Schedule could dictate Cassel early

With the toughest part of the Vikings’ schedule early, veteran Matt Cassel could be the best option.

It seems like everyone outside the Vikings locker room has an opinion on who should be the Vikings starting quarterback. Inside, they’re playing the waiting game.

It’s not the Pettine Zoo that exists in Cleveland right now – Johnny Manziel disciples could rival the circuses that followed Brett Favre to Minnesota and Tim Tebow in the Rockies. But if last Friday’s preseason opener was any indication, the fans have spoken and they want Teddy Bridgewater to hit the field as soon as possible.

Is that the right move considering the Vikings’ early portion of the schedule? The first five games of the 2014 regular season are going to be a minefield that needs to be navigated and, unless Bridgewater shows a lot more in practice and in preseason games than what we’ve seen to date, the best organizational move may well be to let Matt Cassel try his hand before letting Bridgewater cut his NFL teeth.

The Vikings schedule isn’t that brutal when viewed in its totality. If someone was to cherry pick the divisions you would want to play on a given schedule in 2014, the NFC South and AFC East would likely be pretty high on that list. But as it pertains to the layout of the schedule, you may want to go with a veteran early, rather than a newbie who has never played the game at this level.

The season opens at St. Louis, where Jeff Fisher has assembled an aggressive defense that is going to bring the heat early and often. The Rams finished last in the NFC West last year – the only team in the division that didn’t win 10 games last year – and they’re looking to prove a point that they are a viable playoff contender themselves. Winning on the road is never easy and the Rams will surely be slight favorites over the Vikes in Week 1 in St. Louis.

When the Vikings celebrate their home opener in Week 2, the New England Patriots are coming to town. No franchise has been as consistently successful as the Patriots over the last decade and beating them is something a lot of teams have tried, but few have succeeded. Having played for the Pats, Cassel will have a much better idea what to expect from Bill Belichick’s defense than Bridgewater.

Things don’t ease up after Week 2. The next three weeks include road games at New Orleans and Green Bay – the Packers game comes on a Thursday following a Week 4 home game vs. Atlanta. The Vikings will likely be prohibitive – near double-digit – underdogs in both of those road games and Cassel may well be the best option to run that gauntlet.

Once the Vikings get through that first wave of opponents in the first five games, the schedule opens up much more favorably. After Week 5, the only 2013 playoff teams the Vikings face the rest of the way will be Green Bay and Carolina, and both of them will be at home in the games that sandwich Thanksgiving.

While fans want to see Bridgewater early, the best coaching move may well be to go with Cassel for at least the first five games. If the Vikings succeed in that initial run, Cassel will have earned the starting job and should keep it. If they fail miserably, Bridgewater will have had an additional month before he takes center stage and the Teddy Era begins.

Fans don’t make the call as to who starts and who sits for the team, but the court of public opinion can help sway decisions. It seems obvious that the fan base wants to see Bridgewater and appear willing to float or sink with him. But the Vikings are likely looking at the bigger picture and, for the betterment of Bridgewater long-term, it may be wiser to play Cassel in the short-term and see where the Vikings sit in early October.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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