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AK: It's never a fruitful endeavor predicting NFL games, and that might go doubly for season openers, which seem to produce outlier results. (Remember Carson Wentz's big Week 1 last year? Nobody else does, either.) But for the sake of prognosticating, I'm drawn to the Buccaneers' linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White. They're still expected to start in the middle of Todd Bowles' blitz-happy defense. While they've been productive pass-rushing linebackers, they haven't always been the best in coverage. Everyone knows Jefferson is going to command the defense's attention. That's why I'd lean Hockenson against a Buccaneers defense that allowed 29 passing touchdowns last year (tied for 28th), including nine to tight ends. Only four teams allowed more scores to tight ends. I somehow managed to bet against Jefferson, which doesn't feel very wise.
AK: According to coordinator Brian Flores, the Vikings are expected to start second-year linebacker Brian Asamoah along with veteran Jordan Hicks in the middle of the 3-4 front. So that puts to bed any discussion of Pace, the undrafted rookie, starting right out of the gate. But coaches continue to speak highly of Pace after he performed well during training camp and the preseason, which included a roughly three-week stretch in the starting lineup while Asamoah dealt with a shoulder injury. We've seen the Vikings install defensive groupings with all three linebackers — Hicks, Asamoah and Pace — on the field, and Flores seemed open to getting Pace into the game against the Buccaneers. "Hopefully, we can get him in the game for some snaps and continue that trajectory that he's on," Flores said Thursday. "This is his first game, and, as a rookie, that first one is a special one."
Also look for third-round rookie Mekhi Blackmon to play a big role as the outside cornerback when the Vikings deploy three corners. Undrafted rookie cornerback NaJee Thompson told me this week that he'll be active Sunday and expects to handle duties as a gunner on punt coverage, where he excelled during the preseason.