The Vikings beat the Steelers, 14-3, in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton on Sunday, a low-scoring affair for two teams that figure to light up their fair share of scoreboards this season. In fact, many NFL analysts believe that Minnesota, which is 12-19-1 over the past two seasons, could make the playoffs.
Ross Tucker is one of those analysts.
“I really do (think they could make it),” the NBC Sports NFL guru said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Sometimes, guys, it almost feels like when everybody else is saying something you kind of want to go the other way or it’s like I want to have some originality. But I’ve been saying that about the Vikings for awhile. There’s a lot of reasons why. I think most people get it: 7-9 last year with a rookie quarterback, expectations that he’ll be better, a young receiver in Charles Johnson, they get Kyle Rudolph back, they bring in Mike Wallace to clean up some of the reads from the defense and to stretch it – all those things we know. Oh yeah, by the way, by far their bets player (Adrian Peterson) is back as well. But I’ve been saying that even before that. Just with Mike Zimmer – I was in Dallas when he was there. (He’s) really, really impressive, and their defense was pretty solid last year.”
The Vikings also used their early draft picks on Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (11th overall) and UCLA linebacker Eric Hendricks (45th).
“So they add two more pieces to that puzzle, and if they won seven games last year, (they could be even better this year),” Tucker said. “Now part of it’s what divisions you’re playing, what’s your schedule. But I got to think they’re a nine-, maybe 10-win team – certainly in that mix, which puts them in the playoff hunt.”
The Steelers, meanwhile, will be without Dick LeBeau for the first time since 2004. Tucker, however, doesn’t expect the Steelers to miss a beat. Believe it or not, he expects them to go all the way – or pretty close to it.
“To me, they’re a dark horse Super Bowl candidate,” he said. “I just have a sneaky suspicion that the Super Bowl team is going to come out of the AFC North. I’m not feeling the Broncos. They’re clearly worse than they were last year at a lot of positions. The Patriots, we’ll see what happens with Brady, but I still think that’s probably asking a lot of them (after) losing (Brandon) Browner and (Darrelle) Revis . . . to get back there again. And I know people might look at the Colts, but I’m not sold on the Colts and their toughness.
“So I’m looking at teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore,” Tucker continued. “It just kind of feels like we are due for one of them to break through, and the more likely candidate right now might be Pittsburgh. They finally got the offensive line together, they got weapons everywhere on offense – the offense is going to be fantastic. And then defensively, they have totally rebuilt that front seven to a fast, young, aggressive front seven. Now, I didn’t see a whole lot last night out of Bud Dupree, the first-round pick. Obviously Jarvis Jones, first-round pick from a couple years ago, didn’t play, but (Ryan) Shazier looked good.
“I think playing zone is probably a pretty good idea. If your offense is going to be that good and your front seven is that good, have a defense that keeps guys in front of you. Don’t get beat over the top. Make them go the length of the field against you. I think Pittsburgh feels like now with their front seven that if you have to go the length of the field against them, you’re going to have trouble and you’re certainly going to have trouble getting touchdowns and that they will win a shootout.
“So it seems like their change in philosophy sort of fits their personality this year, and right now, I’d probably flip a coin, but I’d lean toward Pittsburgh as my Super Bowl pick in the AFC because I just have a sneaky suspicion it’s going to be an AFC North team.”