Kevin Williams (knee) isn’t healthy enough to go, but it’ll give the Vikings’ third 2013 first-round pick, Sharrif Floyd, an opportunity to prove his worth.
We all know what to expect from Adrian Peterson, so there’s no reason to be worried. He’ll be looking to get his campaign to 2,500 yards off on the right foot, and shouldn’t have too much trouble against a terrible group of Detroit linebackers.
And the key to the game? Christian Ponder must put together a respectable outing. This season will hinge on his ability to be an efficient quarterback, and getting a good start against a suspect Lions secondary will help keep confidence up.
This will be a great opportunity for the Vikings to kick off the campaign on a high note, especially against a divisional foe. If Ponder plays well, takes advantage of his weapons and displays leadership, Minnesota should be able to come away with a W.
Final Prediction: Vikings win 27-20