My love for the Vikings is non-existent.
That said, I think they have a very good team, even without Sidney Rice. Brett Favre is a special breed, and there's no reason to assume he won't play well again in 2010. People have tried the "Ah, he'll just get hurt" crap for so many years that I wonder how they haven't given up yet.
In the end, though, the Vikings need a few things to go their way, however, to pull off a win in the season opener at New Orleans tonight.
Run the ball. It's an old saying, but the Vikings have to run the ball and control the clock. They don't have the horses on defense to make anything happen if they're in a 45-44 shootout-type game. It just won't work for them. Instead, they need to run the ball effectively, control the clock with Adrian Peterson and the short passes, and keep the Saints offense standing on the sideline with their hands on their hips.
It sounds simple, but sometimes you got to keep it simple.
Win in the trenches. The Saints' front four defensively is good, but not unbeatable. They made their money last year by blitzing. The Vikings have issues on the offensive line, but Peterson is their biggest liability in pass protection.
I expect the Vikings to combat this not by subbing him out of games, but by using tight end Jim Kleinsasser as a running back on passing downs. Add another extra blocker -- I'd propose tight end Jeff Dugan -- and the Vikings are in a situation where they can allow Favre to make the plays in the passing game without fear of constant harassment. If the Saints see the Vikings using the max-protect looks that they didn't use much in January, I would expect them to blitz less, not more.
Leaving four Vikings in pass patterns and facing man coverage is a deadly move if you don't get to Favre quickly. He's shown he can make that work before, and he'll do it again if he has to.
The biggest thing is to keep him upright and confident in his pocket.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have a similar choice. They're woefully thin in the secondary, so they either need to use their linebackers to help in pass coverage, or they need to get a hell of an effort out of the front four. Look for New Orleans to spread the Vikings defense out. Sean Payton isn't dumb. He knows he can spread out the defense, keep them from disguising a lot because of their lack of bodies, and probably neutralize the front four a little bit.
That means the front four needs to play their best game since the last time they faced the Packers.
Defense can win games, too.
Composure. Amid all the talk of cheap shots and dirty hits and what not, this game will not be decided by fisticuffs.
The officials will be looking to keep the game clean, and they'll be looking to keep it from getting out of hand.
That means you can look for something to be called in the first quarter that wouldn't normally be, whether it's an extra shot along the sidelines, or a borderline hit on a quarterback, or an overly aggressive open-field hit on a wide receiver. It's probably going to happen, and the team that avoids taking those penalties and best maintains composure will have a huge advantage, especially early in the game.
In the end, I see the Vikings coming up just short. It doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, because they should feel pretty good about things as long as they go in and play reasonably well. With Favre leading the way and inspiring his teammates, I expect they'll play well.
Just not well enough. New Orleans is too healthy and too deep, especially on offense, where they can really hurt the Vikings without getting too far away from what they do well.
Saints 23, Vikings 20
The rest of Week 1 (home team in CAPS):
TAMPA BAY over Cleveland
Miami over BUFFALO
CHICAGO over Detroit
Oakland over TENNESSEE
NEW ENGLAND over Cincinnati
N.Y. GIANTS over Carolina
PITTSBURGH over Atlanta
Denver over JACKSONVILLE
HOUSTON over Indianapolis
San Francisco over SEATTLE
Arizona over ST. LOUIS
PHILADELPHIA over Green Bay
Dallas over WASHINGTON
Baltimore over N.Y. JETS
KANSAS CITY over San Diego