The Vikings face what might be the toughest road game on their schedule this week against the defending AFC North champions. Even though the Steelers got off to an underwhelming start against the Browns, they have enough variables on defense and weapons on offense to win their home opener.
Prediction: Steelers 20, Vikings 16.
Three big story lines
Coach Mike Zimmer said he expects QB Sam Bradford to play after a left knee injury limited Bradford in practice this week. Assuming Bradford plays, he’ll have to hope for solid protection against a team that had seven sacks a week ago.
When Antonio Brown is on the outside, the Vikings could have Xavier Rhodes shadowing him. But if Brown is in the slot, things could get interesting, with either Terence Newman or Mackensie Alexander tasked with slowing down the five-time Pro Bowler.
CAN COOK KEEP IT UP?
In his debut Dalvin Cook rushed for 127 yards and caught three passes for another 10 yards, and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur didn’t sound like the Vikings planned to reduce his workload this week.
Two key matchups
STEELERS WR ANTONIO BROWN VS. VIKINGS CB XAVIER RHODES
Look for Rhodes to be matched up on Brown, though the Steelers’ penchant for stacking receivers at the line of scrimmage could make it tough for Rhodes to get his hands on Brown. Rhodes is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hip injury.
VIKINGS DT LINVAL JOSEPH vs. STEELERS C MAURKICE POUNCEY
Pouncey anchors a powerful Steelers offensive line that likes to drive block, push defensive fronts around, and — as Zimmer insinuated on Friday — hold on to defenders. Joseph’s ability to control the middle of the line will be paramount.
One stat that matters
86 Number of throws Ben Roethlisberger attempted of at least 20 yards last year, a league high.
The Vikings will win if …
They can keep Roethlisberger from finding Brown for big plays, contain Bell and counter with another strong offensive performance.
The Steelers will win if …
They’re able to control Cook enough to put the Vikings in adverse down-and-distance situations, and if they use the talents of Brown and Bell to create some game-changing plays on offense.
Ben Goessling’s win probability