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Broncos vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preseason preview

Matt Fitzgerald

The Minnesota Vikings will open the NFL preseason in Week 1 at home against the Denver Broncos. This will be a battle of two teams searching for their identity and hoping to challenge for the playoffs in 2021. Check out our preview of this exhibition matchup below.

Broncos vs Vikings: What you need to know

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Drew Lock vs Teddy Bridgewater

Denver is in a full-tilt quarterback competition right now between newly arrived veteran Teddy Bridgewater and incumbent young gunslinger Drew Lock.

Because Bridgewater has journeyed quite a lot around the NFL, he seems like a better candidate to adapt to the odd circumstances of the preseason over Lock. That said, there’s no question Lock has superior arm strength and gives the offense a higher ceiling.

  • Teddy’s Odyssey: Funny enough, the Vikings drafted Bridgewater in the first place, and if not for a serious knee injury, he might still be Minnesota’s QB. Bridgewater has since moved on to be a journeyman, making stops with the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers before Denver.
  • Dreadful Drew: No way to sugarcoat it — Drew Lock’s stats were not good in 2020. Now that he’s had a full offseason to digest a system that was new to him last year, he should have the leg up on Bridgewater, but on the other hand, all the pressure is on the third-year signal-caller.

Advantage: Teddy Bridgewater

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Patrick Surtain II vs Vikings wide receivers

Broncos vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preseason preview
Jul 29, 2021; Englewood, CO, United States; Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) during training camp at UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

His father was a stellar NFL cornerback, and even though pedigree was on his side, it’s nevertheless impressive that Patrick Surtain II lived up to the hype and shined at Alabama. The Broncos were pretty deep at the position, yet still selected Surtain ninth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft — even with the likes of Justin Fields and Mac Jones available.

It’s not like the Vikings would play Justin Jefferson even before he sprained his AC joint in practice. Bisi Johnson is out with a torn ACL for Minnesota, too, so the Vikes are pretty thin in their receiving corps at the minute.

  • Surtain Hype: The Denver Post‘s Ryan O’Halloran reported something that’s certain to excite Broncos fans. After taking training camp, O’Halloran tweeted Surtain “may be the Broncos best cornerback by Week 1… don’t think that’s a reach.”
  • Ready the Rookie: Iowa product Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a fifth-round pick, and he should get an extended look for the Vikings. His long speed makes him a vertical threat, but he’ll have a serious challenge when he presumably lines up against Surtain.

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Christian Darrisaw vs Broncos pass-rushers

Minnesota is hoping first-round draft selection Christian Darrisaw immediately upgrades its offensive line as the starting left tackle.

Good news: Darrisaw won’t likely have to face Von Miller or Bradley Chubb at all in this one. Also, Broncos coach Vic Fangio isn’t bound to throw too many exotic stunts at him, as preseason schemes are rather vanilla and uninteresting.

  • Playing with Heart: Jonathan Cooper underwent three operations on his heart in May, but Denver’s seventh-round pick is making a splash at Broncos camp. Cooper is an edge defender to watch who could hound Darrisaw on Saturday.
  • Depending on Darrisaw: It’ll be a balance act for the Vikings staff to get Darrisaw quality live reps while also keeping him fresh for a 17-game season. The pass protection for Kirk Cousins must improve, and Darrisaw is Captain Kirk’s key blindside protector.

Advantage: Minnesota Vikings

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Javonte Williams vs Vikings front seven

Broncos vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preseason preview
Jun 1, 2021; Englewood, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) during organized team activities at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos may be wary of giving Javonte Williams too many touches in exhibition play, but the first-year tailback out of North Carolina could use the experience, because Denver will be counting on him to be part of a dynamic duo alongside Melvin Gordon.

Stalwart veterans like Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are likely to sit for Minnesota, which should give Williams a little more running room than he’d have otherwise.

  • Williams has Wiggle: An artist of deception in the open field, Williams routinely makes defenders miss, or just flat-out runs through them. Williams averaged 4.3 yards per attempt after contact during his college career, per Pro Football Focus.
  • Sinking Ship: The Vikings had an uncharacteristically leaky defense under coach Mike Zimmer in 2020, and allowed the sixth-most rushing yards per game. That should be a clear point of emphasis for Minnesota throughout the preseason, even when the starters aren’t playing.

Advantage: Denver Broncos

The bottom line: The Broncos are in the midst of a QB derby, and the Vikings’ backups behind Cousins are nothing to write home about. For that reason alone, this should be a relatively easy victory for Denver.

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