This time of year, it’s all about the draft, so you should definitely…
But there’s still a craving to get back to real football, and the release of the preseason schedule is one step in the process.
The Minnesota Vikings released their preseason opponents Wednesday, giving us a chance to look ahead to August and think about real — albeit meaningless — games that the Vikings will more than likely win because, well, they are the kings of preseason football under Mike Zimmer, who is 14-3 in exhibitions since becoming coach.
Though the dates aren’t set in stone, the opponents are as follows:
Week 1 @ Denver Broncos
Week 2 vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 3 vs Seattle Seahawks
Week 4 @ Tennessee Titans
Here are the storylines you’ll probably be hearing in four months when it’s time to finally play the games.
Grudge Match I: Case Keenum. The former Vikings quarterback now finds himself in Denver under a two-year contract after Minnesota opted to pursue Kirk Cousins in lieu of the man who got them to the NFC Championship Game. It’s hard to blame the Vikings for trying to acquire the top arm on the market, but it’s also hard to blame Keenum if he felt underappreciated by the Vikings. Zimmer often refused to commit wholeheartedly to Keenum during the regular season and raised questions at the NFL Combine whether Keenum’s true colors were “the quarterback he was last year or who he was three years ago?”
This will surely be hyped up the week of the game, but in reality, Keenum and Cousins are unlikely to play beyond the first quarter. For a more meaningful grudge match, the Vikings will host the Broncos in the 2019 regular season when more will be at stake.
Grudge Match II: Trevor Siemian. The Vikings acquired Kirk Cousins’ backup quickly after the Cousins signing became official. Siemian started 24 games for the Broncos over two seasons, going 13-11. He regressed last season, however, and didn’t show John Elway and Co. enough growth to keep him around heading into his contract year, so the Broncos shipped him to Minnesota. In the preseason opener, Siemian will get to face the Broncos’ defensive backups, who he will have faced numerous times at Denver’s practices.
Grudge Match III: Kyle Sloter. Perhaps the bitterest of these three QB breakups was between the Broncos and Sloter, their undrafted rookie quarterback who was released after a scintillating preseason and scooped up by the Vikings as a developmental passer. In comments to Zone Coverage after switching teams, Sloter wasn’t thrilled with the way he was treated by Elway, the Broncos GM. “[I]t’s tough to leave situations like that where you’re, for lack of a better word, loved by most everybody except the GM,” Sloter said in September.
Vikings fans will get their first glimpse of Sloter actually playing in a game for the Purple when he takes the field against his old team.
A matchup of conference title game losers. It’s hard to believe that the Jaguars were closer to reaching the Super Bowl last year than the Vikings, but that’s the reality. Jacksonville led New England late in the AFC Title Game before a patented Tom Brady comeback. They return Blake Bortles as their passer but will look different offensively after losing Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Chris Ivory in free agency. They added Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Donte Moncrief, though, and re-signed Marqise Lee to give Bortles some options in the passing game. Ultimately, the Jaguars’ suddenly-rejuvenated defense will continue to carry the load.
A rare regular season preview. The Vikings and Seahawks play each other for the third consecutive year in the preseason, but this time it comes in a season where they face off in the regular season as well. Normally, teams don’t play regular season opponents in the preseason, which is why mostly inter-conference foes are scheduled. The last time it happened to the Vikings was in 2015, when they beat Oakland 20-12 in the preseason, then beat them 30-14 in Week 10 of the regular season.
The interesting thing about this year’s matchup with the Seahawks is it occurs in Week 3 of the preseason — the game where teams play starters into the third quarter and simulate a regular-season-like gameplan. Knowing the paranoia of most NFL coaches, one might guess Zimmer and Pete Carroll will keep things vanilla.
Defensive tackle swap. There will be familiar faces on the interior defensive line for Vikings and Seahawks fans alike. The two organizations basically pulled a 2-for-1 defensive tackle swap with prized free agent Sheldon Richardson coming to Minnesota, which led to the eventual departure of Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen for Seattle after the two spent a collective eight seasons with the Vikings. Minnesota fans will be excited to see if Richardson can help stifle the elusive Russell Wilson, who should get plenty of action in the game.
The irony at the moment is that Minnesota and Seattle traded weaknesses. The Vikings now are in need of a rotational defensive tackle or two, while the Seahawks could use a high-end playmaker at the 3-technique. That’s what the draft is for.
New-look Titans. Tennessee made some noise in free agency, bringing in a pair of ex-Patriots (RB Dion Lewis and CB Malcolm Butler), as well as two ex-Redskins (TE Niles Paul, LB Will Compton) to bolster their roster after winning one playoff game a year ago.
Unfortunately, in Week 4 of the preseason, most of the stars won’t be seeing the field, which might include Lewis, Butler and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. Get ready for a showdown of Sloter vs Alex Tanney at quarterback.
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