The Buffalo Bills open their preseason schedule on Thursday night against a fairly unfamiliar opponent in the Minnesota Vikings. The two teams last played in the regular season in 2014, when Sammy Watkins caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton with one second on the clock to give the Bills a 17-16 win.
What’s been going on with the Vikings lately? We talked to Christopher Gates of SB Nation’s Vikings blog, The Daily Norseman, to see what’s going on in Minny.
1) What's the latest on Teddy Bridgewater? Do you expect he'll ever take another snap for the Vikings?
Bridgewater started camp, as expected, on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and he will likely start the regular season there. That means he'll be forced to miss the first six games of the season, which could end up being a point of contention for the Vikings. The language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement says that if a player is physically unable to perform for the first six weeks of a season, their contract will "toll," which basically means that it rolls over to the next season. That would mean that Bridgewater would continue to be under team control for another season. As far as whether or not he takes another snap for the Vikings, I'm just optimistic enough to think that he will. He's already made tremendous progress in coming back from having his leg basically fall apart underneath him eleven months ago, and I think he's going to continue working until he gets back on the field. It might not be in 2017, but I think he's going to be back behind center eventually.
2) Xavier Rhodes just landed a huge contract after a breakout 2016 campaign. Is he a top-five cornerback in the NFL?
I think Rhodes is definitely a Top-5 NFL corner. He had some incredible performances against receivers like Odell Beckham, Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins last season, and he's gotten better each year since he was drafted in 2013. He's going to be facing a murderer's row of wide receivers this season, so he's definitely going to be earning that paycheck. But, as far as NFL cornerbacks are concerned, I can't think of any that I would trade Rhodes straight up for at this point. He's young, he's talented, and he's just hitting his peak at this stage of his career.
3) It's not fair to expect anybody to live up to Adrian Peterson, but what are your expectations for Dalvin Cook going forward?
Adrian Peterson might be the best pure runner I've ever seen at the running back position. Dalvin Cook isn't going to be Adrian Peterson as a runner, and that's fine, because he's a significantly better fit for what Pat Shurmur wants from his offense than Peterson would be, in my opinion. Cook is a very good runner, but he's also a good receiver out of the backfield, and he might already be a better pass blocker than Adrian Peterson at this point in his career. That means that Cook could stay on the field for all three downs and provide some much-needed versatility for the Minnesota offense. Helping them to be less predictable will be Cook's biggest impact on the Minnesota offense, in my opinion.
4) Which Vikings player(s) are you going to be keeping a close eye on in the second half?
On the offensive side of the ball, I'll be keeping my eye on tight end Bucky Hodges. Hodges was drafted on the strength of his freakish athletic ability, measuring in at 6'7" and about 250 pounds with a 39-inch vertical leap. For a Vikings' team that had incredible difficulty in the red zone last year, someone like Hodges could develop into a significant weapon. I'd like to see him show some of that on Thursday night. On the defensive side, I think a player I'll be watching is linebacker Elijah Lee. Lee, like Hodges, was another late-round pick for the Vikings, and with the weak-side linebacker competition still wide open following the retirement of Chad Greenway, Lee could play his way into the conversation. He's a bit undersized, but he was very good in coverage in college and could end up as a special teams contributor at the very least.
5) Are the Vikings a playoff team in 2017?
I definitely think they are, or at least they have the capability to be. The offensive line can't possibly be any worse than it was in 2017, they have a quarterback that has a full offseason in the offensive system with his teammates, and he's paired with an offensive coordinator that he's had success with in the past. The defense, if they don't have to be on the field constantly like they were last season, should go back to the form they showed in the early portion of the 2016 season, and they have dominant players on every level. Barring another huge rash of injuries like they had in 2016, there's no reason this team shouldn't be a contended in the NFC North and in the NFC.
The Bills and Vikings play at 7:00 p.m. this Thursday night.