The Minnesota Vikings will have to come out firing for the 2020 season as the opener is an important NFC North battle with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon.
As the Vikings prepare to hit the field for the first time, it feels like they have more questions than answers with the lack of a preseason. With the Vikings and Packers likely contending for the NFC North crown, it's fair to ask which factors will help determine the outcome of game and give an early advantage in the divisional race.
Can the offensive line stop the Packers' pass rush?
Last season, the Vikings went into an important Week 16 matchup with the Packers and the combination of Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Kenny Clark ruined everyone's Christmas in a 20-10 loss.
That, combined with the Vikings' playoff loss in San Francisco, would make everyone think upgrading the line would be a priority, but there's an argument that it got worse with the cut of Josh Klein.
After Dru Samia didn't take the anticipated leap to a starting role this offseason, the Vikings are left with Pat Elflein playing his third position in three seasons and Dakota Dozier, who led the team with four allowed pressures in Minnesota's Week 2 loss to Green Bay, as the starting guards.
Confidence does not lie in the center position either, as Clark collected three sacks against Garrett Bradbury last season, making this feel like a squash in the trenches.
As the season approaches, the Vikings will only go as far as the offensive line will take them. If there hasn't been an improvement, it will be more deja vu for Vikings' fans.
Can the Vikings stop the run?
A lot will be made on the Vikings' ability to pressure Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but their bigger concern might be trying to stop Aaron Jones and the Packers' running game.
The Packers were efficient running the ball in 2019, ranking eighth in Football Outsiders' rushing DVOA metric. While many clamored for Green Bay to take a receiver in the draft, the Packers decided to double down on their running game, drafting three offensive linemen, a fullback, and monstrous running back A.J. Dillon.
This is a problem for the Vikings defensive line, where Danielle Hunter will be missed as he is just as effective against the run as he is the pass, ranking 14th among qualifying defensive ends in run defender grade last season.
Hunter's teammates Yannick Ngakoue (112th) and Ifeadi Odenigbo (81st) don't have the same effectiveness against the run and the interior duo of Shamar Stephen (96th) and Jaleel Johnson (185th) haven't picked up the slack.
The Vikings need to find an adjustment without Hunter to stop the Packers' ground game, otherwise they could race out to an early lead and force the Vikings to throw against their defensive front.
Can the Vikings create a home-field advantage?
U.S. Bank Stadium has been a house of horrors for Aaron Rodgers as he's posted a 1-3 record and broken his collarbone in four games since it opened in 2016.
While the deafening crowd noise inside the glass stadium has played a big part in those struggles, the Vikings will have to create their own advantage with no fans being admitted for Sunday's game due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This could play into Rodgers' hands as he uses audibles at the line of scrimmage and hard counts to help create his own ability to take advantage of an opposing defense. Mix in the Vikings using an extremely inexperienced group of cornerbacks and Rodgers could have his way picking apart the Vikings' secondary.
While many factors could play into Sunday's game, that disadvantage for the Vikings could be the biggest as Rodgers won't have much to get him out of the zone if he gets rolling. If the Vikings can't stop him early, it could be a miserable day for the Minnesota defense.