Minnesota Eager to Show Last Season Wasn’t a Fluke

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell has much to prove in his second season as Vikings coach. Yes, O’Connell led the Vikings to a 13-4 record last season and won the NFC North crown. But Minnesota was derided as having a fraudulent record due to the Vikings needing to win so many one-score games.

The Vikings were picked to be upset in the first round and were so, falling to the New York Giants at home. Minnesota, which was 11-4 in a one-score game last season, will open this year against Tampa Bay, which many people believe is due to a big dropoff. The Buccaneers saw veteran quarterback Tom Brady retire and will need to find someone to replace him. Each fanbase will get a solid look at what to expect from each team during this Week 1 matchup.

Old Division Rivals Renew Hostilities

 

The Vikings are six-point favorites for the meeting set to take place at 1 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota and Tampa Bay were in the old NFC Central Division together until the league realigned before the 2002 season. While the Vikings lead the all-time series 33-23, Tampa Bay has dominated the recent meetings.

The Buccaneers have won seven of the past nine meetings. Tampa Bay won the last meeting, 26-14, on Dec. 13, 2020. While the lows of the Buccaneers’ franchise over their history have been much lower than Minnesota’s, Tampa Bay has won two Super Bowls while the Vikings are still searching for their first.

Tampa Bay Looks to Replace Brady with Baker

 

Former Cleveland Browns first-round pick Baker Mayfield was named the starting quarterback for Tampa Bay entering Week 1. Mayfield has flashed plenty of potential since entering the league in 2018. The 6-foot-1 quarterback hasn’t been as consistent as teams would like. After being traded from the Browns to the Carolina Panthers before the 2022 season, Mayfield quickly fell out of favor in Carolina and ended up in Los Angeles.

Mayfield was 2-8 as a starter for both teams last season and is 31-38 in his career. During his career, Mayfield has struggled with turnovers and clashing with teammates. Mayfield has 102 career passing touchdowns and 64 interceptions. To keep his job, Mayfield will need to be consistent, or Tampa Bay may want to take a look at Kyle Trask.

Buccaneers Hope White Can Lead Defense

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White requested a trade in the offseason. But the Buccaneers were able to have a meeting and keep the young linebacker in town. The 24-year-old is hoping to return to his Pro Bowl form this season. 

Tampa Bay hopes White can hold down the inside of the defense while the Buccaneers figure out things on their pass rush. Tampa Bay is getting Shaq Barrett back from a torn ACL, but there is no guarantee he can return to his form from 2019, where he led the league with 19.5 sacks. Barrett had three sacks in eight appearances last season.

Addison Has the Talent to Be a Top Receiver

 

The Minnesota Vikings saw several long-time top offensive players depart in the offseason. Running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Adam Thielen moved on to new homes. In the first draft round, Minnesota drafted former Biletnikoff Trophy winner Jordan Addison to support Justin Jefferson in the passing game.

Addison, who started his career at Pitt, played his final collegiate season with Southern Cal. While Addison didn’t collect another trophy, he showed marked improvement with his hands. During two seasons with Pitt, Addison dropped 21 passes. During his lone season with the Trojans, Addison only dropped two passes.

Addison will need to make sure he keeps his head on straight. During the preseason, Addison got busted for driving 140 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. While Addison was fined and tried to move on from the incident quickly, he is under more scrutiny about his focus if he runs into any trouble.

Minnesota Secondary Seeks Improvement

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Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings had a lot of trouble stopping opponents’ passing attacks last season. Minnesota addressed the issue on all fronts during this offseason. Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. joined the team in free agency, while the Vikings also brought in defensive backs Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward in the draft.

Minnesota fired Ed Donatell in the offseason and hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Flores had been serving as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh before deciding to join the Vikings. With the Dolphins, Flores had an aggressive defense that blitzed 39.6 percent of the time. Expect Minnesota’s defense to be more aggressive.

Is Todd Bowles coaching for his job?

 

Second-year Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles may be incredibly anxious to get off to a strong start. The Buccaneers did make the playoffs during his first season as coach, but didn’t look especially good doing it. Tampa Bay struggled to an 8-9 record and saw Brady’s last season end with a lackluster season.

But Brady’s health and relative lack of productivity wasn’t Bowles’ fault. Tampa Bay won a weak division last season and should have an opportunity to be competitive here. The Buccaneers will be looking for Bowles to help bridge to the next era quickly. 

Bowles’ record doesn’t show a positive trend of this. He had a 10-6 record during his first season as New York Jets’ coach in 2015, then only won 14 games in the next three seasons. Beating the Vikings would energize the team and fanbase.

Buccaneers, Vikings Have Some Bumps and Bruises

 

Tampa Bay has cornerback Dom Gardner and Kedrick Whitehead both listed on the injured reserve. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans and defensive tackle Calijah Kancey are both questionable.

Minnesota has tight end T.J. Hockenson listed as questionable. Cornerback Tay Gowan and linebacker Abraham Beauplan will both start the season on the IR.