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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Is Vikings fill-in Jerick McKinnon destined for big day?

Before each game, our Vikings coverage team makes predictions graded on a 1-10 scale of difficulty. Leader at the end of the season covers the Christmas Eve game in Green Bay … and so does the loser.

One of the comments on this blog last week was “Are they trying to be funny?” which automatically earned the commenter five points and the early season lead. As for our panel, no one came remotely close to predicting how last week’s game might fall – you’d think a relatively simple 17-14 win over the Packers with a Prince halftime show and an Adrian Peterson injury would have been a layup.

Here are this week’s predictions for the game in Carolina.

MATT VENSEL

The loss of Adrian Peterson will be felt for much, if not all, of the rest of the season. But for 60 minutes on Sunday, Jerick McKinnon will make the sting dissipate. Peterson’s replacement will eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage against one of the NFL’s best defenses to help the Vikings pull off the upset against the Panthers.

Degree of difficulty: Three. Matt’s bucking the odds with his forecast of an upset, but he is one of the few people on this website who can spell “Jerick” correctly without consulting the media guided.

JIM SOUHAN

Panthers 22, Vikings 13. The Vikings move the ball, Jerick McKinnon looks smooth as the starting running back, Sam Bradford limits turnovers … and none of that matters, because the Vikings are playing the best team in the NFC on the road where the Panthers rarely lose. The Vikings play well but lose. It happens against good teams.

Degree of difficulty: One. Jim’s relatively mellow this week as he prepares for the Ryder Cup, where an accidental cough near the green means Rory McIlroy’s caddy might throw him in Lake Hazeltine.

 MARK CRAIG

Cam Newton will score a touchdown and not:
A. Dance with a teammate.
B. Pretend he’s Superman.
C. Pretend to shoot a fall-away jumper on the sideline.
D. Run 50 yards with the football so he can give it to a kid in the stands as analysts grow misty-eyed and forgive the 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike behavior.
Ah, who are we kidding. He’ll do all of that. And he’ll win the game, but Mike Zimmer’s defense will hold the Panthers well short of the 40.4 points they’ve averaged in their past seven home games.

Degree of difficulty: Four. Because Cam Newton will probably score more than one touchdown.

CHIP SCOGGINS

The Vikings play their first full game without their starting quarterback, starting left tackle and Hall of Fame running back combined. Sam Bradford has another strong game in place of Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon has a productive performance in place of Adrian Peterson, but T.J. Clemmings has Bradford running for his life in his first start at left tackle. As Meat Loaf would say, two of three ain’t bad.

Degree of difficulty: Two. I hate to say it, but kids these days not only don’t know who Meat Loaf was, they don’t know what meat loaf is.

ANDREW KRAMMER

Anthony Barr forces two fumbles, scooping up the second one for a potential game-winning touchdown before Andrew Sendejo collides with him, dislodging the ball for Panthers tackle Mike Remmers to recover .

Degree of difficulty: Seven. Sometime in the next week someone is going to google Mike Remmers and this blog is going to pop up and they will immediately subscribe to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I can tell you that.

 MICHAEL RAND

Cam Newton will rush for 100 yards but Jerick McKinnon will rush for 200 yards — including a touchdown of more than 80 yards — keeping the Vikings close in Carolina. In the end, though, a defensive TD will save the day for the Panthers in a 27-20 win.

Degree of difficulty: Six. After reading all these glowing predictions about Jerick McKinnon from the “experts,” I immediately started Ronnie Hillman in all six of my fantasy leagues.

Vikings move up to No. 5, but a win at Carolina seems unlikely [NFL Picks]

Each Saturday morning during the NFL season, we’ll wake up early, take a hearty cut at predicting the unpredictable league, wince at how it went the week before and ponder the definition of insanity.

Week 2 wasn’t bad at 10-5 straight-up and at least a winning record (8-7) versus the spread (14-16 through two weeks is why money doesn’t accompany the mouth). But, yeah, the reasoning behind last week’s upset special – “dem Saints can score, score, score!” – needed a mulligan after New Orleans fell 16-13 at the Giants.

To make up for that whiff, I’ve swung even harder on the week’s biggest underdog Browns (plus-10 at Miami). The risk-reward is great on this one. So I’m either going to hit 3-wood over the lake to a small green from 220 yards out, or I’ve just topped the ball 10 yards into the water and I’m hitting 4.

Miami seems like the lock pick for the suicide pools. But beware the September lock. The league’s worst teams haven’t completely given up yet.

In 2013, the Vikings were a lock against a visiting Browns team that was changing quarterbacks and traded its leading rusher four days before kickoff. That was the week then-Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterback Brian Hoyer ruined a lot of suicide pools by winning at the Metrodome.

WEEK 2 PICKS

Vikings plus-7 at Panthers: Panthers 27, Vikings 17.

Why?: Believe it or not, there will be adversity on the field at some point this season. Sam Bradford is an excellent pickup, but he won’t throw 32 touchdowns with no interceptions and set the league record for passer rating. The Vikings are a solid team with an elite defense. But there’s a reason Carolina has won 14 straight at home while averaging 40.4 points in the last seven of those wins. Go with the home team, but don’t bury the visitors’ season when they return home.

LAST WEEK: Packers minus-2 at Vikings. The Pick: Vikings 23, Packers 21. The Result: Vikings 17, Packers 14. Record: 2-0.

UPSET SPECIAL

Browns plus-10 at Dolphins: Browns 24, Dolphins 23

Why?: Yeah, this one makes no sense. The Browns are already down to their third quarterback and, well, let’s just say they ain’t the Patriots. But it’s still early in the NFL season, which means there’s still some fight left in even the league’s laughingstock. Their standout rookie receiver broke his hand in practice, they’re on the road and they blew a 20-0 lead a week ago at home. But I just have a feeling Cleveland is going to wreck a lot of suicide pools, sort of like they did a few years back when they came to the Metrodome and beat the Vikings while at one of their deepest points of the season.

Last week: Saints plus-4 ½ at Giants. The Pick: Saints 34, Giants 31. The Result: Giants 16, Saints 13. Record: 1-1.

Broncos plus-3 at Bengals: Bengals by 7

Raiders minus-1 at Titans: Titans by 3

Cardinals minus-4 at Bills: Cardinals by 7

Ravens minus-1 at Jaguars: Jaguars by 3

Redskins plus-3 ½ at Giants: Giants by 6

Lions plus-7 at Packers: Packers by 14

49ers plus-9 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7

Rams plus-5 ½ at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 7

Steelers minus-3 ½ at Eagles: Eagles by 6

Jets plus-3 at Chiefs: Chiefs by 7

Chargers plus-2 ½ at Colts: Colts by 7

Bears plus-7 at Cowboys: Cowboys by 3

Falcons plus-3 at Saints: Saints by 10

Record (Last week/Season): 10-5/21-9

Vs. spread (Last week/Season): 8-7/14-16

CRAIG’S LIST: Power Rankings

1, Patriots (3-0)

2, Steelers (2-0)

3, Cardinals (1-1)

4, Broncos (2-0)

5, Vikings (2-0)

6, Panthers (1-1)

7, Bengals (1-1)

8, Packers (1-1)

9, Eagles (2-0)

10, Giants (2-0)

11, Jets (1-1)

12, Ravens (2-0)

13, Chiefs (1-1)

14, Chargers (1-1)

15, Buccaneers (1-1)

16, Falcons (1-1)

17, Texans (2-1)

18, Titans (1-1)

19, Cowboys (1-1)

20, 49ers (1-1)

21, Rams (1-1)

22, Seahawks (1-1)

23, Raiders (1-1)

24, Lions (1-1)

25, Saints (0-2)

26, Dolphins (0-2)

27, Colts (0-2)

28, Jaguars (0-2)

29, Bears (0-2)

30, Redskins (0-2)

31, Bills (0-2)

32, Browns (0-2)

12:00 PM, 9/25 (FOX)
Minnesota 2-0
Carolina 1-1

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