NFL Predictions Week 1: San Diego Chargers vs. Minnesota Vikings

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NFL Predictions Week 1: San Diego Chargers vs. Minnesota Vikings
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Load the grill onto the back of the pick-up and inflate the pig-skin because the 2011 NFL football season has arrived. Down at Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday, the tailgaters will be stuffed with barbecued beans and sausage when Donovan McNabb, Adrian Peterson and the rest of the Minnesota Vikings coming calling on the San Diego Chargers.

This is a perfect opening day matchup as both teams are built to take advantage of the other’s weaknesses. The Vikings are designed to run the ball around and through the opposition all game long, something the Chargers are not overly adept at preventing.

On the other side of the ball, the Chargers present one of the very best passing attacks in the NFL and go up against a defense that is notorious for their lack of a pass rush.

With the departure of Ray Edwards to the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings pass rush has been reduced to a one-trick-pony show with defensive end Jared Allen.

Allen led the Vikings last year with 11 sacks and the Chargers will certainly be double-teaming him all day if they know what's good for them. If Minnesota has any hope of knocking Philip Rivers to the turf, the pass rush will have to come from blitzing linebackers like leading tackler, Chad Greenway.

Of course, blitz packages mean single coverage on one or more of those potent Chargers receivers. Leaving Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd or Antonio Gates one-on-one will be suicide for the Vikings.  

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All three of these guys are tall and have great leaping abilities that allow Rivers to pick them out even if they are double-teamed. Minnesota’s defensive backs are a bit banged up to start the season and not one of them can match-up against the Chargers receivers’ superior height. I expect Rivers to light up the Vikings secondary with three touchdown passes.

The Vikings running game will have a field day as well with two touchdown runs from Peterson against a poor tackling Chargers defense. Minnesota’s offensive line will have little problem opening gaps against San Diego’s front three. Nose tackle Antonio Garay will be successful clogging up the middle, so look for Peterson to make runs off-tackle and to the outside most of the day. Rookie defensive end Corey Liuget, known more for his pass rush than his run stopping, had a great preseason, but will get burned by Peterson in this game, though he will learn invaluable lessons from it.

These two units—the Chargers passing game versus the Vikings running game—will mostly cancel each other out leaving the outcome of the game in the hands of the Chargers running game versus the Vikings passing game.

The Bolts ability to rush the ball isn’t great, but the Vikings passing attack is simply anemic. If the Chargers get ahead and force the Vikings to forego the run in lieu of the pass, the final score could get very ugly for Minnesota fans. McNabb has seen better days and this year—his third with three different teams—could be a long one for the once great Madden-cover athlete.

The only way Minnesota comes away from Qualcomm with the win will be as a result of too many turnovers. Should the Bolts cough the ball up a few times and be forced to watch as Peterson lights up the scoreboard, the Chargers could find themselves in a familiar hole—one too deep to recover from. But that is the less likely scenario.

A victory for the Chargers will come down to their defense's ability to stop the Vikings rushing attack on enough occasions. Keeping the ball in Rivers’ hands and preventing long, time-consuming drives by the team in purple will insure the Bolts walk away from this game 1-0.

Currently, Minnesota is getting nine points away to the Chargers with the over/under set at 41.5. Even though I expect a Chargers victory, I do not believe they will cover the spread.

I predict a final score of 31-24 in favor of the home team, so take the Vikings and the points. I strongly feel that these two teams will score no less than 47 points, so take the over as well.

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