It’s only Week 3 and already the Vikings face a must-win. They host a Carolina team that squeaked out a pair of victories without their best offensive player on the field. Now the Panthers get Steve Smith back – and the Vikings will likely be without their best offensive player, Adrian Peterson, who has an injured hamstring. And the Vikings are also breaking out a new quarterback who is an old quarterback. And their receiver corps is not close to being at full-strength. Pretty dire. This one needs to be a tight defensive struggle, if the Vikes are to have any chance at victory. They need to rein in Steve Smith, and they need to keep the Panthers’ running back duo of D’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in check. They will need a good game from Chester Taylor who figures to carry much of the offensive load (even if AD plays, which I don’t think he will). They need an efficient game from Gus Frerotte – the sort of competent, consistent play Tarvaris Jackson was unable to give them. They need more imaginative playcalling from Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell. The good news: With Frerotte on the field, they won’t be able to call that one bootleg over and over.
Leaning on an old cliche: This is a gut-check for the Vikings. What kind of fortitude does this team really have? Is it a solid veteran group who can brush off the disappointment of a loss and do what needs to be done? I think it is. This will probably not be a pretty game – it could even be uglier than the first half against Indianapolis. A dominant performance by the Viking D-line would go a long way toward securing this one. I suspect Carolina’s plan is to pick on Cedric Griffin the way Peyton Manning did last week. It wouldn’t shock me to see Cedric get pulled in favor of Charles Gordon somewhere along the line. Not that it’s all Cedric’s fault – the team hasn’t yet gotten to field its full secondary with Madieu Williams on the sidelines. Tyrell Johnson needs to show a flash of his youthful promise. And what about Darren Sharper? We need plays from our secondary. I’m not worried about Carolina’s run game – I think we can snuff it out. What I don’t want is another second half of wilting pass defense. The offense can help this by converting first downs and keeping drives going and letting the defense get a blow.
The pick: I’m going to swallow my doubts and take the Vikings. The score will be low again – 17-14, something in that range. Hopefully, if we do get up early, we won’t let the Panthers hang around. They’ve already shown a talent for staging second-half comebacks, and you know Jake Delhomme has the steadiness and savvy to make those one or two plays that can win a game. And if we lose and the team goes to 0-3? Kiss the playoffs goodbye. Kiss goodbye any hope of Brad Childress holding onto his players. Kiss Brad Childress goodbye (not right away of course – unless Zygi Wilf goes completely nuts).
Tags: Adrian Peterson Brad Childress Cedric Griffin Charles Gordon Chester Taylor D'angelo Williams Darrell Bevell Darren Sharper Gus Frerotte Jake Delhomme Jonathan Stewart Madieu Williams Minnesota Vikings Steve Smith Zygi Wilf