The Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the top defenses in the National Football League last season, and it took them a long way since quarterback Blake Bortles was able to keep his turnovers to an amount that was palatable. And they have every reason to believe they can be a legitimate contender for the AFC title.
The Minnesota Vikings are brimming with optimism as they come into 2018 because they feel like they have upgraded themselves at the quarterback position. And since they can be confident that they will have a ground game that is more than good enough, they are the favorites in the NFC North.
These are two of the best stop units in the league, even though such a thing gets diluted a little because of the activity the second, third and even fourth team players wind up getting in pre-season games. But early on, things will be interesting as they meet on Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Minnesota won its opening game by a 42-28 score visiting the Denver Broncos, while Jacksonville lost at home to the New Orleans Saints last week by a 24-20 score.
TV: 1 PM ET, NFL Network. LINE: Vikings -4. O/U: 40.5
ABOUT THE JAGUARS: Blake Bortles had an outing relatively without an accident in the pre-season opener, completing six of his nine passes without an interception or sack. He led the team on a fifteen-play drive to score in the first quarter and punctuated it with a two-yard touchdown run. He struggled in the first joint practice with the Vikings, finding himself confused a little by the coverages and throwing the ball into the hands of Minnesota defensive backs on a couple of occasions. Cody Kessler, whose NFL reputation is that he throws the short ball well but can't get a team down the field, but he was sharp against the Saints, hitting on 14 of his 17 attempts. The real nightmare was experienced by Tanner Lee, a sixth-round pick out of Nebraska who completed four of eight passes, fumbled the ball twice and suffered five sacks. All of this happened in the fourth quarter. Needless to say, he's facing an uphill battle to make the squad. Running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon were among the Jacksonville players who more or less took a neutral stance for the National Anthem, choosing to stay in the locker room. The Jags played "clean" last week, being flagged only three times for 25 yards. Doug Marrone has shown an indifferent attitude toward success in the pre-season, with a 5-9 straight-up, 3-8-3 ATS mark.
ABOUT THE VIKINGS: The Vikings could not have asked for much more from Kirk Cousins than what they got in his one and only series, as he completed all four of his passes with a touchdown. He looked sharp and in command, and good to go for the regular season. Of course, he'll get some more work this week, against a challenging defense. The Vikings were #1 in the NFL last season in scoring defense and total defense, but the Jags were #2 in both categories. For what it's worth, Denver (last week's opponent) was third in total defense in 2017. It appeared as if backup quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter were especially psyched up to play against their former teammates. Siemian, who basically switched teams with Case Keenum, was 11-of-17 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Sloter connected on nine of 11 passes with a TD. We know that Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are going to be the top two running backs for the Vikings, but there is room for someone else, and Roc Thomas would like to volunteer for the job. He made a nice bid last week, with a 78-yard TD catch (in which he did all the work himself) and another touchdown reception. Thomas is an undrafted rookie out of Jacksonville State (in Alabama), who had transferred from Auburn. He is well worth watching. Mike Zimmer improved his pre-season record to 14-4 straight-up and 13-5 against the spread, so his disposition toward exhibition games is a bit different than that of Doug Marrone.
1. These teams are holding joint practices this week, and in light of some of the skirmishes that have taken place in similar situations, a dozen players from both the Jags and Vikings sat down and met in an effort to avoid fighting during these scrimmages.
2. Minnesota's offensive line suffered a blow when left guard Nick Easton was forced to have neck surgery, ending his season. Kaleb Johnson, recently cut by the Chicago Bears, was signed in his place. He's been with six NFL teams but has yet to play in the regular season.
3. Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler have each been suspended a week for an incident surrounding a dust-up between Fowler and a teammate and a local beat reporter who showed a video of it. Since then, Ramsey was revealed to have unloaded on some NFL quarterbacks in a magazine interview, calling Josh Allen "trash" and Matt Ryan "overrated," among other criticisms.