To get ready for Sunday's game I exchanged five questions with Eric J. Thompson of Daily Norseman, SB Nation's blog. My answers to his questions can be found here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. Although the Lions are 0-2, there is a lot of optimism among fans because of how Detroit played in the two losses. I can't imagine Vikings fans are feeling the same way. What is the general feeling among Minnesota's fan base right now?
Believe it or not, most fans aren't too thrilled. Shocking, right? Of course there are Vikings fans on all parts of the confidence spectrum ranging from "OMG we're doomed!" to "We're just fine, Super Bowl XLV here we come!" I'd say the general consensus is that the first two games were obviously disappointing, but we shouldn't panic just yet. In 2009's first two games, everyone on the offense not named Adrian Peterson struggled, but Minnesota still managed to beat up on the lowly Browns and Lions. (Sorry, but you guys were 2-14 last year.) In 2010's first two games, everyone on the offense not named Adrian Peterson has struggled, and Minnesota lost two close games to the defending Super Bowl champions and a Miami team that looks to be above average at the very least. If the offense can't get back on track against Detroit's porous secondary, then I think you'll see a shift from "mildly worried" to "full-on panic".
2. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this 0-2 start is Brett Favre's current mindset. Many have said that Favre is now regretting his decision to come back, and some even think he may walk away in the middle of the season. What do you think Favre is thinking right now, and how banged up is he?
DN: I'm not actually too concerned about Favre's physical health. His ankle has looked fine through the first two games--he isn't going to be confused with Michael Vick in the pocket, but he's been able to shift around with no noticeable hindrance. There is of course that mysterious elbow injury that got reported late this week, but there's no doubt that Favre will be out there on Sunday gunslingin' as usual.
His mental focus does worry me a bit. I hate reading too much into body language, but he doesn't seem to be the "big kid just havin' fun out there" that announcers love to praise ad nauseum. Nobody misses Sidney Rice more than Favre. Rice stretched the defense more than most of us realized and Favre doesn't have the windows to throw to like he did last year. I think his mind state reflects that of Minnesota's fan base right now--it's not too much fun right now, but a big win over a divisional opponent would make things a lot better.
3. As someone who drafted Percy Harvin in his fantasy football league and as someone who has had his own problems with migraines, it was disconcerting to see that Harvin suffered another migraine earlier this week and had to miss practice. He is also dealing with a hip injury right now, although he is probable to play on Saturday. What are the Vikings expecting to get out of Harvin, who is dealing with a couple obstacles health-wise, on Sunday?
First of all, sorry about your fantasy team. But hey, it could worse--Favre is my QB in one of my leagues. (Believe it or not, I'm 0-2.) As a Viking fan, the most upsetting thing about Harvin is that nobody knows what to expect from him from week to week thanks to the migraines and his balky hip. All signs are pointing to Harvin playing on Sunday, but Minnesota needs him to be effective on the field, not just on the field. If Percy can't make an impact against Detroit, I'm not sure who else in the receiving corps will.
4. How has the Vikings' defense performed so far this season?
In a word: admirably. The secondary has started the year incredibly banged up. Cedric Griffin blew out his knee in the NFC Championship game last year and hasn't played yet in 2010. Rookie corner Chris Cook is still healing from a training camp injury (he'll probably make his NFL debut against the Lions). Yet the Vikings have only allowed 335 yards through the air; guys like Hussain Abdullah and Asher Allen have filled in well for the injured players for the most part. Minnesota's front seven hasn't made many big plays yet, but they've been their usual stout selves with E.J. Henderson back in the middle. The defense is most definitely not the reason why the Vikings have faltered out of the gate.
However, the Lions offense has a lot of weapons. I think the Vikings' front seven will attack Hill early and often to try and force some mistakes. The Vikings don't have anyone to match up with Megatron's size, but I expect them to double team Johnson most of the game. The easiest way to slow Jahvid Best down would be for the Vikings to get a big early lead and force Detroit to pass more. If not, the Vikings run defense is still tough to beat, but from what I've seen of Best so far, he could make a couple big plays.
5. What is the key matchup for Minnesota to win the game on Sunday?
I think it will be Minnesota's offensive line against Detroit's revamped defensive front. While Detroit has given up a ton of yards through the air, they already have ten sacks--eight of them by their defensive line. Minnesota has used more max protect packages to keep Favre upright in the first two games, but I think that's part of the reason why the passing game has been off. Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt, the Vikings tackles, need to play well--they've been inconsistent through the first two games. If McKinnie and Loadholt can handle the vastly improved Detroit pass rush without too much help, the Vikings should be able to put up quite a few points. If not, it might be another long day for #4.