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Early Look: Vikings vs. 49ers

EAGAN, Minn. — Welcome to the 2018 season.

The Vikings will begin their 58th season in the NFL on Sunday by hosting the San Francisco 49ers.

Minnesota’s 2018 season kicks off at noon (CT) at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings begin their quest for the first Super Bowl win in franchise history.

The Vikings went 13-3 and won the NFC North in 2017 while advancing to the NFC title game.

The 49ers went 6-10 and finished last in the NFC West.

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s 2018 opener against San Francisco:

Passing: Kirk Cousins, you’re up. The Vikings new franchise quarterback will make his regular-season debut in Purple after signing as a free agent this offseason.

Cousins joined the Vikings after being the starter for three seasons in Washington, where he threw for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of those seasons.

Cousins completed 24 of 40 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown in preseason play.

Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter are behind Cousins on the Vikings depth chart.

The 49ers are led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 5-0 as the 49ers starter at the end of the 2017 season.

Garoppolo threw for 1,560 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in six total games with San Francisco after being acquired in a trade with New England. The 26-year-old is 7-0 in his career as a starter.

C.J. Beathard is the backup in San Francisco.

Rushing: Dalvin Cook is ready to roll after rehabbing from an ACL injury. The Vikings second-year running back rushed for 354 yards and two scores in three-plus games before getting hurt in Week 4.

But Cook, who played four snaps in Minnesota’s third preseason game, has looked explosive in practice and should form a solid 1-2 punch with Latavius Murray.

Murray led the Vikings with 842 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 in his first season with the Vikings. C.J. Ham adds versatility in backfield as a fullback.

Minnesota kept a pair of undrafted rookie free agents on its 53-man roster in Mike Boone and Roc Thomas. The duo combined for 478 total yards from scrimmage in preseason play.

Former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon was set to face his old team, but he suffered a knee injury over the weekend.

Alfred Morris and Matt Breida will be the tandem in the 49ers backfield. The duo combined for 1,012 yards and three touchdowns in 2017.

Receiving: Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were among the league’s top wide receiver duos in 2017. They combined for 2,125 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Thielen and Diggs have spent the offseason establishing rapport with Cousins. So has tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had 532 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.

The Vikings kept five wide receivers on their 53-man roster, with Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley and Brandon Zylstra joining Diggs and Thielen.

Treadwell looked impressive in training camp heading into his third season. Zylstra, a Minnesota native, led the Canadian Football league in receiving yards in 2017.

San Francisco’s top receiver is Pierre Garçon, who has 7,568 career receiving yards and 37 career touchdowns. Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor and rookie Dante Pettis are all expected to see playing time for the 49ers in 2018.

Garrett Celek and George Kittle are San Francisco’s top two tight ends. Celek caught a pair of scores from Garoppolo last season.

Defense: The Vikings return plenty of big names from a defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in 2017.

Minnesota ranked first in points allowed per game (15.8), yards allowed per game (275.9) and opponents’ third-down percentage (25.2).

Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, who combined for 20 sacks in 2017, are the starting defensive ends. Linval Joseph will man the middle next to new addition Sheldon Richardson, an offseason free agent pickup.

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks return as the top linebackers, while Ben Gedeon is expected to be the third starter in the base 4-3 scheme. Eric Wilson also has been more involved heading into his second pro season. Barr has been a Pro Bowler after each of the past three seasons. Kendricks led Minnesota in tackles for the third straight season.

The secondary remains a strength of the unit, with All-Pro safety Harrison Smith and All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes leading the way. Cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Andrew Sendejo are the other starters, but there is plenty of depth behind them.

Minnesota kept six cornerbacks on its roster, including Mackensie Alexander, Marcus Sherels and rookies Mike Hughes and Holton Hill.

Besides Smith and Senejo, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse and George Iloka are the safeties. Iloka played under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati from 2012 to 2013.

San Francisco’s defense ranked 24th in yards allowed per game and 25th in points allowed per game in 2017.

The biggest new face in San Francisco is cornerback Richard Sherman, a three-time All-Pro who spent the first seven seasons of his career with Seattle.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and defensive ends Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead are part of the 49ers young defensive core.

Linebacker Reuben Foster, a first-round pick in 2017, is suspended the first two games of the 2018 season.

Special Teams: The Vikings shuffled up their specialists since the end of 2017.

Rookie Daniel Carlson is the kicker after being drafted in the fifth round. He made four of six field goals, including a 57-yarder, in the preseason.

Minnesota added punter Matt Wile to its roster on Sunday and released Ryan Quigley. Long snapper Kevin McDermott returns after missing the final month of the 2017 season with an injury.

Sherels is expected to handle punt returns while Hughes should handle kickoff return duties for the Vikings.

Robbie Gould is the 49ers kicker, and Bradley Pinion is the punter. Taylor returns kicks, and Victor Bolden, Jr., is the punt returner.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 20-25-1 all-time against San Francisco, a series that includes five postseason matchups.

Minnesota has won five of the past seven games between the two teams. The 49ers have had the upper hand in the playoffs, winning the previous four postseason meetings.

Last meeting: 49ers 20, Vikings 3, Sept. 14, 2015, in San Francisco

The Vikings opened the 2015 season with a dud in the Bay Area on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Minnesota’s offense gained just 248 total yards of offense and went just 1-for-9 on third downs.

The Vikings defense gave up 395 total yards, including 230 on the ground.

Minnesota rebounded nicely, however. The Vikings won seven of their next eight games and eventually claimed the NFC North title.

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