The Minnesota Vikings beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday 22-10. What were your main takeaways from the game?
Erik Ritland (Sports Ramble director and podcast host): First and foremost, the Vikings looked very impressive. Bradford seems to fit in well with the Vikings offense and their defense are the best in the league – and look like perhaps one of the best of all-time.
That being said, Carolina looked sloppy. They had a lot of penalties and their offensive line underperformed. However, their offense isn’t that great to begin with, which is why I predicted that they’d lose pretty badly to the Broncos in the Super Bowl last year.
After the game I was considering changing my Super Bowl pick to the Vikings, but I’ve since come down to reality. Knowing their history they’ll probably heartbreakingly lose the NFC championship game.
Michael Emms (Sports Ramble contributor): As a life long Vikings fan I hate to get over optimistic, but this defense is better than any other Vikings defense I have ever lived through. Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton have 3 NFL MVP awards between them and they made them look like Christian Ponder in consecutive weeks. Both this week and against the Packers the secondary covered well enough to make the quarterback hold the ball and stare down field like a deer in the headlights, resulting in sacks and turnovers. What's crazy is the Vikings defense still might have room for growth.
Sam Bradford's play came back down to earth, but the Panthers do have a quality defense very capable of causing turnovers. Considering that a one touchdown, no turnover day is better than what could have happened. Facing the Packers required more chances in the passing game to win, while taking care of the football was the best contribution Bradford made against the Panthers.
Every year it's hard to see where Marcus Sherels fits amid the vikings 53 man roster and every year he finds ways to contribute. After watching him take another punt return to the house it is clear that he remains one of the better punt returners in the league. When given the chance he also plays scrappy enough to hold his own in pass coverage (at 5'9" he almost intercepted the only pass attempted to 6'5" Kelvin Benjamin)
Chip Matthews (Sports Ramble contributor): Despite a poor showing a majority of the first half this team may have the best halftime adjustments in the league.
Are the Vikings the team to beat in the NFC? If not them, then who?
Erik: I do feel like they’re the team to beat in the NFC. The Eagles and the Giants may be in the conversation but the Vikings have the most depth – and easily the best defense.
Mike: Its way too early to anoint a favorite, but the vikings are looking the part of a stalwart. If Bradford grows more in this offense and they establish a true number two receiving option to pair with Stefon Diggs they could be favored to win every game they play. For the time being they are good enough to beat anyone but I think they are even with Carolina and Seattle. The interesting team to watch is the Philadelphia Eagles. I keep expecting their rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to look like a rookie and he keeps playing quality football behind another defense that is also excelling.
Chip: Yes, their defense makes them the hardest team to play and the current favorite in the NFC.
How much of a liability is Blair Walsh, who missed another extra point on Sunday?
Erik: Once again, knowing the history of this franchise Blair Walsh is an incredible liability. Nobody wants the NFC Championship game – much less the Super Bowl – being on his shoulders. The Vikings need to make a move here. If there’s any way they could add former Bear Robbie Gould in addition to keeping Walsh for longer kicks and kickoffs that’d be ideal.
Mike: Blair Walsh is both an asset and a liability. He is very good from beyond 50 yard attempts and so bad at 35 yards or under. Against the Packers Mike Zimmer intentionally took a delay of game that backed up the field goal attempt from 41 to 46 yards, almost as if even he thinks it's better for Walsh to attempt lengthier field goals. Its easy for fans to get mad, and rightfully so, when we see wide left from 27 yards but take for granted that no body is asked to make as many deep kicks as Blair Walsh. That being said, missing chip shots and extra points will eventually cost us another game,and that's what makes it so frustrating.
Chip: He isn't as big of a liability now as he could be. But, as it stands now I would not want my playoff future relying on his leg.
What are your thoughts on Sam Bradford and the Vikings new look offense after two games with him at the helm?
Erik: Can’t help but be pretty positive, eh? He’s exactly the big arm that they needed, and he’s looking smarter than he’s ever been. His vision of the field is a huge improvement over Teddy’s, and he just has a better look and feel.
Mike: Having not had the chance to see Bradford play very often until this year I did not realize what kind of player he is. Frankly, he is more talented than I thought. Its so weird though, seeing a Vikings offense that cannot run the ball and elying on a quarterback to move the ball. If they can get more holes for Jerick McKinnon Bradford will be very effective.
Chip: They could use better protection and a better run game. But once they got on a rhythm in the second half they looked like an offense that can eventually put up a good amount of points.
The Green Bay Packers almost blew a huge lead against the Detroit Lions, ultimately beating them 34-27. Is it significant at all that the game was so close?
Erik: Not at all. It reminded me of a bunch of Timberwolves games last year where superior teams would give up and let the team get close before shutting them down. The Packers didn’t try after they got their huge lead because they didn’t have to. They’ll continue on the right track deep into the playoffs.
Mike: I don't think it is significant. Sometimes when teams jump to large first half leads they get complacent on offense in the in the second half. I also think people underestimate how good the Lions are on offense despite no longer having Calvin Johnson. If you're a Packer fan you would prefer to see your team go for the knockout punch instead of leaving the window open for a comeback, but it will take more than one week before I would worry about this being a perpetual problem.
Chip: Although it's hard to judge, it felt like the Packers were legitimately blowing that lead, not just letting their foot off the accelerator. If i was a fan of the green and gold I would start to worry.
Plenty of other games in week three had intrigue. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had another big game, picking apart the Steelers defense en route to a 34-3 victory; the Buffalo Bills shocked the Arizona Cardinals 33-18; the Redskins snuck by the Giants 29-27 on a last-minute interception; the Seahawks blew out the San Francisco 49ers 37-18; and that’s just a prime sampling. What games caught your attention the most?
Erik: Carson Wentz is beginning to look like the real deal, but we said that about RGIII and Colin Kaepernick once upon a time, didn’t we? He’s a stronger, more well-rounded quarterback though. His dominance of the Steelers defense was pretty amazing. The Bills/Cardinals game didn’t surprise me all that much, as the Bills are on the rise and the Cardinals are overrated (remember their playoff game last year against the Panthers, and then how the Panthers performed against the Broncos in the Super Bowl). The biggest surprise to me was the Seahawks blowing out the 49ers. Although the 49ers aren’t a great team I was convinced that the Seahawks were in shambles. They could still pull together a playoff season.
Mike: I knew the Bears were bad, but I didn't think they would be this bad.
Chip: The biggest surprise for me this week was the Eagles manhandling the Steelers. I thought the Steelers defense would prove problematic for young Carson Wentz. I'm still not a believer in him, he'll have to maintain what he has accomplished for longer than three weeks to earn the praise from me that he is getting from some national talking heads.