NFL fans, it’s almost time to begin the 2015 season. The wait has been long for many of us, but on August 9, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings will face off in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, kicking off the preseason officially at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Early odds-makers and insiders are already running the numbers and have the Vikings winning, repeating a performance similar to the one in which they beat Pittsburgh in the International Series.
Let’s take a look at the numbers and a preview of the Vikings ahead of the game.
Odds Shark has every single major betting site giving the Vikings a three-point advantage. Much of the chatter has been centered around the fact that Ben Roethlisberger will not be the starting quarterback for Pittsburgh while Teddy Bridgewater is primed to show that he has improved during the offseason. Second-year coach Mike Zimmer is pushing for a revamped Vikings unit that will push for a repeat of their perfect preseason campaign in 2014. The Vikings accomplished that without veteran running back Adrian Peterson, who returns after missing the nearly the entire 2014 season after being on commissioner Roger Goodell’s exempt list following child injury charges. Peterson really isn’t likely to factor in during the Hall of Fame game. He has made no indication that Zimmer will play him.
Bridgewater put together 12 starts in 13 games, completing 259 passes in 402 attempts for 2919 yards and 14 touchdowns. With a completion rate of 64.4 but a touchdown percentage of 3.5 and 12 interceptions, he drew criticism from many NFL insiders who felt he’d been brought out a bit too soon. In camp this year, Bridgewater has been reported to have been working on improving not only his ability to view the field, but to throw off opposing defensive backs by averting his eyes from the direction he plans to throw. Harrison Smith recently told CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco that Bridgewater, “looks guys off in the secondary…You don’t see many guys his age doing that. He’s already thinking, looking and finding out where we are and then using his eyes. When he came in last year as a rookie, he was so far along. But this is really taking the next step.” Bridgewater improved as the 2014 season progressed, giving the impression that Minnesota is ready to attempt to take the NFC North.
On Tuesday, the Vikings released their first roster of the season ahead of the Hall of Fame game.
Behind Bridgewater will be quarterbacks Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinicke and Mike Kafka.
At halfback; Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams and DuJuan Harris.
At fullback; Zach Line and Blake Renaud.
At wide receiver; Mike Wallace, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Isaac Fruechte, Jordan Leslie, Gavin Lutman, Charles Johnson, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Donte Foster, DeVaris Daniels and Ryan Whalen.
At tight end; Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, MyCole Pruitt, Chase Ford and Brandon Bostick.
Along the offensive line; Matt Kalil, Carter Bykowski, Babatunde Aiyegbusi, Brandon Fusco, David Yankey, Zac Kerin, Bob Vardaro, John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Tom Farniok, Mike Harris, Tyrus Thompson, Isame Faciane, Phil Loadholt, TJ Clemmings and Austin Shepherd.
At defensive end; Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Ceasar Rayford and Leon Mackey.
At defensive tackle; Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson, BJ Dubose and Chrishon Rose.
At nose tackle; Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen and Chigbo Anunoby.
At right end; Everson Griffen, Justin Trattou and Danielle Hunter.
Linebackers include; Chad Greenway, Brandon Watts, Brian Peters, Audie Cole, Eric Kendricks, Mike Mauti, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, Edmond Robinson and Josh Kaddu.
At left cornerback; Terance Newman, Trae Waynes, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Justin Coleman and Josh Thomas.
At right cornerback; Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Jabari Price, Jalil Carter and Marcus Sherels.
At strong safety; Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris.
At free safety; Harrison Smith, Antone Exum Jr. and Shaun Prater.
Special Teams: The punter will be Jeff Locke with Blair Walsh handling kicking duties. Long-snappers Culler Loeffler and Kevin McDermott are expected to share time. Cordarelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels will handle kick returns while Jarius Wright will assist Sherels with punt returns.
If you’re looking at this list and seeing some familiar names – you should. Van Dyke spent the 2012-2013 seasons with the Steelers. Mike Wallace (2009-12). Trae Waynes was heavily scouted by the Steelers at corner.
Training camp observations (per Vikings)
- Minnesota will return their four starters on the defensive line. DE Everson Griffen had a career-high 12.0 sacks in 2014.
- Peterson looks leaner and more powerful and has insisted that he’ll put on a show in 2015.
- WR Diggs and TE Pruitt have been “human highlight reels”.
- CB Waynes has been training on the inside and outside and is expected to make an immediate impact.
- LB Kendricks has become Vikings GM Rick Spielman’s favorite player.
- Zimmer is sold on LB Robinson.
- At the Mike LB position, G. Hodges, a third-year player figures to be a big contributor to Zimmer’s defense.
- Hill is expected to be the backup to Bridgewater and has been a good mentor.
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