With the regular season yet to begin, San Diego Chargers fans have no idea exactly what team they'll be facing when the Vikings come to town this weekend. Eric J. Thompson from Daily Norseman was nice enough to answer a few questions for me to help clear things up.
With a new QB, Sidney Rice in Seattle, Kevin Williams suspended to start the season, and in the same division as both participants from the 2010 NFC Championship Game......are the Minnesota Vikings playoff contenders?
They definitely have the makeup of a playoff contender, but whether or not that will actually play out on the field is still completely up in the air. Like you hinted at there are a lot of new faces in Minnesota this year, but there's still an excellent core of talent. The Vikings had one of the craziest years ever in 2010--from Favregeddon to firing their coach to the Metrodome roof collapsing to playing rescheduled games in Detroit and on Tuesday nights, just about everything that could have gone wrong for Minnesota did go wrong.
If Leslie Frazier (and Mother Nature) can introduce more consistency this time around, there's no reason this team can't compete for a playoff spot. Don't get me wrong, it won't be easy in what looks to be a very tough NFC North. (I don't suppose you'd want to switch divisions for a year, would you?) If the Vikings can avoid big mistakes and utilize their personnel correctly (something Brad Childress was utterly incapable of), they'll be in the mix right through Week 17.
What are your expectations for Donovan McNabb this season? Will he start all 16 games?
If I had to guess right now, I'd say he'll be the starter throughout the year unless one of two bad things happens for Minnesota: he gets hurt or the season goes south. Rookie Christian Ponder is the QB of the future for the Vikings, but with barely any preparation due to the lockout, he's not the QB of the present.
I know things were pretty bad for McNabb last year in Washington, but he has shown that he still has a lot left in the tank during the preseason. He's not going to run for 700 yards, but he can still buy time in the pocket with the best of them. I think he's a good fit for what the Vikings want to do on offense this year. With #28 in the backfield and what should be a solid defense, he doesn't have to be 2004 Donovan McNabb for this team to be successful.
Besides the QB position, what other changes have been made to this Vikings team in the offseason? Who will replace Sidney Rice?
Wow, where do I start? I'll go through the major changes by position just to make sure I don't miss any of the big ones.
Offensive line: Speaking of big ones, former Pro Bowl tackle Bryant McKinnie came to camp way too big. He looked more like Grimace from McDonald's in his purple jersey than an elite NFL lineman. Leslie Frazier promptly booted the underachieving McKinnie and the Vikings picked up former Colts starter Charlie Johnson. Johnson had a brutal start to his preseason, but has shown improvement and it looks like he'll get the nod to start at left tackle on Sunday. Right guard is still in question with Anthony Herrera coming off an ACL tear, but look for the Rick Ross lookalike to get the majority of time there.
Wide receiver: To be honest, nobody on the team is going to replace what Sidney Rice did when he was healthy. Percy Harvin will be the #1 receiver, but he's not the deep threat that Rice was. Watch for the Vikings to line up Harvin all over the field to accentuate his playmaking skills. The Vikings are depending on Bernard Berrian to bounce back from an awful 2010 season and stretch the field from time to time. Hopefully new addition Michael Jenkins can contribute with a productive season as well.
Defensive line: The Williams Wall is no more with Pat Williams gone and Kevin Williams suspended for the first two games, but the new guys in the middle aren't too shabby. New acquisition Remi Ayodele has been impressive thus far. Veteran backup Letroy Guion will start while Kevin is out. He's no Kevin Williams, but he's still pretty tough to run through. Fourth round pick Christian Ballard looks like he might be a steal--he'll rotate in all over the defensive line.
Linebacker: The only major change is that Ben Leber is out and Erin Henderson (younger brother of veteran starter E.J. Henderson) is in. Erin has definitely capitalized on his opportunity to start. The Vikings don't have a ton of depth here, but the starting crew is excellent.
Defensive backs: Still the team's biggest question mark. Antoine Winfield is the only certainty, but after that it's fuzzy. There aren't any major new players in this area of the team, but exactly who will get the most playing time isn't set in stone yet. (Yes, I'm very concerned about San Diego's big wide receivers against our relatively green secondary this week. Could you tell?)
Do you think the loss of Ray Edwards in free agency (to the Atlanta Falcons) will negative effect Jared Allen's sack numbers?
To be honest, not really. Edwards was a very solid #2 DE option, but to be honest I think Atlanta overpaid for him. Luckily the Vikings had a starter waiting for his opportunity in Brian Robison. If opponents want to double team Allen all the time, I think you'll see Robison doing damage and keeping them honest on the opposite end. Look for Everson Griffen to get a few quality reps in at defensive end as well.
Give us one player from the Vikings that doesn't get talked about much but will make a big impact on Sunday's game. And finally, give us your prediction for the season opener.
There's this one running back on the Vikings that's pretty good...oh, you've heard of Adrian Peterson? OK never mind. But seriously, I think rookie TE Kyle Rudolph could surprise people on Sunday. Visanthe Shiancoe is still the #1 tight end, but he sat out most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. Either way, I think the Vikings will run a lot of two and three tight end sets this season to utilize Rudolph's size and pass catching skills. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Rudolph get the first touchdown of his career in the red zone on Sunday.
As for my prediction: it pains me to say this, but this couldn't be a worse Week 1 matchup for the Vikings. Minnesota has historically struggled outdoors, on grass, on the road, and on the West Coast. Minnesota has had lots of turnover during this shortened offseason while the Chargers have nearly every major piece back. I think this Vikings team has a lot of promise, but it's going to take a few games to work out the kinks. I'll say Chargers 31, Vikings 21.