The Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans both reached the playoffs last season, but neither made much noise during abbreviated postseasons runs in January. Each team will try to change that this year, but only one can emerge victorious in Friday night's preseason debut.
After that, there are still three more games to be played before the outcomes actually matter on the road to the playoffs. That doesn't mean some things won't matter in Friday night's game, however -- just that the final score isn't going to be all that important.
Meet the Vikings
The Vikings have reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson on the roster and added a very good wide receiver in former Green Bay Packers star Greg Jennings. Quarterback play is still the most important part of the Vikings offense, however, meaning Christian Ponder is going to have to take things to the next level if the Vikings are going to improve as planned.
The defensive side of the football should be improved up front and the addition of another former Packer in Desmond Bishop won't hurt their linebacking corps. The defensive backfield will need to show improvement, though.
Meet the Texans
The Texans were a solid 12-4 last season, and it'll be hard to match that performance again this season. The addition of veteran leader Ed Reed and the return of the injured Brian Cushing should help, but the Texans struggled down the stretch because they weren't quite quick enough to handle certain situations -- and Reed isn't going to help that this year.
Local Takes: Vikings
Arif Hasan of the Daily Norseman has been more critical than most regarding the play of Christian Ponder:
I am hearing that I was the only member of the "media" critical of Ponder's performance In Day 9. Aside from the fact that this means that I am media now, it also means that my assessment is more likely wrong than right. I'm not modifying it in light of that, but do take it with a grain of salt.
I thought Ponder showcased a few excellent throws, but I am getting the feeling he's much better at intermediate throws than he is deeper ones, and the gap in that skill difference is larger than it is for most short-game quarterbacks.
Local Takes: Texans
Brian Cushing finally gets to hit something, and that something happens to be Adrian Peterson. There might not be a more difficult running back to meet in the hole than All Day, but Brian Cushing has never struck me as someone who does not love facing tough challenges at the expense of his own blood supply. Beyond containing the beast that is Peterson, I also want to see how Cushing handles coverage duties.
It's no secret that possibly the biggest reason for Houston's defensive fall off after Week 5 of the 2012 season was the fact that coverage from the inside linebacker position was pitiful. Whether zone or man, the second, third, and eventual fourth string options inside all failed to stop tight ends and running backs from ripping this defense to shreds through the air last year. Texans fans everywhere are eager to see some stability return to the position.
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The Texans should be able to handle the Vikings quite well this weekend, but it's going to be interesting to watch the Texans' defense try and stop Adrian Peterson. Either way, seems like a 21-13 game for the Texans.
The Texans opened as 1.5-point favorites, but the spread has moved and it's now essentially a pick'em preseason game, according to OddsShark.
The Vikings will go on the road next week to play the Buffalo Bills on Friday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Texans will have their first home game of the year when the Miami Dolphins come to town on Saturday night.