Bradford Nearly A
Neither Minnesota nor St. Louis finished above .500 last season, so perhaps the most interesting storyline here is how close Bradford might have been to becoming a Viking.
Bradford's 2010 draft class was the last before the NFL lockout brought about a new collective bargaining agreement that locked first-round picks into a much more reasonable salary slot by position. That meant no more holdouts, and more money dispersed to veterans who had proven themselves. Bradford, for example, signed a ridiculous six-year, $78 million contract with the Rams as the top overall pick in 2010, making more than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning for a while there. Bradford clearly is overpaid, and has been very injury-prone. He was limited to 10 games in 2011 and seven last year before tearing his ACL. Bradford was having his best season in 2013, completing 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,687 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four picks with a rating of 90.9. His previous high rating for a season was 82.6.
The Rams had the No. 2 and No. 13 picks in the 2014 draft, and they reportedly made Bradford available as team officials were very high on Johnny Manziel, and because Bradford had a monster cap hit of $17.6 million in 2014. One team that apparently spoke with St. Louis about Bradford was Minnesota. As we all know, no deal was made, and the Rams passed on Manziel twice, taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson No. 2 overall and Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald at No. 13. Donald could make the Rams front four scary along with Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers. Donald is the +800 third-favorite at sportsbooks to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Vikings did get their quarterback, also passing on Manziel at No. 9 overall, but trading back up into the first round for Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. That's the big question for Week 1, whether Bridgewater can beat out presumed starter Matt Cassel for the starting job. Most believe the answer is no. For one, Bridgewater is still raw. Second, the Rams were third in the NFL last year with 53 sacks. No use wrecking Bridgewater's confidence against a strong defense on the road in Week 1. Wait until later in the season when he knows a few things and can face a lousy defensive team, preferably in Minnesota. Maybe Week 9 against the Redskins?
The Vikings are going to be a very Adrian Peterson-heavy offense as it is. He looked a bit slower last year, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. That was the second-worst of his career. His 10 touchdowns tied a career-low. Peterson didn't get much help from Minnesota's quarterbacks in 2013. St. Louis was No. 9 against the run. None of the Rams' final seven opponents had more than 107 rushing yards as a team. Five were held to 83 or less.
In Week 15 of the 2012 season, the Vikings went to St. Louis and won 36-22 as they made a successful late-season wild-card push. The game was rather typical of Minnesota's season. Christian Ponder threw for only 131 yards, while Peterson carried just about the entire offensive load with 24 carries for 212 yards and an 82-yard touchdown run. That was Peterson's fourth career 200-yard game, and he would add a fifth last year. The record in the Super Bowl era is six by O.J. Simpson. Bradford had one of his best statistical games, going 35 of 55 for 377 yards and three touchdowns. His one interception was returned 29 yards by the Vikings for a touchdown. Keep all these figures in mind before making your Week 1 NFL picks.
NFL free picks: St. Louis -5.5 and 'under' 45 points on NFL odds. The Rams are 5-1 ATS in their past six home games. The 'under' is 5-0 in St. Louis' past five games.