New York Giants (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-0)
Monday, Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Coming off a statement (er, maybe not so statement after the Panthers fell to 1-3) win in Carolina last Sunday, the Vikings return home for their second game at US Bank Stadium on Monday night. Minnesota hasn’t won on Monday Night Football since Brett Favre torched the Green Bay Packers, 30-23 in 2009 but have a chance this week to end that streak and improve to 4-0. While the Giants provide some unique challenges for the Vikings and coach Mike Zimmer, they will enter as favorites, looking to win the sixth of the last eight meetings between the teams.
Betting line: Minnesota -3.5; O/U 42.5. Minnesota has done well under Zimmer against the spread. In the past two seasons, the Vikings are 17-3 against the odds makers, covering at a rate of 85%. Without looking, I’d would’ve guessed the over/under would settle around 40.5, not expecting much from the Minnesota offense nor the Giants’ chances against the Vikings defense.
Giant Defense: New York comes in with a banged-up secondary. The Giants will be without safeties Nat Berhe and Darian Thompson. Rookie corner Eli Apple is doubtful and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is questionable. Even at full strength, New York’s pass defense has been marginal, allowing 262.3 yards per game, 15th best in the league. The Giants have been stout against the run, limiting the Saints, Cowboys and Redskins to just 77.3 yards per game. However, the front seven hasn’t had much success disrupting opposing quarterbacks, totaling four sacks through three games.
Giant Offense: Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. Everything else is really semantics. If not the best wide-receiving trio in the NFL—it’s right up there. Manning’s completion percentage of 71.0 is second in the league only to Jimmy Garoppolo (71.2%). It is not all dink-and-dunk—the Giants’ quarterback is pushing it down field to his receivers, averaging 8.65 yards-per-attempt, second to Matt Ryan’s mark of 9.42 yards. Beckham, Shepard and Cruz have combined for 708 yards receiving, 76 percent of Manning’s passing yards. The passing attack hasn’t been dynamic in terms of finding the end zone—Manning has only four touchdowns through three games (Shepard 2; Cruz 1; Beckham 0).
The Giant run game took a hit last week with the loss of Shane Vereen. Rashad Jennings is listed as questionable but to date has had a limited role. Overall, New York is the 21st ranked rushing team, averaging 99 yards-per-game. A shaky offensive line has been improved this season, giving up an average of two sacks a game.
Viking Defense: It’s lit, y’all! I wrote earlier in the week about how good I think this defensive unit can be. Minnesota leads the league is sacks (15) and turnover differential (+8) and is third in scoring defense (13.3).
Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks should be salivating staring across at the Giants’ offensive line.
The secondary on the other hand, is going to be tested. How exactly the Vikings use their corners against the Giant receivers will be key. Will Xavier Rhodes shadow Beckham or play the left side? Will Terence Newman start or does Trae Waynes get another nod? Will Zimmer continue to rotate his corners? Can the DBs cover the shifty, quick receivers like they did Carolina’s big-bodies wide outs last week?
Viking Offense: A unit still finding itself gets its third start with Sam Bradford at the helm. It has been an up-and-down start with some inspiring moments against the Packers followed by a sobering first half in Carolina. Averaging 21.3 points per game is deceiving considering the defense and special teams has provided three touchdowns and a safety.
There are plenty of valid excuses that could be made between the injuries to key pieces to the introduction of Bradford, but it really all boils down to the play of the offensive line. Its bad—really bad. As a result the Vikings haven’t rushed for a score yet and are averaging a league-worst 2.1 yards per carry. Right tackle Andre Smith—dumpster fire; right guard Brandon Fusco—disaster; left tackle TJ Clemmings—I mean really?!
Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph have been revelations but aside from that, the Vikings have gotten very little from anyone else. Charles Johnson has been a total no-show and with the offensive line sprouting leaks on every snap, Jerick McKinnon hasn’t had the chance to find open space to make a big play. Minnesota will need this unit to play better at some point to take the pressure off the defense and give Bradford a chance to make plays from the pocket.
Why I’m nervous: Eli Manning, however dumb looking, is a good quarterback. The receivers he has right now make him a great quarterback. While I’m still pretty sure you can bank on an untimely Giant turnover or two, if Manning can get rid of the ball before the Vikings’ pass rush can get there, things could go south quickly.
Minnesota has avoided turnovers to this point which probably makes them due for one soon. If the Giants’ passing game gets going and the Viking offense continue to be stagnant while turning it over, New York could hang the first ‘L’ at US Bank Stadium.
Why I’m foolishly confident: The Vikings have owned dork-face Eli Manning. The defense is going to tattoo that stupid, confused, shrugging Eli face all over the turf. Sure the receivers will make a few big plays but at the end of the day, I’ll put my money on Zimmer figuring out how to slow the Giants enough to win the game.
Bradford gets another start under his belt and a confidence booster against a banged-up New York secondary. Diggs will make some big plays, opening the running game and finally McKinnon gets going.
Prediction: If the Viking defensive front can get to Manning before the Giant receiver can gain separation it is going to be another fun game. Ultimately I think that happens so I’ll take the Vikings (-3.5), 23-17.