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Week 4 preview: Vikings at Broncos

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Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

*Keys to the game: The Vikings’ offensive line has made great strides the past two weeks, paving the way for RB Adrian Peterson to rush for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry. The asterisk is those numbers came in two home victories against mediocre defenses. Minnesota was bullied in a Week 1 loss at San Francisco and that O-line will face its most difficult test yet in battling Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. QB Teddy Bridgewater has yet to find his groove, throwing just one touchdown and has key receivers in Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright battling injuries, so he can expect Denver to hone in on Peterson in an attempt to create long passing downs in which it can crash the edges.

The Vikings’ defense has five sacks over the past two weeks and coach Mike Zimmer has a history of giving Broncos QB Peyton Manning fits. Denver is still looking to get RB C.J. Anderson (2.3 yards per carry) rolling the way he did to close last season, but the revamped offensive line isn’t creating many running lanes and could be down to its third-string left tackle if rookie Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) can’t go. Manning could be particularly vulnerable to Zimmer’s double A-gap blitzes looking to take advantage of struggling C Matt Paradis. That said, if the Vikings can’t move Manning off his spot, dangerous targets in WR Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are extremely potent after the catch.

*Matchup to watch – Vikings LT Matt Kalil vs. Broncos OLB DeMarcus Ware: Kalil’s knee is healthy and he has shown much improved form following a disastrous 2014 season. But he won’t receive much help on Bridgewater’s blind side as the Vikings protect rookie RT T.J. Clemmings working against Von Miller on the other side, and Ware enters with 3.5 sacks on the season. Minnesota could counter with more two- and three-tight end formations in a very conservative offensive approach.

*Player spotlight – Vikings WR Charles Johnson: After closing last season with 25 catches for 415 yards and a pair of TDs over the final seven games, Johnson has only six catches for 46 yards and no scores through three games. He was targeted just twice last week, finishing with one catch for nine yards and suffering a rib injury. Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson could see increased snaps this week.

*Fast facts: The Vikings and Chiefs are tied for the league low with only five offensive penalties through three games. … Gary Kubiak joined Red Miller (1977) and Josh McDaniels (2009) as the only Broncos coaches to open their first seasons with the team 3-0.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Denver appears vulnerable as Minnesota brings a power ground game and an ascending young defense to town. It won’t be easy – or pretty – but the Vikings can control the clock offensively and make the pocket very uncomfortable for Peyton Manning.

*Our pick: Vikings 20-19.


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