1. Which (if either) star RB is a factor? Adrian Peterson has been out since tearing his ACL and MCL on December 24. Maurice Jones-Drew held out for the entire preseason seeking a new deal that he didn’t get. My bet is that neither sees extensive work but that Peterson gets some quality touches – possibly near the goal line.
2. Which second-year QB is ready for prime time? Gabbert and Ponder were both reaches when picked in 2011. The question is whether either of them have grown after having a full off-season to prepare. Even if I weren’t a Vikes fan, I’d lean toward Ponder in this match-up. Gabbert always seemed to be a system QB to me at Mizzou.
3. Can either defense rise to the challenge? The Jags and Vikings gave up the 26th and 27th most yards, respectively, in 2011. Given that they both took offensive players with their early draft picks this year, improvement from either is an open question.
4. How will Mike Mularkey be in his second stint as a head coach? After a 2-year (2004-2005) 14-18 run with the Buffalo Bills this is another tough project for him to undertake. Noted mostly for his time as an offensive coordinator for Bill Cowher’s Steelers, he inherits what can only be termed a moribund franchise. I understand this goes far beyond the first game of the regular season, but between the rumors of moving the team and the outward apathy of the fan base it’s hard to see a positive outcome in the short term.
5. How does it all add up? I’d take the Vikings offense over the Jags, the Jags defense and special teams. But the Vikes do have home field advantage and, with a young team, that’s important.
Prediction: 24-20, Vikes.