Early Look: Vikings vs. Falcons

EAGAN, Minn. — Welcome to Week 1.

The Vikings will open up the 2019 season Sunday at home against Atlanta. Kickoff is at noon (CT).

The first game of the season features a pair of NFC teams with playoff hopes who missed the postseason a year ago.

Minnesota finished 8-7-1 and was second in the NFC North, while Atlanta went 7-9 with a second-place finish in the NFC South. Both teams made the playoffs in 2017.

Here’s a look at the Vikings 2019 season opener against Atlanta:

Passing: A pair of the league’s most productive quarterbacks are set to square off, as both Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan finished in the top 10 in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdown passes and passer rating in 2018.

Cousins is back for his second season in Purple. Last season, the quarterback became the only player in NFL history to throw for 4,000-plus yards and complete 70 percent of his passes while throwing at least 30 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions.

Ryan nearly joined Cousins in that club, throwing for 4,924 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but his completion percentage was 69.4.

Ryan, the third overall pick in 2008, is a four-time Pro Bowler and was the 2016 NFL MVP.

Rushing: Dalvin Cook and Devonta Freeman know each other well.

They both attended Miami Central High School before each running back starred at Florida State. Now the Miami natives are in the NFL, although both were hampered by injuries in 2018.

Cook missed five games due to nagging hamstring issues, but could be in line for a big season in 2019 thanks to a revamped offensive system that features a zone scheme.

Cook has rushed for 969 yards and four touchdowns in 15 career games. He is the feature back in a group that also includes rookie Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone and fullback C.J. Ham.

Freeman played in just two games in 2018, initially getting injured in Week 1 before returning in Week 5 and suffering a season-ending injury. He rushed for just 58 total yards.

Freeman eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both 2015 and 2016 when he made the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons. He has 3,316 yards and 30 touchdowns in 63 career games.

Freeman is one of five running backs on the roster along with Kenjon Barner, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison and Ito Smith.

Receiving: There’s no shortage of star power here, not when you’re talking about Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Julio Jones.

Thielen and Diggs lead Minnesota’s receiving group. Each player topped 100 catches and 1,000 yards in 2018. Thielen has made back-to-back Pro Bowls, and Diggs had the most productive season of his career in 2018.

The Vikings currently only have four wide receivers on their 53-man roster, as the dynamic duo is joined by second-year player Chad Beebe and rookie Bisi Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2019.

Beebe had four catches for 39 yards in 2018 when he appeared in three games.

Jones is a superstar for the Falcons and has established himself as one of the game’s best after being a first-round pick in 2011.

He has racked up five straight 1,400-yard seasons, and Jones had 113 catches for 1,677 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018.

Atlanta kept six wide receivers on its 53-man roster, meaning Jones is joined by Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus.

Sanu and Ridley each topped 800 receiving yards in 2018 when Ridley had 10 touchdown catches as a rookie.

Defense: The Vikings feature plenty of familiar faces, as 10 of 11 starters return from a unit that finished fourth in yards allowed per game (309.7) and ninth in points allowed per game (21.3) in 2018.

Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen make up the starting defensive line, with plenty of depth behind them. Stephen is new this year but played here from 2014-17.

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks lead the linebackers group. Barr tested free agency but chose to return to Minnesota this offseason.

Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are the starting safeties, while Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander provide a strong trio at cornerback. Mike Hughes was recently removed from the PUP list, but hasn’t practiced with the team yet.

Defensive end Stephen Weatherly, linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Jayron Kearse may not be starters, but each could see extended action in certain roles in 2019.

Atlanta finished 25th in points allowed per game (26.4) and 28th in yards allowed per game (384.5) in 2018, but were without multiple starters for the majority of the season.

Safety Damontae Kazee led the Falcons with seven interceptions in 2018, and defensive end Takkarist McKinley had a team-high 7.0 sacks.

Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn will be Atlanta’s defensive coordinator in 2019.

View images of games between the Vikings and Falcons through the years.

Special teams: Both teams have endured recent shakeups with their specialists.

Minnesota will begin the season with Dan Bailey as the kicker, Britton Colquitt as the punter and rookie Austin Cutting as the long snapper.

Colquitt was added to the roster Sunday and took the spot of Matt Wile. Minnesota also had specialist Kaare Vedvik in training camp, but he did not make the 53-man roster.

Atlanta brought back kicker Matt Bryant over the weekend after having multiple kickers with the team in recent months. Bryant is entering his 18th season and had been with the Falcons since 2009 before being cut by the team in February.

Matt Bosher is the Falcons punter, and Josh Harris is the long snapper.

Head-to-head

The Vikings are 18-11 in franchise history against Atlanta, including a split of two playoff games. Minnesota earned a hard-fought 14-9 victory in the previous meeting between the teams, which came on Dec. 3, 2017.

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