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5 Vikings-Falcons Storylines to Watch

The Vikings will open the gates to the regular season – and, weather permitting, U.S. Bank Stadium – on Sunday by hosting the NFC South's Atlanta Falcons. While neither squad was a playoff participant a season ago, both clubs have playoff aspirations for 2019.

Here are five Vikings-Falcons storylines to watch this week…

1. Vikings season opens and closes at home with key NFC matchups

Mike Zimmer is 18-6 in games at U.S. Bank Stadium. It will be a big boost for the Vikings prospects in 2019 if Zimmer and Co. can uphold or even increase that winning percentage because this year's road slate is no walk in the park with non-division games in Dallas, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Chargers) and Seattle; the Chargers and Seahawks road games are both in primetime and are only 13 days apart. Going 8-0 at home would be a crucial accomplishment for the Vikings, but you can't win them all if you don't win the first one.

2. Will Xavier Rhodes travel with Julio Jones?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better receiver in the NFL than Julio Jones dating back to 2011. He has five consecutive seasons of at least 1,400 yards and has six such seasons for his career. In 2018, Jones had 1,677 yards on 113 targets. This will be the fourth time Jones has lined up across from Vikings star cornerback Xavier Rhodes. In the previous three matchups, Rhodes and the Vikings defense have fared well. Jones hasn't scored a touchdown in those contests and has averaged only 56 yards per contest, down from the 96.6 yards per game he averages for his career. Will Rhodes travel with Jones every snap as he's done in the previous three matchups? If so, will the Falcons have an answer? And if Rhodes doesn't travel with Jones, how will others perform when checking the seemingly uncheckable pass catcher?

3. Falcons rookie offensive linemen face big-time test

Atlanta has invested heavily in their offensive line. So much so that they now each of their starters was a 1st-round pick – left tackle Jake Matthews (2014), left guard James Carpenter (2011 by Seattle), center Alex Mack (2009 by Cleveland), right guard Chris Lindstrom (2019) and right tackle Kaleb McGary (2019); Atlanta also lists Matt Gono, who has zero career games played, as a possible starter at right tackle. Did you catch it, though? Two of them were 1st-round picks this past April, meaning Atlanta will be starting two rookies right next to each other on the right side. The good news is Lindstrom and McGary are talented players worthy of being selected in the 1st round. The bad news is their first test in the regular season comes on the road at the loudest stadium in the NFL against the best defensive line in the NFL. It will be a fun matchup to watch on Sunday.

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

4. Vikings will to run also faces big-time test

The Vikings won't be the only team at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday who will present their opponent with a big test. Atlanta's defensive scheme is orchestrated by Dan Quinn, who has a history of being steadfastly dedicated to making it extremely difficult to run the ball. Expect Atlanta to dedicate eight defenders to each of the eight gaps up front on most downs. This means the Vikings, who've been vocal about their desire and will to be a better rushing team in 2019, will also have to be steadfast in their commitment to the run.

5. Veterans Bailey, Colquitt called upon to settle specialists' battles

At one point this preseason, the Vikings had a long snapper with zero games of experience snapping to a holder with 20 games of experience so a kicker with zero games of experience could attempt field goals and extra points. With the regular season knocking on the door as rosters were trimmed to 53 and eventually finalized for Week 1, the Vikings decided to lean on a couple of veterans to settle down a few key areas of special teams. Dan Bailey won the kicking competition over Kaare Vedvik and Britton Colquitt was signed to replace Matt Wile. Colquitt has played in 144 games and Bailey has kicked in 122 contests, giving the Vikings plenty of experience at two pivotal positions on the roster. And it's three pivotal positions, really, because Colquitt will also be the team's holder.

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