Minnesota Vikings (0-0-0 SU, 0-0-0 ATS, 0-0-0 O/U) at Denver Broncos (0-0-0 SU, 0-0-0 ATS, 0-0-0 O/U)
When and Where: Saturday, Aug. 11, Invesco Field, Denver, Colo., 9 p.m. EDT.
After finishing one step short of reaching the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings begin a season of sky-high expectations with new quarterback Kirk Cousins on Aug. 11 when they face the Denver Broncos and their former signal-caller Case Keenum in their preseason opener.
It’s Super Bowl or bust for Vikes with Cousins at QB
Following a second NFC North title in three years and a miraculous last-second victory in the divisional round of the playoffs, the 13-win Vikings upgraded at quarterback after their NFC Championship loss to the Philadelphia Eagles by signing Cousins to an $84 million deal to replace Keenum.
Cousins threw for 4,000 yards in each of his last three seasons for the Washington Redskins, but his lone playoff start came in 2015, and Washington finished 7-9 in his final season there under center.
He will also be working with a new offensive coordinator after Pat Shurmur left to become head coach of the New York Giants. John DeFilippo takes over after serving the last two seasons as Eagles quarterback coach, having developed Carson Wentz and his understudy Nick Foles into a Super Bowl-winning tandem.
Cousins will also have help in the form of running back Dalvin Cook, whose promising rookie season was cut short by a torn ACL suffered in Week 4. Cook, who had rushed for 354 while averaging 4.8 yards per carry before the injury, is fully healthy.
Stefon Diggs, who just signed a five-year, $72 million extension earlier this month, returns as the team’s big-play receiver while Adam Thielen is coming off a career year with 91 catches for 1,276 yards.
Minnesota’s defense will continue to be a strength and bolstered its line with the signing of tackle Sheldon Richardson. The Vikings allowed a league-low 252 points last year, but they also were torched for 62 in their final six quarters of postseason play, highlighted by that 38-7 loss in the conference title game.
Keenum looks for new start with Broncos
Keenum was originally acquired by the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent before the start of last season before being pressed into the starting job as first Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford went down with injuries.
Keenum, though, outperformed everyone’s expectations by throwing for career highs of 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 67.6 percent of his passes. He became expendable with Cousins’ signing and latched on with the Broncos, signing a two-year, $25 million guaranteed deal.
In just their second season removed from winning Super Bowl 50 with Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos tumbled to 5-11 last season for their first last-place finish in the AFC West since 2010. Quarterback woes were a primary reason for Denver’s struggles as its three QBs combined to throw 22 interceptions and only 19 TD passes.
New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will try to reset the run-pass balance lost under predecessor Mike McCoy, and while Keenum has quality targets in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, third-year running back Devontae Booker must perform as the feature back after Denver let 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson go. The Broncos also drafted Oregon running back Royce Freeman to help to that end.
Defensively, the Broncos held just four opponents under 20 points last year, another sign of how far things had fallen in the last two seasons after they held 10 of 16 opponents to 20 or fewer in winning the Super Bowl. Denver recorded just 33 sacks last season, 19 off its 2016 pace, and forced just 17 turnovers after racking up 25 the previous season.
Von Miller again anchors the Broncos pass rush, and they gave him a bookend on the other side with Bradley Chubb, the fifth overall pick out of Georgia. Shane Ray is looking to put an injury-plagued 2017 behind him in a contract year, while the secondary is revamped around cornerback Chris Harris.
Safety Justin Simmons will help provide cover that moves on without Aquib Talib following his departure to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Broncos are:
- 1-4 ATS in their last five home games.
- 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games overall.
- No trends of note.
The Vikings are:
- 5-2 ATS in their last seven road games.
- 6-2 ATS in their last eight Saturday games.
- The over is 5-2 in the Vikings’ last seven road games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Even if the first-team reps are limited to one series or one quarter, the Vikings appear to have too much on both sides of the ball to let the Broncos gain any separation. Additionally, Minnesota backup quarterback Trevor Siemian will undoubtedly be eager to get a few cracks at Denver’s reserves on defense.
Prediction: Pick: Vikings +1
Full-Game Total Pick
The fact there are two quarterbacks playing against their former teams in Keenum and Siemian means both teams defenses can be exploited in the sometimes sloppy nature during preseason games. It may be slightly tougher for Keenum to find cracks in Minnesota’s defense, but there should be enough offense and the challenge of conditioning playing in Denver that the over should hit.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 34.5 points
Half-Time Side Pick
The Vikings appear to have the better offense in terms at both quarterback and returning players around Cousins that his one or two series under center is more likely to result in points than the Broncos will with Keenum directing their offense.
Prediction: Pick: VIKINGS Pick’Em (-110)
Half-Time Total Bet
Even if the Vikings do get traction while Cousins directs the offense, it is hard to see both teams combining to give up four scores in the first half, especially when the teams go to their second-string players in the second quarter.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 19.5 points (-110)