EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN. – Minnesota's path to the 2016 regular season included a severe curve last week, but the Vikings are set to open on the road at the Tennessee Titans at noon (Sunday).
The Vikings went 11-5 in 2015 to win the NFC North but lost quarterback Stefon Diggs for the season last Tuesday. The Titans went 3-13 in Marcus Mariota's first pro season and have undergone a significant overhaul under new General Manager Jon Robinson.
Here's an early look:
Passing:Veteran Shaun Hill has been preparing to replace Bridgewater since the injury. He is 16-18 in 34 career starts and last started a game in December 2014. Hill had a big day in Nashville in a relief effort of Matthew Stafford in 2012. In his lone appearance that season, Hill completed 10 of 13 passes (76.9 percent) for 170 yards with two touchdowns for a rating of 157.9 (the maximum in the NFL is 158.3). Hill entered the game with the Lions down by 14 with 1:16 left but led an 80-yard touchdown drive in 58 seconds and completed a Hail Mary pass for a 46-yard touchdown to tie the game as regulation ended. The Vikings executed a trade for quarterback Kyle Rudolph on Saturday.
Mariota started all 12 games he played last season, completing 230 of 370 passes (62.2 percent) for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a rating of 91.5.
Rushing:Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards for the third time in his career, totaling 1,485 yards on a league-high 327 carries. Peterson tied for the most rushing touchdowns (11) in 2015 as well and had seven games last season with 100 or more rushing yards. Jerick McKinnon emerged with an expanded role late in the year for the Vikings and finished with 52 carries for 271 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Minnesota ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing last season.
Antonio Andrews (143 carries for 520 yards and three touchdowns) is the top returning rusher for the Titans, followed by Mariota (34 carries for 252 yards and two touchdowns). Tennessee recently released Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey and David Cobb. The Titans traded for DeMarco Murray this spring and drafted Derrick Henry, who won the Heisman Trophy a year after Mariota.
Receiving:Stefon Diggs led the Vikings with 52 receptions for 720 yards and added four touchdowns in an impressive debut season. Kyle Rudolph added 49 receptions for 495 yards and five scores. Charles Johnson has bounced back from an injury last season, is joined by Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and first-round pick Laquon Treadwell.
Tight end Delanie Walker's monster season of 94 catches for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Harry Douglas added 36 receptions for 411 yards, and Kendall Wright added 36 receptions for 408 yards. The Titans recently traded Dorial Green-Beckham (32 catches, 549 yards and four touchdowns) to Philadelphia.
Defense:The Vikings have returned all 11 starters from a defense that ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed per game (18.9) last season. Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith all garnered their first Pro Bowl selections and present headaches for opponents at all levels of the defense.
The Titans began implementing a 3-4 base defense in 2014 after years of using a 4-3 front. They've swapped personnel at most spots and slid a couple of other players. Jurrell Casey handled the transition well and has had 74 or more tackles in each of his five seasons, including 86 and 7.0 sacks in 2015 when he was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Special Teams:Vikings kicker Kevin McDermott led the NFL with 34 field goals made in 2015, and Cordarrelle Patterson led the league with 31.8 yards per kickoff return. Patterson was the only player in the NFL to return two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. Marcus Sherels has a career average of 10.2 yards per punt return and the franchise record of three punt return touchdowns.
Titans kicker Ryan Succop was 14-of-16 on field goals and 29-of-31 on extra points. Tennessee claimed return specialist/receiver Marc Mariani after he was waived by the Bears. Mariani went to the Pro Bowl as a returner in his 2010 rookie season in Tennessee after averaging 12.2 yards per punt return and 25.5 yards per kickoff return. He had a 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return and an 87-yard touchdown on a punt return that season.
Over the Years
Minnesota leads Tennessee 8-4 in the overall series that includes seven meetings with the franchise as the Houston Oilers, one as the Tennessee Oilers and four as the Tennessee Titans.
This will be just the fifth meeting between the clubs since 2001, with the Vikings having claiming three of the four matchups in that run.
Last Meeting: Vikings 30, Titans 7, Oct. 7, 2012 in Minneapolis
The Vikings built a 23-point lead before allowing a touchdown with 10:35 left in the game. Peterson rushed 17 times for 88 yards pacing a rush attack that totaled 175 yards on 31 carries. Percy Harvin caught eight passes for 108 yards and a touchdowns, and Rudolph added four receptions for 23 yards, doing the most damage on a 15-yard touchdown catch. Antoine Winfield recorded an interception, and the Vikings defense allowed 72 net yards through the first three quarters.