What is simultaneously the best thing about the NFL and also the worst thing (to my mental state) – when one team can be so much better than the other and yet lose the game to them. It happens all the time and we talk about teams that are 1-3 that should be 3-1 and vice versa…it is the fuel that drives our love for the sport and for fantasy.
The reason people love the new era of television…Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, etc. – you never know what’s going to happen week to week or season to season. They don’t follow an obvious pattern. The good guys don’t always win. Your favorite/a beloved character may get killed off. In the NFL, you never know from one week to the next when an obvious favorite is going to get pushed to the limit/lose to an inferior team. You can be so sure of something and then it goes 180 degrees the opposite, a forest fire started by an early-game spark from a botched snap, or tipped pass, etc.
It’s not like Lions are a bad team, they are a pretty solid squad. However, they should not have won this game. The Minnesota Vikings, to me, clearly the better team… They were the better team...even with Case Keenum making the gap closer.
The Lions scored one TD in this game. In a game where Minnesota played so well on defense, Dalvin Cook took a hand-off, scampered a few yards, his leg buckled to what we would learn was a torn ACL, and as Cook went down in pain he dropped the ball. The Lions recovered deep in Minnesota territory. The Lions scored their only TD via ACL assistance.
There were other moments that cost Minnesota as well. Jerick McKinnon single-handedly lost Minnesota this game. He bobbled away a ball running a wildcat play that set up Detroit in great field position. He later dropped an easy 3rd & 2 pass already past the 1st-down marker and on his way for more yardage. If McKinnon had any chance to replace Dalvin Cook – this game destroyed it.
Credit to the Lions for playing well enough to win. Other teams might’ve taken all of the Vikings gifts and beat them convincingly. The Lions relied on all these gifts, long field goals, and a goal-line stand at the very end, followed by Adam Theilen fumble during their final gasp drive (with good field position) with less than a minute ago.
The Lions might be the single luckiest team in the NFL if it wasn’t for the Philadelphia Eagles.
I walked away from this tape evaluation thinking/wondering one thing – are the Minnesota Vikings possibly the best team in the NFC?
Here would be my case – they may have the best defense in the NFC…better than Seattle by far. Better than the Redskins now that they sustained 7,000 injuries on Monday Night Football. Better than the Panthers for sure.
The weakness I perceived in Minnesota’s defense coming into this year was the other coverage wherever Xavier Rhodes wasn’t. It looks like the Vikings are starting to tighten up that weak side of the field. Golden Tate was M.I.A. in this game not covered by Xavier Rhodes. They have solid plus linebackers, and they have a great defensive line. Denver and Jacksonville have better defenses, potentially, but they're in the AFC. In the NFC it’s the Vikings.
I’ve had three knocks against the Vikings that all seem to be changing at this point. One was coverage on the other half of the field. Another was their offensive line – but the Vikings are now one of the best in the league in sacks allowed – especially impressive because Minnesota is not playing as conservative as they have in the past. They are opening up and throwing the ball deep – you could only do that with time to throw. Thirdly, I’ve been impressed with Mike Zimmer…a guy who has been the bane of my existence for years. A guy the second I praise will go right back to doing what he used to do and destroying this team. I don’t know about the future, but suddenly the Vikings are a lot looser of a team and part of that is showing in one of the most wide-open passing games in the NFL. Perhaps only the Rams and Patriots are playing with more downfield flair.
If the Vikings have the best defense in the NFC. If they’ve suddenly found an offensive line. They have plausible enough running backs – I would argue Dalvin Cook was their third-best running back. They have a solid tight end. I would argue they have the best 1-2 WR duo in the NFL. Everything is in place if they can get the quarterback play.
The Vikings have been plausible with Case Keenum – that’s how you know something has changed with Minnesota. With Sam Bradford, this team would be dangerous – Bradford with time to throw. The Vikings also have depth at quarterback, which most teams do not have see: Oakland and Tennessee. Case Keenum it’s plausible. Teddy Bridgewater may be back soon. Rookie Kyle Sloter is one of the great prospects just sitting there. Sadly (for them), for Minnesota, in a few weeks when Bridgewater is ready they may have to cut Sloter.
If you told me the Minnesota Vikings would have Sam Bradford healthy for the rest of the season – I would tell you they’re headed to the NFC title game the face Dallas.
One of the objections you could raise is – I’m sure I wrote something very eloquent about how great the Vikings are about this time last season when they raced to a 5-0 record and best-in-football status. We know how that ended. We cannot rule out a return to their normal/a collapse from this point either.
For now, I’m on the Vikings train – a certain kiss of death.
Fantasy player notes…
— Obviously, the main thing everyone wants to know about this game is what happens now post-Dalvin Cook ACL. Is Latavius Murray (7-21-0, 2-8-0/2) ready to go? Is the team committed?
I would say this – the moment Cook went down, the Vikings went to this offensive pattern: Murray on first and second down and Jerick McKinnon (2-0-0, 0-0-0/2) on most 3rd downs.
I thought Murray looked fine. Honestly, he kinda looks (visually) like Adrian Peterson from recent/OK years. He always has looked like AP in size and style, but now he has the Vikings uniform to complete the circle. If he has a problem with his ankle, I didn’t see it in his seven carries in this game.
As I mentioned before, McKinnon blew whatever shred of hope he had for next week as the main guy or for sharing by fumbling and butchering an easy pass. McKinnon is a threat to touched for sure, but Latavius Murray fits what the Vikings want to do – a power running game. Plus, Murray is a great receiver as well. Plus, McKinnon has been a false threat for two years now.
I put my money on Murray being the clear lead with McKinnon in a supporting role.
— What to do about a certain running back on the other side of the field with the Lions? More specifically, what to do with Theo Riddick (4-4-0, 1-8-0/2).
Riddick has gone from a guy who was Matt Stafford‘s BFF in the passing game to hardly playing. The Lions have been in some weird games early in the season…games where they could just run Ameer Abdullah (20-94-1) for not much but to run the clock with the lead. Jim Caldwell wi the ultimate play-it-safe coach.
Once the Lions are back to being in back-and-forth contests, Riddick will see it’s normal playing time and targets, I suspect. However, that’s hard to predict week to week. For now, Riddick becomes a bench player in PPR until we see an uptick. I wouldn’t cut him out of anger, but it’s not like he is the most must-have guy in a league filling up with pass catching running backs.
— Golden Tate (3-29-0/5) had a down day, but chalk some of it up to the circumstances. When the Lions get a lead they tend to sit on it and protect it. Not doing much besides running disappointingly and trying to exhaust the clock. The Vikings also had good coverage on him for most of this game.
Tate is always undervalued, and coming off a weak game here is probably undervalued even more. He’s closer to a WR1 in PPR than a WR3, but tends to trade more in the WR 2.0-2.5 zone. If you can get Tate in the deal cheap, he’s worth it. He’s been one of the better producers of the last 10–15 regular-season games in the NFL. He is a poor man's Antonio Brown minus scoring touchdowns – the usual apple of his QB's eye. CAR-NO-BYE-PIT-GB-CLE-CHI-MIN-BAL-TB-CHI-CIN ahead provide mostly nice matchups and no real shutdown corner to face.
In Tate's last 15 games going back to 2016…
98 catches, 136 targets, 1,162 yards, 5 TDs
6.5 catches, 9.1 targets, 77.5 yards, 0.33 TDs per game
9.9 FF PPG, 16.4 PPR. He's the #22 PPR WR in fantasy YTD.
— Have I mentioned I love Adam Thielen (5-59-0/8)? Thielen excitement is fading from people you’ve been trying to acquire him from. There’s never much trust in him and Case Keenum has suppressed some of the value here. Once (if) Sam Bradford comes back, Thielen starts flirting with PPR WR1.5 status again, potentially. The problem is Stefon Diggs is so good too that if the Vikings don’t have a heavy pass game volume you never know who’s going to have the big game as a receiver. Lately, it’s been Diggs.
With Bradford, Thielen was the more favored target. I don’t think this Vikings passing game can make any wide receiver a WR1 for very long over time. This year might be different with the new approach the Vikings are taking.
Stefon Diggs is the current #2 PPR WR in fantasy PPR, and Thielen #19.
In his last 10 games with 2 or more targets in a game, Thielen has posted:
6.3 catches, 86.9 yards, and 0.40 TDs per game…good for 11.9 FF PPG, 18.2 PPR PPG.
— There was a lot of Darren Fells (4-40-0/5) action in this game. Eric Ebron (2-27-0/4) was like a secondary guy compared to Fells in the passing game. This was something I speculated could happen this season – Fells is a great blocker and better receiver. I don’t like Evbron as it is, but now I have a specific reason to dislike him for fantasy even less.
— Lions DE Anthony’s Zettel (3 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4 QB hits) has 4.0 sacks on the season now. He has at least one sack and three of his 4 games this year. He had two sacks in this one. As I spent more time watching him work, I didn’t see anything all that magical. A blown block/decent surge got him a sack early, and then he had kind of a game-winning sack late in the game but was totally unblocked and the QB happened to be going his way.
The numbers are showing a reason to be excited, but his play does not look like a star is born to me.
— Vikings starting safety Andrew Sendejo (11 tackles, 0.5 TFLs) has more tackles (32) this season than star safety Harrison Smith (6 tackles, 1 TFL) this season. That probably comes as a mild shock to IDP'ers.
— For those experiencing kicker problems – keep an eye out if Kai Forbath is on waivers or gets dropped this week.
In this particular game, Forbath had one point. He also missed a field goal so in some leagues he had negative points. Note – Forbath was 6-for-6 on field goals the first three games of the season. Last year, in a partial season, Forbath hit 15-of-15 field goals for the Vikings in seven games. Before his miss in this game, Forbath was 21 of 21 as a Viking the past two seasons (11 games). He is one of the more accurate, better kickers in the NFL. He’s like a Dan Bailey type kicker. Just FYI.
— The Vikings DST is 8th in the league allowing 19.0 PPG this season and are 9th in sacks.
Trubisky-Rodgers-Flacco-Kizer over the next four weeks is nice for at least two of them. Watch for them getting dropped heading into that GB game. You want them for Weeks 7-8 v. Flacco-Kizer.
— Only five defenses have more INTs than passing TDs allowed – the Lions DST is one of them (4/7)…second in the league in INTs. Detroit is 4th best in PPG allowed (17.5). before you get excited, the schedule ahead is not good: CAR-NO-BYE-PIT-GB.