Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)
The Vikings caught a tough break when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a brutal knee injury in practice with less than 2 weeks before the first game of the season. Bridgewater dislocated his knee, tore his ACL, suffered additional ligament damage, and is out for at least the season. It must be especially frustrating for the Vikings because they’ve improved dramatically in each of the past 2 seasons, going from 5-10-1 in 2013 to a 11-5 NFC North title season in 2015, and appeared right on the cusp this season. Bridgewater is not the only reason for their improvement, but he’s been a big part of it in his 2 years in the league, since going in the first round in 2014.
Not trusting 36-year-old career journeyman backup Shaun Hill to replace Bridgewater, the Vikings made a desperation move and traded a 2017 first round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, a veteran quarterback who the Eagles will replace with rookie Carson Wentz, the #2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Built to win now, I understand why the Vikings made the move. Bradford’s skill set is comparable to Bridgewater, but it’s going to be tough for him to take over as Minnesota’s starting quarterback, after spending all off-season as the starter in Philadelphia. In fact, he won’t even start in this game, leaving Hill at quarterback for at least week 1. Hill didn’t play well in his last significant action in 2014 (63.3% completion, 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and now is two years older and going into his age 36 season, so he’s a major liability.
The good news for the Vikings is they’re a team built to play great defense and run the ball. Even last year, with a healthy Bridgewater, they only passed 454 times, fewest in the NFL. The bad news is they have major issues in the receiving corps and the offensive line has major issues in pass protection. Their passing game will have trouble doing anything if needed with Hill under center. Given that, I don’t understand why they are favored here on the road by an entire field goal against an underrated Tennessee team.
The Titans only won 3 games last year, but 5 of their losses came when quarterback Marcus Mariota was hurt and 4 of their other 8 losses when Mariota was healthy came by less than a touchdown. They added a lot through the draft, after trading down from #1 overall, and also made some underrated off-season acquisitions. Their offensive line and running game look much improved, while their defense is much deeper and could be much improved if the likes of Brian Orakpo, Jason McCourty, and Perrish Cox can all be healthier this season. I like their chances of at least getting a push, given that 1 out of every 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.
Tennessee Titans 19 Minnesota Vikings 17 Upset Pick +130
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3