The National Football League presents seven preseason games today beginning with a morning tilt between the home standing Minnesota Vikings and visiting Arizona Cardinals. These two National Football Conference teams have hugely different outlooks for the coming season.
The Cardinals tossed out both their first round quarterback selection and head coach from last year. Trading Josh Rosen to Miami and firing Steve Wilkes. The one year experiment with Rosen and Wilkes was supplanted by a new football duo in Arizona, Heisman Trophy Winner and first pick in the draft Kyler Murray, and first time NFL head coach, Kliff Kingsbury.
The Vikings also made big moves last season, adding one-time Washington Redskins starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins. The prior two seasons, before Cousins joined the Vikings, Minnesota had one of the top rated defenses in the league. Cousins was projected as the missing piece into a first ever Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl win.
The Vikings have played in four Super Bowls, most recently to complete the 1976 season against the Oakland Raiders. John Madden coached the Raiders to their first ever Super Bowl win that season, 32-14. Bud Grant was the head coach for all four Minnesota appearances in Super Bowls. His first setback was in Super Bowl IV, a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the last game before the two league’s, American Football League and National Football League, merged their teams into two conferences.
The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IX, 16-6, a year after Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins downed the Vikings in the title game, 24-7.
The Vikings played in four of the first 11 Super Bowls, but haven’t been back since their loss to the Raiders. Last year, they got the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle, but high expectations flattened their preparation and performances.
This year, that overconfidence is replaced by the knowledge that they have to play better to succeed. The talent and coaching is in place to win, what has to happen now is their quarterback is going to have to do better against teams with winning records. No quarterback in the NFL is worse at beating good teams than Kirk Cousins. In 27 games against teams with winning records, Cousins has only led his team to victory five times.
For that reason, many have downgraded the Vikings prospects for great things this year. More positive coverage focussed on last year’s NFC North Division winner, the Chicago Bears.
The same criteria has me gravitating to Minnesota, recognizing that last year’s imbalance on the expectations versus actual talent scale, has now tipped in favor of better times for the Vikings. Their talent is currently better than their billboard material.
Which brings us to today’s game between the could be Super Bowl winner Vikings, against an Arizona team starting over again. Off two wins and a home favorite role, the Vikings have no motivational sprocket to catch for this third week of the preseason matchup. The edge today belongs to the team preparing for the greater challenge, and even in the preseason this human condition presents itself.
Young players hoping to make a team’s 53 man roster will bang heads today, and while the Vikings have a huge edge in overall talent, today it is the focused Cardinals that will win the wager, probably straight-up.
Qoxhi Picks: Arizona Cardinals (+6) over Minnesota Vikings