At the start of the season, this Sunday night matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos looked like one of the marquee variety. BetOnline patrons know that the Vikings won the NFC North last season, and the marriage between new Denver coach Sean Payton and QB Russell Wilson was tantalizing.
But things were disastrous early. The Broncos lost five of their first six, while the Vikings dropped four of their first five.
Well, both of these teams have now maneuvered their way into being taken very seriously. And in Minnesota's case, it's without QB Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the season. Joshua Dobbs, a rocket scientist (we're not kidding) stepped in on short notice after a trade from Arizona, and he had provided a lot of energy as well as production. He's played in two games, throwing three TD passes with two rushing touchdowns. And he could probably get elected mayor of Minneapolis right now, as the Vikings have now won five straight games.
Denver overcame early humiliations, including a 70-20 loss at Miami, and now they have won three straight with a chance to get to .500 with a victory.
It's Sunday Night Football between Denver and Minnesota, beginning at 8:20 PM ET at Empower Field at Mile High.
When Dobbs came to the Cardinals, he proved himself to be the anti-Kyler Murray in a way, in that he was studious and absorbed the playbook quickly, in the way that you have to do when you have come onto the scene late and lead a team.
That was good practice for him for his move to Minnesota, where he was pressed into service all of a sudden. And he has had to make up for the absence of both a run game and a top-notch wide receiver. Justin Jefferson,who's been sitting out with a hamstring injury, is eligible to be activated, but will once again not be available. So it is a different offense that people have been used to seeing from Minnesota.
In the Sunday Night Football odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the Broncos are favored:
Denver Broncos -2.5 (-119)
Minnesota Vikings +2.5 (-101)
Over 42 points -110
Under 42 points -110
Wilson has done a very good job of keeping the ball out of enemy hands, as he's thrown only five interceptions in the first nine games. But is this a case of "low risk, low reward"? Wilson has historically been someone who's attacked the defense down the field. For example, last year he averaged 8.8 Intended Air Yards per attempt. What this means is that he threw it that far beyond the line of scrimmage. This year that figure has been reduced to 6.8. So he is "short-arming" it more.
Over the last five games, Wilson has failed to throw for 200 yards. Yet with what are supposed to be shorter routes and getting rid of the ball quickly, he's sustained 26 sacks. His average pocket time is 2.7 seconds, which is more lengthy than anyone in the NFL.
The Broncos as a whole are not the most dependable team on offense. And that may be a surprise to some of the people who have been listening to how bad their defense has been. Yes, they have been pretty solid running the ball; in fact, they've averaged 134.5 yards on the ground in this most recent five-game period. But in the last six, it's only been 282.5 yards of total offense.
It's actually been the stop unit that has carried things. The same team that allowed the Dolphins to score 70 points on them has now held the opposition to 67 points in the last four games.
And that is what they may have to do against the Vikings. Having Dobbs on board may not give them the same precision in the passing game that they enjoyed with Cousins behind center, but he moves with the ball in a way that Russell Wilson used to.
We can't necessarily say that the Vikings have a more varied offense or even more weapons to present, but they have been pretty high-functioning of late. Denver simply does not rush the passer very well. And Minnesota's offensive line carries the highest pass blocking grade in the league from the analytics people at Pro Football Focus, and that, together with Dobbs' high level of mobility, will create enough opportunities to give the Vikes the straight-up win.
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