It's always tough to predict exactly who will play in preseason games and for how long.
Last week, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer played most starters for about a quarter-and-a-half. The defense put out a solid performance, while the offense struggled to find a rhythm over three series.
Zimmer said after Saturday's game that the starting offense "probably needs to play" against the Chiefs Friday night. He was asked again Wednesday if the starters will play at Kansas City, and he said the following:
"We'll play some – not everybody. But the problem that I get into sometimes, I say, 'Yeah, he's going to play,' and then we change our mind and he doesn't play. So, it will be similar to last week. Let's just say that."
It looks like the Vikings can plan on playing the Chiefs starters, too, for the entire first half.
Todd Palmer of Kansas City's KSHB referenced Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid, who spoke to media members Wednesday.
"We'll play the 1s for the first half, and then we'll see," Reid said. "I'm going to see how it goes, but that's what I've got scheduled for them, and we'll play it by ear from there."
Worth noting, of course, is that just because a team plays its starters doesn't mean all of the starters will see game action. For the Vikings, it's doubtful that Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson or Dalvin Cook – a trio of Minnesota's stars – will play. Palmer wrote:
The new [three-game preseason] schedule begged the question how teams would adjust — continue to treat the third game as a chance to develop chemistry among the starters or turn the third game into a showcase for backups?
Reid opted to keep his traditional preseason game plan in place — especially as the Chiefs work to break in a new offensive line that features five new starters, including three with no previous NFL experience in rookies Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith along with 2020 opt-out Lucas Niang.
"It's gone good — just on the offensive side, getting the [starting] offensive line some reps; that's what I'm looking at," Reid said. "Then, on the defensive side, just making sure we've got all the kinks knocked out there."
ESPN makes '10 big predictions' for the 2021 campaign
With teams playing their final preseason games this weekend, ESPN's Kevin Seifert is looking ahead at the regular season and making "10 big predictions" for the 2021 campaign. He wrote:
The real trick to making successful NFL predictions, of course, is to choose the topics you're predicting in the first place. What follows are 10 parts of the upcoming season I feel confident making assertions about. They span a range of on-field likelihoods to off-field certainties, from coaching scrutiny to ticket sales to rule changes, and they reflect the way I view the game and what I think is important. And I'll even give my early take on who might win it all next February.
Seifert's first prediction focuses on Minnesota's Week 1 opponent: Bengals QB Joe Burrow will "lead the league in being worried about."
The second-year quarterback is "on track to return in Week 1" after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.
The entire football ecosystem will be holding its breath. The Bengals attempts to improve their offensive line are far from conclusively successful, and there is genuine fear that Burrow will be swallowed up by dysfunctional organizational inertia. Part of that anxiety is based on how accurate and productive Burrow was last season when he wasn't pressured. He had the NFL's fourth-lowest off-target rate in those situations (10.1 percent). When under pressure, however, Burrow recorded the lowest Total QBR (3.8) in the league.
Another interesting prediction by Seifert is that "games will be decided by people behind the curtain."
According to Seifert, "the NFL will have two methods for backstopping officials this season, and both will add a measure of mystery that didn't previously exist in the administration of the game."
One of those methods is that NFL owners approved added responsibilities for the replay official who sits in the stadium's press box.
Those officials are authorized to provide the referee with certain objective information, gleaned in real time from television broadcasts, and the referee can use it to make or change a call without requiring a coach's challenge.
Second, the NFL will use multiple league employees to make decisions on formal replay reviews following the retirement of Senior Vice President Al Riveron. A league source said that Senior Vice Presidents Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell will now supervise the process. Vice President of Replay Russell Yurk will be involved as well, but to this point, the NFL hasn't identified who will be making the final decisions.
Until now, every NFL officiating and administrative decision during games has played out in front of our eyes. We saw who threw flags, and we knew when officials discussed options. When the referee went to the hood – or more recently, the tablet – to look at a replay, we understood whom he was talking to and who was ultimately responsible for the decision. In 2021, at least, that process is shaping up to be murkier and less transparent. Referees might get advice from an unseen assistant, and replay decisions will be made by unidentified individuals.
To see all 10 of Seifert's predictions, click here.