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Early Look: Vikings vs. Saints

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Football is back, and the Vikings are kicking off the 2017 season in prime-time fashion. 

Minnesota opens its fourth season under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer against the New Orleans Saints at 6:10 p.m. (CT) on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

The Vikings went 8-8 in 2016 and finished third in the NFC North. New Orleans finished 7-9 and missed out on the postseason for the third consecutive season. 

Here's an early look at Monday's game:

Passing: Quarterback Kyle Rudolph enters his second season with the Vikings and first with a full offseason program. He started 15 games for Minnesota in 2016 after being acquired from Philadelphia in a trade a year ago.

Bradford threw for 3,877 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2016, and also set an NFL record for completion percentage at 71.6. Case Keenum won the backup job in the preseason.

The Saints will counter with quarterback Drew Brees, who is one of the league's most prolific passers and has thrown for at least 5,000 yards in a season five different times.

Brees was his usual self in 2016, throwing for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns while completing 70.0 percent of his passes. Brees ranks third all-time with 66,111 career passing yards.

Rushing: The Vikings have a fresh look ahead of Monday's season opener.

Jerick McKinnon returns after leading the Vikings in rushing in 2016, but Minnesota drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round and added Latavius Murray in free agency. 

Cook set Florida State's all-time rushing record with 4.464 yards and also tallied 46 rushing touchdowns. Murray had 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2016.

The Vikings will see a familiar face in running back Adrian Peterson, who joined the Saints this offseason and is Minnesota's all-time leading rusher with 11,747 yards and 97 rushing touchdowns.

Mark Ingram ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2016 and added six rushing touchdowns. New Orleans also drafted Alvin Kamara out of the University of Tennessee.

Receiving: The three standouts who led Minnesota in receiving categories — Adam Thielen (967 receiving yards in 2016), Stefon Diggs (84 catches) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (seven touchdowns) — are back as Bradford's primary weapons in 2017.

Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had a strong offseason and is looking for a solid sophomore season, and Jarius Wright is the most-tenured player in the receivers room. Cook, Murray and McKinnon can each also contribute in the passing game as well.

Saints leading receiver Michael Thomas returns after a standout 2016 season in which he caught 92 passes for 1,173 yards and nine touchdowns. Tight end Coby Fleener is also one of Brees' favorite targets. The Saints added speedster Tedd Ginn, Jr. this offseason.

Defense: The Vikings stout defense from 2016 remains largely intact and will likely be for years to come after defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes all signed contract extensions this summer.

Minnesota finished third in yards allowed per game (314.9) and sixth in points allowed per game (19.2). Linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Vikings in tackles for the second straight season while Rhodes had a team-high five interceptions and Danielle Hunter had a team-high 12.5 sacks.

The Saints ranked 27th in yards allowed per game with 375.4 and were second-to-last in points allowed at 28.4 per game.

Cameron Jordan, son of Vikings Legend Steve Jordan, led the way with 7.5 sacks in 2016. Three different Saints players had two interceptions.

Special Teams: Kai Forbath won the Vikings kicking battle in the preseason and will now face one of his former teams on Monday night. Forbath made all 15 of his field goals attempts after arriving in Minnesota midway through the 2016 season.

The Vikings will have a new face at punter in 2017 as Ryan Quigley earned the starting spot with a strong preseason.

Marcus Sherels was one of three players to have two punt returns for touchdowns in 2016. The Vikings will likely use McKinnon as the kickoff returner after he took one back 108 yards for a score against San Francisco in the preseason.

Saints kicker Wil Lutz made 28 of 34 field goals in 2016, and punter Thomas Morstead averaged 48.3 yards per punt. New Orleans did not return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.

Look back on photos from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 20-11 all-time against New Orleans, a series that includes three postseason matchups.

New Orleans has had the upper hand of late. The Saints have won the past four meetings, but the Vikings had won the previous four meetings.

Last meeting: Saints 20, Vikings 9, Sept. 21, 2014, in New Orleans

The Vikings split their first two games in Zimmer's first season before falling to 1-2 with a loss in New Orleans.

Minnesota's offense struggled to find the end zone as the Vikings managed three field goals, but the game was notable because it marked the debut of Stefon Diggs.

Bridgewater entered the game early in the second quarter after starting quarterback Matt Cassel injured. Bridgewater completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Vikings trailed by double digits early before three straight field goals cut the deficit to four points. New Orleans added a fourth-quarter score to win 20-9.

Anthony Barr had a sack for the Vikings in the third game of his career.

Brees threw for 293 yards with two touchdowns for the Saints, who had 396 yards of offense.

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