The demise of the Minnesota Vikings was apparently greatly exaggerated. A team that many thought was doomed when Teddy Bridgewater was injured before Week 1 — and especially when Adrian Peterson went down in Week 2 — sits atop the NFC North at 4–0, one of three unbeaten teams left in the NFL.
Thanks to a mistake-free offense and a stifling, big-play defense, the Vikings are rolling along despite ranking 31st in total offense and dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry. A team can get away with that when it doesn’t give the ball away (Minnesota’s only turnover came on a fumbled punt) and forces 11 turnovers in four games.
But is that sustainable? That sure seems like a lot of bounces going the Vikes’ way, and over the long haul that may start to even out. Will it start this week against the Texans? Not unless something changes for Houston as well.
While the Texans are also winning with defense (Houston ranks 25th in total offense but fifth in yards allowed), they are easier to deal with now that star DE J.J. Watt is on injured reserve. Also, only five teams have a worse turnover differential than Houston’s minus-3. Brock Osweiler has thrown six interceptions, and the team has seven turnovers in the last three games. That plays right into the hands of these Vikings.
Houston at Minnesota
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Vikings -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Vikings finally get the running game going?
Even before Adrian Peterson went down, Minnesota was having trouble running the ball. It’s not as if the Vikings haven’t tried; they rank 10th in the league in rushing attempts. Granted, their last three opponents rank in the NFL’s top six in yards per carry against, so that hasn’t helped. But if Minnesota can’t run it against Houston, this becomes a big concern. The Texans rank 27th in rushing yards allowed (501) and 29th in both yards allowed per carry (4.6) and rushing touchdowns allowed (six).
2. Is Sam Bradford’s suddenly a franchise quarterback?
Bradford has never really lived up to his draft status after being taken No. 1 overall in 2010. He’s on his third team, has played 16 games in a season only twice, and last season’s 7–7 mark with the Eagles was his first non-losing campaign as a starter. Still, over his last 15 games, Bradford is 10–5 with 21 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. His completion percentage has gone up every year since 2011 and currently sits at 69.5, third in the NFL. We won’t really have an answer to the question until he is forced to carry the Vikings to some wins with his arm. But with their defense, that won’t happen often, and that’s a luxury Bradford has never enjoyed. For now, he’s is playing like the perfect quarterback for this franchise.
3. Where has DeAndre Hopkins gone?
Despite catching passes from four different quarterbacks last season, Houston’s Pro Bowl wide receiver ranked third in the NFL in targets (192), receptions (111) and yards (1,521). This season, Hopkins is second on the team to rookie Will Fuller in those categories with 17 catches on 33 targets for 227 yards. Not clicking right away with new QB Brock Osweiler is one thing, but being on pace for 60 fewer targets than last season is a concern. Osweiler and Hopkins will likely find the going rough again against a Vikings defense that leads the NFL in sacks (15) and ranks second in interceptions (six).
While these teams have just one loss between them, it seems like a really tough matchup for the Texans. Houston’s three wins have all come at home against middling teams; the one time the Texans went on the road they got drilled by the Patriots and their third-string rookie quarterback. The Vikings’ offense will likely need to get better as the season goes on, because they aren’t likely to keep dominating the turnover battle every week. But there’s a good chance they will do it again this week.