The San Francisco 49ers face a stiff test to open the season as they travel to face the Minnesota Vikings. That stout defense and a quarterback upgrade in Kirk Cousins, coupled with the 49ers losing Jerick McKinnon for the season and Reuben Foster for the first two games of the season, leave me not too surprised by the 6.5 point spread.
I think the Vikings probably cover the spread in this game, but it is still a very winnable game for San Francisco. Earlier this week, I chatted with Ted Glover from Daily Norseman, and we took a different approach to the exchange. Rather than ask 5 questions and go from there, we each offered up an explanation for why our team would love this game. We can all beat our chest about how great our teams are and what could go right, but I like the idea of focusing in on the weaknesses that might cost the team.
I talked about some of the 49ers issues in my piece over at Daily Norseman. You can drop in there with your own thoughts. In the meantime, here is what Ted had to say about the Vikings weaknesses.
Why the Vikings might lose — Ted Glover
The Minnesota Vikings have opened up as a six point favorite in the season opener at home on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. At face value, that seems like a reasonable line. The Vikings open up at home, are coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship, and the 49ers ... are not. Minnesota enters the game (mostly) healthy, and the 49ers were just dealt a brutal injury to RB Jerick McKinnon, a fan favorite when he was with the Vikings. But there’s a reason they actually play the games, and this is a game the Vikings could easily lose. Let’s take a look at how that might happen.
On offense, the Vikings spent the offseason investing $84 million in quarterback Kirk Cousins, but placed a lower priority on the offensive line. That could come back to bite them on Sunday, as DeForest Buckner is probably one of the better players Vikings fans haven’t heard about. If the Vikings interior line cannot get a handle on Buckner, he’s going to be able to disrupt both phases of the Vikings offense. The Vikings RT will be Rashod Hill, and he’ll need to help keep a clean pocket. He was okay at times last season, but has missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury. If Hill is overmatched, they’re going to be somewhat limited in what they can do, and if there are two break points on the o-line Cousins will have a really tough go of it. However, if Cousins can get some time, I think the key will be whether or not the 49ers can lock up the Vikings receivers. If Richard Sherman can get back to his Seahawks form, they have a shutdown guy that can take Stefon Diggs (or Adam Thielen) out of the game. And if Akhello Witherspoon can match up on the other side, there might not be as many inviting targets as Kirk Cousins anticipates. And remember, this is the first test of the new Vikings offense, featuring a new QB and a new offensive coordinator. They were inconsistent in camp, and there might be a fair amount of growing pains as these new players get to know one another.
On defense, the question for me is which Vikings defense shows up? Is it the one that went out and became the number one defense in the NFL over the course of the 2017 season, or is it the one that got pantsed by Nick Foles in the NFC Championship? If it’s the former, Jimmy Garoppolo is going to need to play at the top of his game, and that still might not be enough. If it’s the latter, the Minnesota March to Atlanta will be derailed and in a ditch before Vikings fans sit down to the supper table Sunday, because between you and me, Jimmy Movie Star is a way better QB than Foles. One of the concerning trends from the Vikings defense in the preseason was their susceptibility to short and screen passes, and at times a vulnerability to runs between the tackles. Having Jerick McKinnon out is a blow, but not a mortal one. Matt Breida and Alfred Morris are good players, and can exploit those weaknesses. Maybe the Vikings were just playing really basic sets; maybe this is an Achilles heel that will dog them in the opener and beyond.
Finally, the 49ers are better than their 6-10 record showed. There was a five game stretch during that 0-9 start where San Francisco lost each game by three points or less; put Jimmy G as the QB in those games and I think it’s reasonable to assume the Niners win at least three of those games, if not four. Now 6-10 is 9-7 or 10-6, and this isn’t nearly the favorable matchup most people think it is for the Vikings. Minnesota needs to come out ready to play, because if they don’t they’re going to be in for a rude awakening.