Friday, August 16, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Vikings vs Bills

Minnesota Vikings vs Buffalo Bills: BUF -3 (5Dimes)

Market Watch

This line opened up at Buffalo -3, but it was immediately pushed up to the -3.25 range. You can grab the dog at +3.5 with a bit extra juice (-125) or you can lay the favorite at -3 for the same price.

Coaching/Motivation

Leslie Frazier's preseason coaching record is 6-7 straight up and against the spread.  What stands out is his demeanor to open the preaseason. He didn't seem to care much at all about the result in game one, and he continues to preach his evaluation approach for Week 2.

Meanwhile, new Bills head coach Doug Maronne is "hungry to get better as a team". It's not uncommon for the new guy in town to want to change the culture of an organization, but the Buffalo organization really believe that this regime change is different.  He had an inspiring start to the preseason, and kicking things off at home could maintain that culture change momentum.

Quarterbacks

Part of the excitement in Buffalo surrounds their top pick, E.J. Manuel. Most scouts like him because he's
intelligent with great size and physical tools. He had a bit of a shaky start vs IND, but he bounced back strong and hit all nine passes in the two-minute drill.

He won't get the start though because Kevin Kolb gets that role this week. He'll see between 10-20 snaps. If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm not a fan of this guy. He's too inconsistent, holds the ball too long, and doesn't have ideal pocket awareness. He also can't seem to stay healthy (this time he slipped on a rubber mat).

So why do I like him in this spot? The simple answer is ... his job is on the line. With a guy like Manuel breathing down his neck, this game could be his biggest opportunity to win over coaches, teammates, and fans. It might all become a disaster if he tries to force too many balls, but on the bright side he is getting the chance to play with the starters.

For the Vikings, things are not so good. The starters are expected to go into the second quarter and the spotlight is squarely on Christian Ponder. His difficulties are well-documented (especially with his deep ball), but the thing that concerns me about Ponder this preseason is what can he do without Adrian Peterson?

Behind Ponder is Matt Cassel. Normally it's good news when you have a backup with starting experience, but I'm not sold on Cassel in any role. The majority of his yards last week came after the catch, he looked skittish in the pocket, and had a questionable interception.

Rounding out the rotations for both teams are a couple of unfamiliar names.

For Minnesota, McLeod Bethel-Thompson is an undrafted player who spent time in the arena league and UFL. Not good.

For Buffalo, we have Jeff Tuel. Against the Colts he had over 200 yards passing and two touchdowns. He completed his first nine passes and looked decisive on the field. I'm not going to get carried away with this performance, but for a third stringer you have to like those numbers.

Noteworthy

One key area to watch for the Vikings will be their secondary. They are taking a pretty big risk with rookies Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson in starting roles. The learning curve for rookie cornerbacks is usually a steep one.  Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this week that they are looking to go deep in this game to utilize their speed. Minnesota's rookies will be tested.

The Bills coaches asked their offensive linemen to lose weight in the offseason to prepare for more no-huddle and zone blocking schemes. Adding E.J. Manuel to the mix will further enhance their plan, so I'm interested to see what the Vikings do to counter this.

Without AP in the game to keep the defense honest, look for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to be aggressive with some pressure. He's looking to transform this unit into a more attacking 3-4 scheme and he has some quality pieces to work with.

Bottom Line

There is legitimate reason for optimism in Buffalo these days. There is a new set of innovative and aggressive coaches looking to change this program around. They also have a nice quarterback competition for the starting job. When you look for all the ingredients for a side in a preseason game, this one checks off most of them. I'll lay the points with the Bills.

NFL Pick: BUF -3.