The Minnesota Vikings are banking that Year Two of their substantial investment into Kirk Cousins pays off significantly greater than their initial return. Cousins will attempt to produce larger dividends on Sunday when the Vikings kick off the new season in Minneapolis against another team that failed to reach last year's playoffs in the Atlanta Falcons.
"Every year is a new year," Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think you go in with everything the same. Hopefully, we approach things with a chip on our shoulder and out to prove something." Statistically speaking, Cousins performed well to the tune of completing 70.1 percent of his passes while throwing for a career-high 30 touchdowns -- including nine apiece to wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs -- although inexplicable offensive power failures proved to be the Vikings' undoing. Atlanta boasts the potent combination of 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan and six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, with the former throwing for over 4,500 passing yards for the sixth time in his career last season. Jones, who led NFL with 1,677 receiving yards in 2018, needs two receptions in his 112th career game on Sunday to become the second-fastest player to reach 700 in NFL history (Antonio Brown, 111).
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Vikings -4. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE FALCONS (2018: 7-9, TIED FOR 2ND IN NFC SOUTH): Calvin Ridley quickly gained the trust of Ryan in 2018 and led all rookie wideouts in catches (64), receiving yards (821) and receiving touchdowns (10). While Ryan also has Mohamed Sanu coming off a career year, the quarterback is pleased to see the return of two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman return following groin surgery. "His production when he's been healthy is as good as anybody. ... We're lucky to have him back," Ryan said of Freeman, who has missed 16 games over the last two seasons. The Falcons' ground attack was ranked 27th (98.3 yards per contest) in the league, a stark contrast to the fourth-ranked passing game (290.8).
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (2018: 8-7-1, 2ND IN NFC NORTH): Thielen had an NFL fourth-best 113 receptions, a career-high 1,373 receiving yards and a franchise-record nine games with 100-plus receiving yards last season while Diggs set career-highs in catches (102), receiving yards (1,021) and touchdown receptions (nine). Impressive totals to be certain, but the Vikings weren't willing to rest on their laurels and added a player with ties to Cousins in former Washington first-round pick Josh Doctson. "It's been very easy for me so far," Doctson said. "A lot of the same concepts (as the Redskins' offense), familiar routes, just kind of different verbiage, so it's pretty easy." Running back Dalvin Cook hopes to have an easier -- and healthier -- time of it after showing flashes of promise in his first two seasons despite being limited to just 15 games.
1. Atlanta CB Damontae Kazee recorded a career-high seven interceptions last season, tied for most in the NFL.
2. The Vikings have won 10 of the 13 meetings at home against the Falcons.
3. Atlanta returned to a familiar face when it re-signed K Matt Bryant, 44, to a one-year deal after releasing him in February.
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News Breaking News
Key Players to Watch
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- ThumbOut indefinitely | I-R
Elflein has been designated for the injured reserve list with a torn ligament in his thumb. It is unknown how much time he will need to heal.
- NeckOut indefinitely | I-R
Hunter has landed on the injured reserve list due to a neck injury, and he will miss an extended period.
- Shoulderday-to-day | questionable
Barr exited the previous game with a shoulder injury, and it is unclear if he will participate in Week 3 with the Titans.
- Ribsday-to-day | questionable
Dantzler missed the last game with injured ribs, and it is unclear if he will play Week 3 versus the Titans.
- Concussionday-to-day | questionable
Boone left the last game to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return. It is unknown if he will be cleared in time for Week 3 against the Titans.
- KneeQues Sun | questionable
Gladney is working his way back from surgery to fix a torn meniscus, and his status for the season opener against the Packers is in question.
- UndisclosedI-R | I-R
Dorn has passed through waivers with an unspecified injury and is now on the injured reserve list.
- Ankleday-to-day | questionable
Harris has been held out of the last two games with an ankle injury, and it is uncertain if he will play Week 3 against the Bears.
- Footday-to-day | questionable
Sheffield has sat out the previous two games due to a foot injury, and it is unknown if he will suit up Week 3 versus the Bears.
- Groinday-to-day | questionable
McKinley exited the last game due to a groin injury, and it is unknown if he will participate in Week 3 with the Bears.
- Kneeday-to-day | questionable
McGary left the previous game due to a knee injury and did not return. His status for Week 3 against the Bears is clouded.
- Hamstringday-to-day | questionable
Oluokun was removed from the last game with cramping in his hamstring, and it is undetermined if he will be ready for Week 3 versus the Bears.
- Elbowday-to-day | questionable
Allen departed the last game due to an elbow injury, and it is uncertain if he will be active Week 3 against the Bears.
- Kneeday-to-day | questionable
Davidson has missed the last two games with a knee strain, and it is unclear if he will face the Bears in Week 3.
- AnkleQues Sun | questionable
Senat is dealing with an ankle injury, and it is undetermined if he will participate in Sunday's game versus the Cowboys.