Minnesota Vikings (-1, 41 o/u) at Tennessee Titans
How do you begin to recover after losing someone? If you’re the Minnesota Vikings, you don’t need the Five Stages of Grief; the only number you need is 28. In their first game A.T. (After Teddy), the Vikes should give Adrian Peterson a hefty workload when they visit the Tennessee Titans this Sunday at Nissan Stadium (1:00 PM Eastern).
Last year, the Vikings made the playoffs on the strength of a great defense and a dominant rushing attack, throwing the ball the less than any other team in the NFL. But quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was an excellent game-manager, and was set to have an expanded role in the offense this season, before being lost for the year with a dislocated knee/torn ACL. Now, any mystery surrounding Minnesota’s offense has been removed. So if everybody in the league knows you’re going to run the ball, can you still do it effectively?
When Peterson is in your backfield, yes. Entering his tenth season, the running back has amassed 7,339 yards after contact alone! Stacking the box isn’t enough to stop him; bringing him to the ground is a battle in itself.
Despite coming off a 3-13 season, the Titans D isn’t in bad shape, especially against the run. Last season, Tennessee tied for seventh in the league allowing just 3.9 yards a carry. The Titans also finished tenth in tackling efficiency, and lost just two starters from last year’s unit. Add in the fact that Peterson has gotten off to a slow start in his last two seasons (averaging just 3.4 yards a pop in Week 1 games) and Tennessee’s defense should give this team a fighting chance.
Whether the offense can take advantage will be the deciding factor. Tennessee finished 28th in points-for last season, but were dragged down by some terrible Zach Mettenberger appearances. In games that Marcus Mariota finished, the Titans put up 21.8 points a game, and that number could go up if Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” football continues to produce like it has in August.
An improved offensive line has helped the Titans pave the way for 161 rushing yards a game throughout the preseason. While that stat comes with the usual caveat – “it’s only preseason” – it is clear that DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are going to be featured heavily in Tennessee’s offense. Can the Titans beat the Vikings at their own ground and pound game?
Well, Minnesota did only finish one spot ahead of Tennessee in rushing yards allowed last season. And unlike the Vikings – who are now stuck with the immobile Shaun Hill under center – Mariota is a threat to take off on the edges, meaning read-option plays should keep Minnesota defenders from playing too aggressively.
With a pair of run-heavy offenses, this game should go by quickly and with few scores. In fact, the Vikings went OVER the total just four times last year; the UNDER is definitely the play. And if it’s going to come down to a few points here or there, I’m certainly worried about the mentality of the kicker coming off a playoff shank for the ages.
Even if the Titans aren’t quite there yet as a contender, they have a knack for starting the year off right. Tennessee has won their last three season openers and they were underdogs in all three.
Pick: Titans (+1); UNDER (41).
Photo credit: MN National Guard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.