Quarterback and conference rivalries are nice, but nothing captures the beauty of NFL football than a battle between division rivals. The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions get to start of the season in just such a manner, signifying the importance of the matchup right off the bat. Which team has the edge?
#5. Jared Allen vs. Riley Reiff
The national media may not have taken notice of this looming showdown, but the Detroit Lions certainly are. For the first time in years they don’t have the reliable Jeff Backus guarding the blind side of Matthew Stafford. Now the job belongs to Riley Reiff who played last year at right tackle. The jury is still out on whether he is a good fit there, and a week one battle with All-Pro Vikings defensive end Jared Allen will certainly tell a lot. Reiff is woefully outclassed in experience, but he won’t have to worry about crowd noise and he is physically gifted enough to hold his own. Then again, so were a lot of great tackles that Allen left in his wake.
#4. Brandon Pettigrew vs. Erin Henderson
Detroit has waited a number of years for a true breakout from tight end Brandon Pettigrew. While he is able to put up decent stats, for one reason or another he hasn’t shown the ability to take over games that his obvious physical talent would allow. The hope is that with Matthew Stafford maturing and the presence of new weapons, Pettigrew is in an optimum spot to create mismatches down the middle of the field. The Minnesota Vikings offer than first opportunity, especially with E.J. Henderson starting at middle linebacker. He hasn’t played that position full-time during his career, often flanking the previous holder of that job, E.J. Henderson. Erin plays well enough in coverage, but he must prove he can do it consistently and Pettigrew is a perfect first test.
#3. Christian Ponder vs. Lions pass defense
Few quarterback are under more pressure to prove himself in 2013 than Christian Ponder. At this point he is widely viewed as a game manager who took advantage of a dominant rushing attack to get Minnesota to the playoffs last season. He hasn’t passed for over 3,000 yards yet in his career, but he will have better weapons to make that a reality this year with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. A year ago Detroit would’ve offered a nice way to ease into the season, but their defense has undergone some changes, especially in the secondary. Veteran corner Ron Bartell and safety Glover Quin arrived in free agency while corner Darius Slay came via the draft, signaling the Lions may finally have some decent pieces to compliment their stout pass rush. Ponder will have to find out which.
#2. Reggie Bush vs. Vikings defense
The biggest addition to the Detroit Lions chess board isn’t on defense though. That title belongs to running back Reggie Bush. His proven dual threat capability as a runner and receiver is something the Lions have sorely lacked. Adding him to the huddle alongside Calvin Johnson makes the task for the Vikings defense that much harder. Ageless corner Antoine Winfield isn’t around to correct their mistakes. Minnesota must make sure Bush doesn’t get going on the ground, because if he does he will become a nightmare for them to track when Detroit turns to the pass. Rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and rookie corner Xavier Rhodes could prove crucial to that mission.
#1. Adrian Peterson vs. Nick Fairly and Ndamukong Suh
Every team knows what it takes to stop the Minnesota Vikings offense, but knowing how to and doing so are two different things. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL and the reigning MVP. Corralling him will be a herculean task for the Detroit defense, and the two players who must step up to the task sit square in his line of sight. Defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are known more for their pass rush. In order for the Lions to become a more consistent unit, they have to buckle down against the run. There is no better barometer to tell where they are at than a game against “All Day.”