One man's prediction: Vikings 27, Jacksonville 24 Adrian Peterson will do his best to get the home crowd revved up, potentially making his official return just 37 weeks and a day after tearing his left knee up. But in a game between teams that combined for eight wins in 2011, rookie kicker Blair Walsh will get the final say, winning the game with a field goal in the final 2 minutes.
Ground control No one in the Vikings locker room believes the rhetoric from Jacksonville that Maurice Jones-Drew will be used primarily as a third-down back. Said Jared Allen: "Yeah, right. Maybe he won't start. But the second play, he'll be in there." Still, with all respect to Jones-Drew, the Vikings cannot overlook the Jaguars' likely starter, Rashad Jennings. After missing all of 2011 because of a knee injury, Jennings has shown an impressive combination of vision and power plus an ability to make things happen after contact.
Sack machine Last time we saw Allen in the regular season at the Metrodome, he was terrorizing poor Josh McCown of Chicago, recording 3 1/2 sacks in the 2011 finale to complete a team-record 22-sack season. Last we checked in on Blaine Gabbert, he was completing a skittish rookie campaign in which he lacked pocket presence and was sacked 40 times. Allen will try to introduce himself -- and his calf-roping act -- to Gabbert and should have a nice matchup against Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe.
Don't be surprised if Christian Ponder makes tight end Kyle Rudolph his most frequent target. The two have developed quite a rapport, and Rudolph is the kind of safety valve target Ponder needs to build confidence. More important for Ponder: avoiding sacks and taking care of the ball. You'd think the comforts of home would provide a semblance of reassurance. But in five home starts as a rookie, he completed only 51.6 percent of his passes and committed 10 of his 15 turnovers.
MANO-A-MANO: A MATCHUP TO WATCH
Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil (below) vs. Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch
About Kalil The rookie out of Southern California, the No. 4 overall pick in April, didn't allow a sack during his final college season.
The rookie out of Clemson, a second-round pick, had 17 tackles for loss and an ACC-best 10 1/2 sacks in 2011.
Who has the edge? Kalil was a tad shaky in his final preseason action two weeks ago but seems intent on bouncing back. Advantage: Kalil
The big number
12: Thousands of yards surpassed by Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew since 2007. They have combined for 12,665, and rank first and second in the category during that span. Neither back will see a heavy workload this afternoon. Which is a shame. Because this could have been a showcase of two of the NFL's best backs.
Percy Harvin, Vikings: During the second half of last season, Harvin had 56 catches for 633 yards and six touchdowns and added 160 rushing yards, proving he can be the Vikings' top playmaker when needed. In this season opener, it might be needed.