Where Is the Focus for Vikings against Buccaneers?

Are Evaluators Not Watching Danielle Hunter?
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The Minnesota Vikings will kick off their 2023 regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Minnesota employs Kevin O’Connell for year two of his tenure, they’ll face a much different Todd Bowles team this time around. What can we expect during the Week 1 matchup?

Where Is the Focus for Vikings against Buccaneers?

When the Buccaneers roll into town, the Vikings will lean on the homefield advantage of U.S. Bank Stadium to start them off on a good foot. Minnesota is coming off a 13-win season, and while they don’t need to replicate that this time, they absolutely have to win the games they are expected to if they want to compete for anything at the end of the year.

Looking at both Minnesota and Tampa Bay, here are a few things to focus on:

What to Watch for From Minnesota

the Focus for Vikings
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Arguably the most scrutinized part of the organization this offseason had to be the defense. O’Connell’s Vikings were dismal a year ago, and no amount of offensive production is going to save them again. Playing from behind or winning close games isn’t a viable strategy, and how much the defense can show up under Brian Flores is the most significant development.

The cornerback position is thin, but during Week 1, Minnesota will never have a better group. Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans are both healthy. Seeing how they show up against a talented wide receiver group will be big. How much does Lewis Cine play, and what does the safety rotation look like? These are both valid questions.

The defensive line is revamped, with Marcus Davenport taking over for Za’Darius Smith. Last year, it was Danielle Hunter who got off to a slow start, but Davenport may need his more talented teammate to set the stage. The rest of the unit could benefit if the front can get pressure.

Minnesota is going to be fine on offense. While we don’t know what the running back rotation will look like, Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson still exist. T.J. Hockenson is among the best security blankets in the game, and Jordan Addison has a chance to emerge as an immediate threat. If the defense can put the Vikings in favorable situations, they will score early and often.

What to Watch for From Tampa Bay

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The Buccaneers are entering a year of transition that starts at the quarterback position. No one will ever replace Tom Brady, and it’s certainly not going to be Baker Mayfield. After making starts for both the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams last year, what version of Mayfield shows up matters a substantial amount.

Rachaad White emerged as somewhat of a lead back in the backfield for Tampa Bay. They didn’t do much to supplement the group, and a veteran like Leonard Fournette is nowhere to be found. He’ll look to establish the run, but the Vikings must show a strong front.

Arguably the biggest battle of the day will come on the edges. Both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are talented wideouts who can create space and separation. Against a young and weak cornerback crew, how much the Tampa Bay wideouts cause havoc against the Vikings remains to be seen.

Why Minnesota Will Win

Second Straight
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This isn’t a game even a mediocre home team loses. The Vikings will find themselves in tough spots this season, but this one should not qualify. Getting Mayfield on the road with a new team is something a transitioning defense should feast on. Establishing an identity with a new coordinator can begin during Week 1.

The Vikings should have more than enough firepower to rely solely on their offense in this contest, but the defense creating a turnover or two against Mayfield is also likely. They can use this game as a momentum-building tilt, and finding a way to have the upper hand against a lackluster signal caller will feel good.

Prediction

With the Detroit Lions winning Thursday night, the Vikings must hold serve right out of the gate. Give me a close but commanding 24-17 Minnesota victory.


Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.

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