The 2015 NFL preseason will kick off this Sunday with the Hall of Fame game featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. An always difficult game to judge, but oddsmakers have the Vikings favored by a meager 2.5 with a lot of question marks for both teams, especially on their depth chart.
Like most preseason games, one of two things will happen for both teams in that they will have starters in for the first few plays then backups or play backups for auditions the entire way. In either case, I see a slight favorite for the Minnesota Vikings in large part because of their experience on the depth chart.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a good amount of young talent on their roster and this game should prove no different an audition for them to show their skills. The QB battle is the first place to look as Landry Jones and Tajh Boyd will have the brightest lights on them. Though both good decision making and the ability to manage the offense, Jones has shown to have the better arm while Boyd features more versatility with his athleticism.
A few of the guys they will be delivering the ball to on offense will be second year RB Dri Archer and rookie WR Sammie Coates. Archer was a surprise out of Kent State last season, but has speed to get past anyone on the field and can make anyone miss in phone booth. He’ll figure to get the most handoffs and touches out of the backfield.
Coates, like Archer, has the speed to take it to the house on any play, but also possesses good size (6-1, 212 lbs) to complement a guy like Antonio Bryant and take a few NFL caliber hits. I like Coates to earn his spot as the possible no. 3 receiver on the depth chart, but to earn his money on special teams. Something he did well at Auburn.
Defense has been known as Pittsburgh’s bread and butter for a long time, but all great things must come to an end eventually. Not saying this unit won’t be great, but new coordinator Keith Butler has his work cut out with a young team. CB William Gay and LB James Harrison can still play, but are getting old as is LB Lawrence Timmons. They will be looked upon to set the tone and teach their skills to players like DL Stephon Tuitt, LB Ryan Shazier and first round pick LB Bud Dupree.
The Vikings have a similar situation like Pittsburgh on offense at the QB position with Bridgewater being solidified as the no.1. The rest, one could argue, is up for grabs; Shaun Hill is a decent player but a journeyman who is seemingly always looking for a job. Mike Kafka has only 107 yards and 2 interceptions on his resume and former Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke is a rookie who hasn’t taken an NFL hit yet.
Running back is one of the positions that separate the Vikings in this game. Adrian Peterson won’t play so one must look at both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, two players who got a lot of action last season with Peterson’s legal issues and lockout from the league’s front office. Prototypical two-headed monster in that McKinnon has the speed while Asiata has the hit someone first, worry about the rest later.
Defensively, one can start to love what the Vikings have and how they will develop with the leadership. Starters like LB Chad Greenway and Brian Robison among others could see a little action, but keep your eyes on LB Erick Kendricks and CB Trae Waynes both high draft picks that head coach Mike Zimmer really likes.
Kendricks plays like a man possessed, one of those guys who plays at a different level with pads on and one you know is looking forward to hitting someone else other than himself. Waynes is a good jammer at the line and can run with anyone (4.31 clocked 40). I look to both to get some good snaps and give coaches a taste of their investment for the future.
Both teams are pretty evenly matched for a preseason game, meaning both have good depth, but plenty of holes to fill on their roster. Pittsburgh has the edge at quarterback, but Minnesota at running back while both are extremely feisty on defense; I like the Vikings' depth just a bit better.
NFL Pick: Vikings -3.5 (-107) at 5Dimes to get the first unofficial win of the season.