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Lunchbreak: 'The Athletic' Makes 10 Predictions for Vikings 2020 Season

The Vikings on Sunday will host their season opener against the Packers for the first time in series history.  

The Border Battle will also happen at U.S. Bank Stadium without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But while several things about Sunday's game will feel different, the rivalry between Minnesota and Green Bay remains the same.

It seems fitting that the Vikings kick off their 60th season against the Packers as they keep their eyes on the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl trophy. Looking ahead at the 2020 campaign, The Athletic's Chad Graff made 10 predictions for the year.

He led off his list by predicting that Dalvin Cook will lead the NFL in rushing. Graff wrote:

What does it take to win the league's rushing title in 2020? First off, it takes a team that gives you the opportunity. And the Vikings will give Cook that. Few teams will rely on the running game as much as the Vikings and few teams will do it with a feature back.

But Cook is the rare player who will get both the touches needed to lead the league and has the skill to do so. He began last season by eclipsing 110 yards on the ground in four of the first five games. Given another year in the system (and, importantly, another year in the system for the offensive line), Cook is in line for an even bigger season.

Graff also made the following predictions:  

1. New addition Yannick Ngakoue finishes the season with more sacks than Danielle Hunter, who this week was added to Injured Reserve.

2. Bisi Johnson will finish with more receiving yards than Justin Jefferson.

3. Thielen will notch another 1,000-yard season.

This is the first season Thielen won't have his good friend [Stefon] Diggs across from him. There's concern from some around the league that it will prohibit Thielen from having a big season since he'll see more bracket coverage.

But Thielen is so good at creating space and has made some incredible contested catches that I'm predicting it won't matter.

4. The Bears will sweep the Vikings.

5. Garrett Bradbury takes a significant step forward.

6. Kirk Cousins won't reach 4,000 passing yards.

This season, with Cook and the running game expected to do most of the heavy lifting, Cousins probably finishes just shy of 4,000 passing yards.

7. Cameron Dantzler gets more snaps than Jeff Gladney.

8. Irv Smith, Jr., becomes the team's No. 1 tight end.

And last but not least? The Vikings will win the NFC North.

Hunter's injury certainly hurts. And it's hard to expect that the Vikings will be as healthy as they were a year ago.

So while I still think the Vikings are a nine- or 10-win team, this pick is as much about the other teams in the NFC North as it is about the Vikings. I'm joining many in believing that the Packers are staring at a big regression from their 13-win season a year ago. Plus I think the Bears are headed nowhere with that offense, and the Lions, while improved, aren't ready to compete for the division title.

I think the Vikings have the best coach in the division, and I think that will go a long way.

Bisi Johnson tabbed by PFF as potential 'Year 2 Breakout'

The Vikings receiving corps looks a lot different this season than it did in 2019.

After the departure of Diggs to Buffalo via trade, Minnesota drafted Jefferson 22nd overall in April. The Vikings also drafted Miami stud returner K.J. Osborn in the fifth round.

Thielen will look to bounce back after dealing with an injury for a major portion of last season, and also returning are Johnson and Chad Beebe.

A seventh-round draft pick in 2019, Johnson played in all 16 games (six starts) last season and recorded 31 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson had a solid showing at Verizon Vikings Training Camp, and he looks to make a significant jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently tabbed five "Year 2 Breakout" players from around the league. Michael Renner topped the list with Johnson, who was slotted as the starter opposite Thielen on the Vikings unofficial depth chart.

Renner said that Johnson "could be the second fiddle in the Vikings offense," writing the following:

That's nothing new for Johnson, as he ceded targets to the likes of Preston Williams and Michael Gallup as an ancillary option at Colorado State. In his final year of college, Johnson caught only 54 of 75 targets for 796 yards and four scores. Still, he had quality all-around athletic testing and an NFL-ready body type at 6-foot, 204 pounds.

The other four players Renner projected to have big second seasons were Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson, Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye, Texans defensive end Charles Omenihu and Jets cornerback Blessuan Austin.

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