WEEK 1: 9:20 p.m. at San Francisco • ESPN (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)
One man’s prediction: The Vikings and 49ers are the last teams to kick off their respective seasons, with a late, late, laaaaaate one in San Francisco. The 49ers endured an offseason exodus, losing several starters, a few Pro Bowlers and their coach. But there is some talent left in the cupboard, so they won’t be pushovers. To live up to the playoff “sleeper” hype, the Vikings must win tough games like this one. They will get off to a good start tonight. Vikings 20, 49ers 17
Player to watch
COLIN KAEPERNICK, 49ers QB
The 49ers quarterback is still unpolished as a passer four years into his NFL career, but he remains a major threat on designed runs and whenever defenses let him escape from the pocket. The Vikings, who didn’t face a running threat like him last season, at times abandoned their rush lanes. If they do that Monday night and fail to contain Kaepernick, who rushed for 639 yards in 2014, he will hurt them with his legs.
Dropping like flies
Center John Sullivan had back surgery on Wednesday and will be out for at least the first eight weeks of the season. He joined right tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve. The Vikings have confidence that Sullivan’s replacement, Joe Berger, will transition into the starting lineup almost seamlessly. But with two starters down, the Vikings’ talent and depth on the line is already being tested here in Week 1.
The game will mark the first time that second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson, who missed 15 games last season because of legal issues, line up in the backfield together during a game. And, yeah, the Vikings are kind of excited about it. You are well familiar with Peterson’s résumé, and Bridgewater was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks down the stretch last season. Together, they should boost an offense that ranked 27th in the league in 2014.
Who are these guys?
The 49ers lost three key defenders to retirement, including all-universe inside linebacker Patrick Willis (top left) and perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith (top right). They also lost both of their starting cornerbacks in free agency and had to boot star pass rusher Aldon Smith off the team after his latest arrest. So with as many as seven new starters, the 49ers defense could be out of sync at times.