1. Though Derek Carr has better numbers across the board, what makes Teddy Bridgewater so valuable to this 6-2 Vikings team?
Even though Teddy's numbers haven't been great this season, he's played a huge role in this offense. Bridgewater has shown the ability to make all of the throws, and when he's under center, teams have to show respect to the Minnesota passing game. . .a much different situation than we've seen in years past. After Bridgewater got injured last week, we got a bit of a taste of what things might be like if the team had to turn to Shaun Hill for an extended period of time, and it was ugly. Bridgewater's presence, for the most part, prevents teams from stacking eight guys in the box to stop Adrian Peterson, which has helped him to get out to the NFL's rushing lead this season. Lastly, it seems like no matter what situation the Vikings find themselves in or how many times he's been hit over the course of a game, Bridgewater never seems to get rattled or let a bad situation affect his decision making. He just has the sort of calming presence that you want in your quarterback when things get crazy.
2. The Vikings have a few injuries (Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks for instance) that seem like they could affect their overall play. Which injuries are the most significant and how will the Vikings replace them?
The most significant injury, with Floyd's return, is definitely the loss of Kendricks. He took over the starting middle linebacker job a few weeks into the season, and had absolutely been on fire prior to his injury, having played well enough to be named the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for October (despite the fact that the Vikings only had three October games). He's exactly the sort of middle linebacker you want. . .he can play the run, he can drop into coverage, he can blitz, and he stays on the field for all three downs. To replace him, it sounds like the Vikings are going to move long-time veteran Chad Greenway into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense. Greenway has a lot of veteran savvy at this point, but he doesn't move as well as he used to. He will probably end up staying on the field in nickel situations (which are usually handled by Barr and Kendricks), and the Raiders might be able to take advantage of that. But with Bridgewater and Barr reportedly on track to play on Sunday, Kendricks' absence will definitely be the hardest for the Vikings to overcome, although that might be mitigated by the Raiders likely not having Rodney Hudson at center.
3. On the other side of that coin is the return of Sharrif Floyd. Prior to the Todd Gurley explosion last week, the Vikings have done well pretty well against the run even without him. How much of an impact will he have?
Floyd has been very disruptive this season so far, and while he and Joseph might not be the second coming of the Williams Wall. . .yet. . .the two of them form a very formidable tandem in the middle of Minnesota's defensive line. While Joseph is known as more of a run stopper, Floyd is the one that can both play the run and get after opposing quarterbacks. It doesn't necessarily reflect in his sack totals, but he's a fairly constant source of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. More importantly, the Vikings like to rotate their defensive linemen quite a bit, and Floyd being back will give George Edwards another body to rotate in and out. In Floyd's absence, Tom Johnson has stepped up and played pretty well. Johnson's calling card with the Vikings has been as more of a pass rusher, and the Vikings can pair him with Floyd in obvious passing situations to give Joseph a breather. I think that Floyd's presence is going to be a pretty significant boost to Minnesota's defense on Sunday.
4. Most of us know the Vikings big guns like Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater, rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, and space eater Linval Joseph. But who is flying under the radar that we should watch out for Sunday?
When you talk about underrated Vikings, the list begins with Marcus Sherels. Every year we ask ourselves who the Vikings are going to replace Marcus Sherels with, and every year he winds up making the team and making big contributions on special teams. He has one punt return for a score already this year, and averages over 11 yards per punt return. On the surface, that probably doesn't sound like a huge deal, but there aren't many in the NFL that are better in the punt return game than Sherels is. He's also come up big several times on opposing returns as a gunner. He's one of those guys that opposing teams aren't going to game plan around, but he ends up playing a pretty big role when the Vikings are successful.
5. It's somewhat odd to see a 6-2 team on a 4-game win streak playing underdog to a 4-4 team coming off a loss. Why do you suppose that is and do you think it's justified?
In my experience, it seems that folks have always been hesitant to give the Vikings credit. It's as though they're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. . .which, given Minnesota's history, is understandable, I suppose. Another part of it is that the "experts" keep throwing out the schedule that the Vikings have played so far and that they haven't really played anybody. The truth is that nobody in the NFC has "played anybody," going strictly off of the standings. You can only beat the teams that the NFL schedule makers put in front of you, and that's what the Vikings have been doing so far. I guess the Vikings' history in Oakland might play a small role in things for this week, but as there's nobody on this team that was here the last time Minnesota traveled to Oakland, I can't imagine it would be that great.
Going into the season, the feeling was that the Vikings. . .much like the Raiders. . .were still sort of a year away from being a real force, but Mike Zimmer and company have accelerated that a little bit. I'm biased, obviously, but I do think that the Vikings are a much better football team than a lot of the pundits are willing to give them credit for. On the bright side, it does give Zimmer the ability to continue using the "nobody believes in us" card, which seems to be a pretty motivating force. He seems to get fresh material along those lines every week. If the Vikings should beat the Raiders on Sunday, my guess is that the experts will be impressed for a couple of hours or so, and then immediately start telling us all about how the Vikings are almost certain to lose to Green Bay next week.
To see my answers to his questions, click here.