Monday Night Preview: What Can We Expect From Tonight's Doubleheader?
The NFL is finally upon us, and the opening week features a Monday night doubleheader with the New Orleans Saints facing the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Chargers visiting the Denver Broncos.
Last season proved to be a difficult year for each of these teams. The Saints finished with a 7-9 record, and the Vikings managed an 8-8 season, both missing the playoffs. With Drew Brees reaching the twilight of his career and the Vikings playing their second full season with Sam Bradford, both teams hope to begin 2017 on the right foot.
The second game also features two teams who underperformed in 2016. The Chargers and Broncos finished with records of 5-11 and 9-7, respectively, each missing the playoffs. Playing in the competitive AFC West, this early-season divisional matchup could be crucial to each team's playoff aspirations.
Looking at the first of Monday's games, the Saints and Vikings are a near even match when it comes to numberFire's nERD metric, which measures how good a team is based upon their expected point differential against a league-average team. The Vikings (2.47) currently rank fourth while the Saints (2.46) are just behind at sixth.
The second game is a little more lopsided, according to our nERD metric. The Broncos (2.41) come in at 8th while the Charges (0.12) check in all the way down at 20th.
With kickoff nearing, here are a few storylines to watch once these teams take the field.
Has Minnesota Done Enough to Fix Their Offensive Woes?
After a superb 6-1 start to the 2016 season, the Vikings completely dropped off, finishing with a record of 8-8. One of their biggest problems was an inability to run the football. The Vikings finished dead last in rushing, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics. While this is partially due to missing their star running back, Adrian Peterson, for most of the season, the Vikings dealt with various injuries along their offensive line, which is what really derailed the ground game.
In order to fix their running game woes, the Vikings spent a great deal of capital on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. At the running back position, they acquired Latavius Murray through free agency and Dalvin Cook in the second round of the draft.
On the offensive line, the Vikings signed Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers through free agency. Additionally, they drafted rookie Pat Elflein to bolster their interior. Finally, Nick Easton will start for the first time. That leaves Joe Berger as the only returning offensive lineman for Minnesota, and he will be switching positions.
Another interesting problem the Vikings faced a year ago was a shift in offensive coordinator mid-season. This year will mark the first full offseason under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Likewise, it will be the first full offseason quarterback Sam Bradford has to work with the offense. This combined with a healthy Stefon Diggs should allow the Vikings' offense to take a step forward.
According to our schedule adjusted metrics, the Saints were absolutely dreadful on the defensive side of the ball last season. They finished 30th in overall defense -- 19th in rushing defense and 29th in pass defense. Minnesota couldn't ask for a better Week 1 matchup -- getting a home game against a poor defense -- and it should give the Vikings' offense a chance to start off 2017 with a bang.
Who Is going to lead the Saints' Backfield?
This offseason, the Saints added two running backs to their offense: rookie Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson. While Kamara profiles more as a change-of-pace back early on, Peterson and Mark Ingram should battle for a majority of the carries in this backfield.
Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on each individual play. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and vice versa. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
While Peterson received only a handful of carries in 2016, he performed poorly when looking at NEP. He finished with -0.39 Rushing NEP per attempt, which was miles below the league average of -0.02. Ingram, on the other hand, finished with a NEP of 0.06, well above the league average.
Going into Monday's game, neither AP or Ingram profiles as an elite fantasy play against the Vikings' stout defense, one which ranked second last year by to our schedule-adjusted metrics. However, each runner provides value with their respective roles. It is an interesting game for Peterson, in particular, as he makes his Saints debut against his former team. Peterson noted before the game that he would like to "stick it" to his old team, so if you're into narratives, there you go.
Without any clarity right now, the Saints' backfield remains one to monitor in case one of these players can emerge as the lead back.
Will Trevor Siemian Play Well Enough?
In what didn't end up being much of a quarterback battle, Trevor Siemian earned the Broncos' starting role after an injury and highly disappointing offseason from Paxton Lynch. The Broncos narrowly missed the playoffs last season, and it is fair to wonder if Siemian is capable of elevating this team to the next level.
According to NEP, Siemian played slightly below average, finishing 2016 with 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back while the league average was 0.12. While this isn't horrible, especially for a first-year signal caller, Denver has done little around Siemian to bolster the offense.
The team will rely on a revamped but unproven offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Denver has the 25th ranked offensive line coming into 2017. Much will depend of rookie Garett Bolles, who will start Week 1 at tackle. He is set to face Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa -- a tough ask in a rookie's first game, which could leave Siemian scrambling.
Likewise, the Broncos did not add any notable pass catchers this offseason to aid Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. While they drafted Carlos Henderson in the third round, he was recently placed on injured reserve.
Overall, without a step forward from Siemian, the Broncos' offense could struggle against a Chargers team with a good secondary (10th in the league last year, per our metrics).
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