Minnesota Vikings: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 7 Matchup with New York Giants
So the Matt Cassel-as-starting-quarterback era wasn't a very long one for the Minnesota Vikings.
Once the Vikings signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers castoff Josh Freeman last week, it was only a matter of time before Freeman was handed the reins to the Minnesota offense. Backup Matt Cassel played well in his first game after replacing former starter Christian Ponder, but last Sunday's brutal loss to the Carolina Panthers was all the Vikings leadership needed to see to make the switch to Freeman.
So the Vikings will head to New Jersey for Monday Night Football (8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) against the New York Giants in a game that probably looked good on paper to ESPN executives before the season started. Nobody could have imagined that these two teams would meet in Week 7 with a combined record of 1-10.
Records aside, the Monday night matchup should be rather interesting, as it pits two teams that haven't been able to get out of their own way during the 2013 season. The Vikings and their fans have been horrified that their defense is giving up 31.6 points a game. The boys in blue are faring even worse; the Giants defense is surrendering a whopping 34.8 points per outing.
If that leads you to believe Monday's game will be an offensive shootout, you might be mistaken. Quarterback Eli Manning has had a nightmarish start to his season, leading the NFL with 15 interceptions. The Vikings will counter with Freeman, who's had under 10 practices with the team.
The following tidbit sort of sums up the Vikings' season so far: Minnesota is playing a winless team that has a staggering point differential of minus-106 with a quarterback who leads the league in interceptions, and it's a three-point underdog, per Vegas Insider.
Oh well, another era of Vikings football begins this week with Freeman at quarterback. Vikings fans can only hope that Freeman plays well enough so that they're not clamoring for a quarterback in next year's draft.
Here are five bold predictions for the Vikings' Week 7 matchup with the New York Giants.
Adrian Peterson Will Have over 120 Yards Rushing
We wrote in this space last week that running back Adrian Peterson would have an "explosion" game against the Carolina Panthers.
We were wrong.
The only thing that was exploding during last week's game was Vikings fans' psyches.
Personal tragedy marred all of last week for Peterson, and he was never a big part of the game against the Panthers. The Vikings dug an early hole that only got deeper as the game wore on, and Peterson only ended up getting 10 carries in a game that saw the offense run 60 plays.
That number will surely go up in a week where the Vikings are starting a new quarterback in Josh Freeman, who's only been with the team for two weeks. The Vikings will run a truncated offense that will surely rely heavily on Peterson.
Peterson is still due for a big game, and this week he's facing a defense that ranks 26th in the league against the run, giving up 123.3 yards per game.
The Giants front seven on defense is the weakest against the run that Minnesota has faced this season, and Peterson should have more room to run than he's had thus far on the season.
Look for Peterson to get at least 20 carries and to surpass 120 yards rushing on the game.
The Vikings Defense Will Play Better (Finally)
Well, they can't play any worse, can they?
Through the first five games of the season, the Vikings' defensive ranks are just that, rank. They're 29th in pass defense, 30th in scoring defense and 31st in both third-down defense and total defense. Yuck.
The disastrous play of the Vikings defense has done wonders for at least one person. Antoine Winfield, who was one of the unit's physical and emotional leaders for the past nine seasons, has been upgraded to near mythical status as his absence has left a gaping hole in Minnesota's defense.
And while it's true that Winfield could walk in off the street and perform better than the Vikings' current cornerbacks, it's also true that he's 36 years old, was cut from the Seattle Seahawks and his best days are behind him.
Winfield aside, the Vikings defense simply has to play better for the Vikings to start winning football games. Giving up 31.6 points a game is a recipe for misery, and to this point, this group has shown no signs of breaking out of its slump.
The defensive line is still good at pressuring the quarterback but has been a sieve against the run. Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway lead the team in tackles, but their lack of speed is too often apparent against both the run and the pass. The secondary looks every bit as bad as the dreadful unit from two seasons ago.
The tape says that too many players are mixing up assignments. The tape says that too many guys are losing track of their coverages. The tape says that too many guys are failing to make the simplest of plays (Jamarca Sanford has to be closing in on some type of career record for dropped interceptions).
The tonic for this defense just might be the Giants offense. New York's running game has been brutal, and the passing game, while racking up some impressive yardage, is imploding on itself far more than it's succeeding.
The Vikings step on to the giant stage that is Monday Night Football this week. One can only hope the defense doesn't embarrass itself on national television.
Josh Freeman Will Win His 1st Start as a Viking
The Josh Freeman era begins Monday night for the Minnesota Vikings. Expect it to last longer than the Matt Cassel era did.
Freeman is hoping that the change of scenery to Minnesota resuscitates a career that was free-falling as fast as the Vikings' 2013 season.
It seemed clear in Minnesota that Christian Ponder was not going to make it as a starter in the NFL, and although Matt Cassel had been signed in the offseason and played well in his first start, the Vikings still jumped at the chance to sign Freeman.
Still just 25 years old, the 6'6", 240-pound Freeman has a ceiling that is simply higher than that of Ponder or Cassel.
Never surrounded with a ton of talent in Tampa, Freeman comes to Minnesota with a 24-35 record as a starter. He's thrown for 25 or more touchdowns twice in four years and amassed 13,534 yards through the air. Freeman has a big arm and can certainly stretch the field in a way that Ponder and Cassel can't.
Freeman's first start for Minnesota doesn't come under ideal circumstances. You'd normally want your quarterback to have at least 10 practices with a team before he's thrown into the fire, but the Vikings' season has hit a point where Minnesota really has nothing to lose by getting Freeman on the field as quickly as possible.
The Vikings will have a slimmed-down playbook for Monday night, and Adrian Peterson will surely have 20 or more carries to help ease the load on Freeman.
For Freeman, it will be an opportunity to put Tampa in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. Freeman was off to a horrific start for the Bucs, completing just 45.7 percent of his passes in losing their first three games.
Further complicating Freeman's poor start was his rocky relationship with head coach Greg Schiano. After finding no trade partners for Freeman, Tampa Bay waived him outright, and Freeman chose to sign with Minnesota.
The Vikings are getting a big body and big arm in Freeman. He's flashed enough brilliance in the NFL that he is certainly worth a roll of the dice on. While it's certainly true that his last half-season in Tampa was awful, the Vikings aren't risking much in giving Freeman a shot.
Look for Freeman to have a jump in his step on Monday night. The excitement of playing on the big stage, along with the opportunity to play with a new group of guys, will give Freeman's game the boost it needs.
Freeman's first start for the Vikings will end with a much-needed victory.
The Vikings Will Shut Down the Giants Running Backs
Josh Freeman won't be the only reclamation project on the field Monday night in the Meadowlands.
The New York Giants signed Peyton Hillis on Wednesday afternoon, per the New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano, in the hopes that he can help kick-start the Giants rushing attack that has been stuck in first gear all season.
With the disappointing David Wilson out with a neck injury, the Giants will pair Hillis with 31-year-old Brandon Jacobs on Monday night. Neither one should be able to do much damage against the Vikings defense.
While the Vikings haven't been phenomenal against the run this season, most of the backs who have done well against them have been speed and finesse backs, and those are two adjectives nobody would ever pin on Jacobs or Hillis.
Look for the Giants to take to the air a lot against the Vikings.
Eli Manning has already had three games where he's had over 40 pass attempts, and Monday night will probably make it four. That's good news for Minnesota, as Manning has struggled mightily in 2013. His nine touchdown passes are far offset by an absurd 15 interceptions. If he didn't have two Super Bowl rings to his credit and the last name Manning, he'd surely have found the bench by now.
Monday night's game will at least be interesting. Two teams off to horrible starts with an offense in the Giants and a defense in the Vikings that have both been shockingly bad.
Again, expect Minnesota to easily take away the run from the Giants, which leaves the New York air game against the Vikings pass defense. On paper, that certainly favors the Giants, with Manning, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle having far more to hang their hats on than the Vikings defensive backs.
Manning is ripe for the picking. The question is: Can anyone in the Vikings secondary make it happen?
Everson Griffen Will Have 3 Sacks
In the absolute dumpster fire of a game that was the Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers, where the Vikings defense made the Panthers offense look like the Denver Broncos, there was one play—and perhaps only one play—that was an eyeopener for Vikings fans.
On the first play of the second quarter, Cam Newton tried to run wide left with the ball. When the 6'5", 245-pound, uber-athletic Newton decides to run with the ball, he usually gets what he wants. He's big, strong, fast and knows how to make people miss. He's rushed for 1,600 yards in his three-year career and averages a whopping 5.7 yards per rush.
Not this time.
Before Newton could get wide left and head upfield, he was run down from the right by one of the few players in the league who might be able to match his athleticism. Everson Griffen, all 6'3", 273 pounds of him, burst through the right side of the line and pounced on Newton before he ever knew what had hit him.
Newton, who's used to outmuscling many tacklers, was no match for Griffen, who threw him to the ground with a flourish for a five-yard loss on the play. The look on Newton's face went from irritated to a sort of "whoa, who is this?" surprise.
It's those kind of plays that have everyone involved with the Vikings salivating at the potential in Griffen. He is simply far too good of a football player to have just one sack and seven tackles so far on the season. It's high time for all that potential to start coming to fruition on the football field.
Griffen had a fantastic second half of 2012 that culminated in his sterling three-sack game against the Green Bay Packers on the last day of the season. Big things were expected heading into to 2013, the last year on Griffen's contract.
While it's true that Griffen doesn't get as many snaps as the Vikings would like to give him because they have Jared Allen and Brian Robison at defensive end, it's time for Griffen to start earning more playing time.
The call here is that Griffen busts out on Monday night and starts cashing in on all that ability.
The Vikings Get Their 2nd Win of the Season
Nobody would have guessed that the Vikings would start the 2013 season 1-4. Even fewer people would have guessed that the New York Giants would start out 0-6. Something has got to give on Monday night.
The Vikings' entire organization took a sharp slap to the face in the form of a 35-10 home demolition at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. That game better be as bad as it gets in 2013 or more than a few people are going to lose their jobs.
Josh Freeman makes his debut under the stars on national television. Adrian Peterson gets the big stage to let off all the steam that must be built up inside him. The Vikings defense gets to take on a unit that has been underperforming as bad as they have.
Peterson and Freeman will shine. The Vikings defense will do enough. The Vikings will win 24-21.