Two of the NFL’s best at their positions will return from a lengthy hiatus and try to will their teams to victory when Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings visit NaVorro Bowman and the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football in Week 1 (10:20 PM Eastern).
Bowman hasn’t played since suffering a gruesome injury in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The team he returns to is largely different than the one that dropped that game to the Seahawks, particularly on defense, where only three other starters remain. Bowman will have to be the leader on this year’s unit; the Niner defense ranked fifth in the NFL last season, but figures to take a step back this year after several key pieces either retired, signed elsewhere, or were let go or suspended.
Peterson’s absence was due to his own misconduct, receiving a lengthy suspension last season following the Vikings 34-6 Week 1 win over the Rams. Peterson had 93 combined yards in that game, and the world is curious to see if he can still be the runner that gained over 2,000 yards in 2012. This Niners D should be a good test to see where Peterson stands: he’s never topped 90 yards rushing in three career games against San Fran.
Indeed, the 49ers will be a good litmus for this entire Vikings team, who many are expecting to challenge for a playoff spot this season. Teddy Bridgewater will look to build off a solid rookie campaign in which he went 6-6 as a starter; in particular, he’ll hope to better his 1-4 mark on the road.
Minnesota hasn’t played a game on the west coast since 2013, and hasn’t won on the west coast since 2007. But San Francisco didn’t exactly protect their house last season, going 4-4 at home straight up and 2-6 against the spread. (The Vikings finished last season 10-6 ATS, going 5-3 on the road.)
This young Vikings offense, boosted by the return of Peterson as well as the addition of WR Mike Wallace, should be able to find points against a transitioning Niner D. If San Fran is going to cover, or win straight up, they’ll need a big performance from Colin Kaepernick and the rest of their offense.
Asked to do more in last year’s offense, Kaepernick played alright, but got worse as the game went on. In the fourth quarter last year, he completed 57.5-percent of his passes for no touchdowns and four interceptions. If he doesn’t improve in crunch time, San Francisco will be in trouble, because the team doesn’t figure to be blowing out many opponents.
For this opening week, roll with a Minnesota team that’s looked sharp, going 4-1 in the preseason and trending upward.
Pick: Minnesota (-3).
(Photo Credit: Joe Bielawa [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)