If the Buffalo Bills are going to earn their first victory of the 2018 NFL season, they’ll have to defeat an NFC Super Bowl contender on the road. The Minnesota Vikings are a high-quality football team. Not only are they among the best teams that the Bills will see this season, but they’re also among the best teams in the NFL.
With so much talent on the roster, there will be plenty of players worth watching on the opponent’s side this weekend. Here are five who should play a key role in the contest on Sunday.
QB Kirk Cousins
The first free agent in NFL history to receive a fully guaranteed contract, Cousins has lived up to his billing thus far. He is currently fifth in the league in passing yards (669), tied for third in touchdown passes (6), and sixth in quarterback rating (108.7). The Vikings went to the NFC Championship Game a year ago on the strength of a miraculous play, and Cousins is among the main reasons why a return appearance is not out of the question.
RB Latavius Murray
Minnesota’s starting running back, Dalvin Cook, has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury he suffered last week against the Green Bay Packers. While the young runner was electric for the first month of his rookie season in 2017, he tore his ACL and has struggled to find running room this season (26 carries for 78 yards, an average of 3 yards per carry). Enter the veteran Murray, who has been the more efficient rusher this season (15 carries, 61 yards). While he is not the receiving threat that Cook is, as Murray has yet to be targeted in the passing game, he is a solid NFL back. Buffalo has allowed a total of 226 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns thus far in 2018. If they can shut Murray down, the pass rush may have a chance at disrupting Cousins’ rhythm if the signal caller finds himself in third-and-long situations all day.
WR Stefon Diggs
Minnesota’s receiving corps is deep and diverse. They have Adam Thielen, who can kill teams outside and in the slot. They have third-year man Laquon Treadwell, who caught his first touchdown pass last week. Then there is Diggs, the speedy wideout who is as complete a receiver as there is in the NFL. He is a fantastic route runner with great hands, and he can outrun nearly anyone in the league. Stopping him will be nearly impossible; containing him is the more realistic goal for Sunday.
DE Danielle Hunter
The Vikings have 7 sacks over two games, and Hunter leads the team with 2. He has identical lines from each of the season’s first two games, notching 4 tackles and a sack in each contest. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said that the Bills had allowed plenty of sacks over the first two games that were not the fault of the offensive line, but protecting rookie quarterback Josh Allen is of paramount importance this week. If the rookie can be more decisive in his second start, then he can help the offensive line to keep him upright. If not, expect the Vikings’ defense to add to Buffalo’s total of 11 sacks allowed.
S Harrison Smith
The heart and soul of Minnesota’s defense is the veteran Smith, who enters his seventh season with the team. He has made three consecutive Pro Bowls, and is currently Minnesota’s leading tackler with 15 combined stops. He also has 1 pass defended and 1 interception on the year. With talented corners Xavier Rhodes and Mike Hughes, as well as veteran safety Andrew Sendejo, Smith makes up a fantastic secondary that typically gives quarterbacks fits. They’ll look to take advantage of a raw Josh Allen on Sunday afternoon.