The Vikings begin their season Sunday at home against Atlanta, which means we finally will get answers to some questions about this team after months of discussion.
With that in mind: What are the three biggest things you want to see from the Vikings in Game 1 to make you feel good about the 2019 season?
First take: Michael Rand
The first thing I need to see is offensive efficiency. It starts with the revamped offensive line, which has four new starters compared to Week 1 in 2018. Last year, Pro Football Focus had the Vikings' O-line graded No. 29 of 32 teams. The Vikings' O-line is No. 25 this year. That's not enough of an upgrade. It needs to be more in the 14-18 range.
Next, I want to see how the secondary holds up. This has been a strength, but there was some slippage last year. Everyone is a year older and the Falcons have three good receivers.
And finally: How about no kicking drama? A clean game from kicker Dan Bailey, punter/holder Britton Colquitt and long snapper Austin Cutting would be a welcome sight.
Columnist Chip Scoggins: You hit on three of the biggest themes, but as always, the No. 1 focus for me is how does Kirk Cousins look running a new offense? Does he look more comfortable against pressure than what we saw at the end of last season? Does a renewed emphasis on the running game and having a healthy Dalvin Cook enhance Cousins' strengths by setting up play-action passes.
I don't expect the offense to be a well-oiled machine the first game because it is a new system and first games can be uneven, but I want to see Cousins show poise and command as he begins his second season.
I would put the kicking game No. 2. Can everything just function smoothly without hiccups? Mike Zimmer presumably has found a combination that makes him feel comfortable — as much as he ever feels comfortable with kickers. But he has a veteran kicker and veteran punter so maybe all the drama will calm down. … For now.
My third area is offensive line. I think the offseason additions improved the line but how much? The new zone blocking scheme fits their overall athleticism, but until we see the line protect Cousins and open running lanes for Cook in a real game, the line's effectiveness remains a question and concern.
Rand: Good call on Cousins. It's still a quarterback league, even if the Vikings want to run more. But I would add this: Cousins will need to be good from the start, even if he's not fully acclimated to the system.
The Falcons are sneaky good — No. 9 in ESPN's Football Power Index, one of eight games the Vikings (who are No. 7, by the way) have against teams in the FPI Top 10 — and in an NFL season with just 16 games a Week 1 home loss can be quite damaging.
Scoggins: Agreed. I've said this all offseason, but I sense an undeniable urgency within the organization after last season's flop.
That includes Cousins. He knows he has to win.
He won't be judged by stats as much as team results. A strong start by him in the opener would allow everyone to exhale a little bit because of how poorly things ended last season with Cousins screaming at Adam Thielen on the sideline.
Rand: Vikings down 17-16 late, Cousins drives them into field goal range. Bailey trots on to try the winner … and away we go.
Scoggins: Think there will be some nervous energy in U.S. Bank Stadium waiting for the snap, hold and kick in that scenario?
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