In a matchup of two teams that spent the offseason overhauling offensive lines, it’s better not to open the season with crowd noise working against you. The Vikings defensive line will make things difficult enough for the revamped right side of the Falcons line, and will pull out a Week 1 win at home.
THREE STORY LINES
On the rebound
Both teams missed the playoffs last year because of late-season slides; the Falcons lost five in a row from Weeks 10-14, while the Vikings dropped four of their last seven.
Rookies on the line
Garrett Bradbury, the 23rd pick in the draft, makes his first start at center for the Vikings, who also seemed interested in Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom. He went to the Falcons at No. 14, and will start at right guard. Kaleb McGary, the 31st overall pick, could start at right tackle for Atlanta.
First time out for new offense
As the Vikings break in a new offensive scheme for the second straight season, it’ll be worth watching how effectively they can balance the run and pass (per Mike Zimmer’s long-stated wishes) and establish their outside zone scheme against a Falcons defense that ranked 25th against the run.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings DE Danielle Hunter vs. Falcons RT Kaleb McGary
The Falcons have taken their time with McGary, who is returning from a cardiac ablation that kept him out during the preseason, but if he starts Sunday with over Matt Gono injured, he’ll have his hands full with Hunter, who posted 14½ sacks a year ago and could challenge the rookie with his outside speed and strong inside moves.
Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones
Rhodes has enjoyed success in his recent matchups with the Falcons Pro Bowler, holding him to two catches for 24 yards in their last meeting in 2017. Assuming Rhodes is asked to shadow Jones again Sunday, he’ll hope to lock down the Falcons’ top target once again.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
1 Wins for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s record against Mike Zimmer-coached defenses. Ryan threw for three TDs in a win over the Bengals in 2010 before losing to Zimmer’s Vikings three times.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF…
They are able to get into a rhythm on offense that keeps quarterback Kirk Cousins out of third-and-long situations and allows him to make throws off play-action. The Vikings want to control the clock more effectively than they did last season in order to keep their defense fresh for the entire 60 minutes.
THE Falcons WILL WIN IF…
They take an early lead and force the Vikings into the mode that seemed to keep their offense from finding a groove last year: Cousins is forced to drop back on nearly every down behind the Vikings’ remade and unproven offensive line.
Goesling's Prediction: Vikings, 24-20
Win Probability 55 percent