The Bears and Packers started the new season on Friday night, with the Packers coming out on top in Chicago. We look at who the other two teams in the NFC North, the Lions and the Vikings, will face in week one.
Minnesota Vikings host Atlanta Falcons
The Minnesota Vikings start their season against the Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. The Vikings had arguably the best preseason of all the NFC North teams, finishing with a 3-1 record. The Vikings finished 2018 with an 8-7-1 record. Head coach, Mike Zimmer will be looking to improve on last season and will believe that is possible with the additions that have been made. The Vikings picked up centre, Garrett Bradbury in the first round of this year’s draft to protect Kirk Cousins. Bradbury’s protection of Cousins will allow the quarterback time to link up with wide receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The Vikings also picked up tight end Irv Smith Jr. The second-round draft pick will add to a wide range of options on offense. Add running back Dalvin Cook into the mix and the Vikings could be a dominant force on offense under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
The Vikings also look strong on defense with Danielle Hunter leading the defensive line. The defensive end out of LSU led the Vikings defense with 14.5 sacks last year. Cornerback, Xavier Rhodes struggled with injuries last year but is fully fit after a full preseason. The Vikings defense will be tested against a Falcons offense that includes, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Devonta Freeman. Arguably the Falcons biggest threat comes in the form of six-time pro bowler, wide receiver Julio Jones. Jones has averaged nearly 100 yards per game throughout his career.
The Vikings edged a tight game the last time the two sides met. The Vikings won 14-9 at the Falcons with touchdowns by tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Jerick McKinnon. The Vikings should have enough on both sides of the ball to beat the Cardinals and start the season off on a winning note.
Lions travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals
The Lions open their 2019 season with a trip to Arizona on Sunday. The Lions finished the 2018 season with a 6-10 record, finishing last in the NFC North. The Lions will be looking to cause a few upsets this season and improve on last year’s record. The Lions have key men on offense and defense that they believe will allow them to win games this year. Quarterback, Matthew Stafford will look to use wide receiver, Kenny Golladay as often as possible. The WR picked up over 1000 yards last year. Double his production from the following season, making him a popular pick in fantasy football this season.
Running back Kerryon Johnson will also be crucial for the Lions in the running game. Johnson only started seven games last season and scored three touchdowns. Head coach Matt Patricia will look to use the second year RB more often this year. Especially against the Cardinals who finished last in rushing yards allowed per game last season. The addition of rookie tight end T.J Hockenson will also add another option on offense for Patricia. The rookie could be used alongside TE Jesse James. The former Pittsburgh Steeler, joined the Lions in the offseason after spending five seasons in Pittsburgh.
The game could come down to the Lions defense putting pressure on this year’s number one overall draft pick. The Cardinals struggled on offense last year finishing last in passing yards and points scored. The Lions defense is led by 2-time Super Bowl champion Trey Flowers. Flowers joined as a free agent in the offseason to add experience to the Lions defense.
Another key to shutting down the threat of Murray is cornerback Darius Slay. The corner drafted out of Mississippi state in 2013 has become a vital piece of defensive coordinator, Paul Pasqualoni’s defense. Slay was pivotal in last year’s matchup with the Cardinals. The cornerback intercepted a Josh Rosen pass to run in for the Lions first touchdown. The Lions cannot allow Murray time to settle in his first taste of competitive action in the NFL.
Last year the Lions beat the Cardinals 17-3 in Arizona. With Darius Slay scoring the Lions first touchdown, it was Zach Zenner who scored the second to secure the win. If the Lions can create pressure on Kyler Murray and fire on offense, they could leave Arizona with the win.
This NFC North guest article was written by Jamie Farrin. He’s a New Orleans Saints fan and you can find him on twitter at @jamiefarrin.