After an off-season that was filled with a lot of vitriol from both players and ownership, everyone will finally be able to put all of that in the rear view mirror on Sunday afternoon, when the 2011 NFL season will officially get underway.
(Yes, I'm aware that there's a game on Thursday night. Seriously, who cares?)
Among the games that we will see on Sunday will be the Minnesota Vikings taking their only trip of the 2011 season to the West Coast to take on the San Diego Chargers. Both of these teams missed the playoffs in 2010, with the Vikings going 6-10 during their Magical Misery Tour following a great 2009 season, while the Chargers managed to finish atop the National Football League in both offense (#1 in yards gained) and defense (#1 in yards allowed) and still miss the post-season party.
The reasons for the failures of both teams in 2010 is fairly easy to pinpoint. In Minnesota's case, their offense went from scoring 29.4 points/game in 2009 to a mere 17.6 last season. They also went from a +6 in giveaway/takeaway ratio in 2009 to a -11 in the same category in 2010. The offense completely fell off of the face of the earth for Minnesota in 2010, and that's why they went from being a play away from the Super Bowl to their first last-place division finish in a very long time.
For the Chargers, a great deal of the blame can be placed on their atrocious special teams play. Of the nine wins they racked up in 2010, six of them came by at least three touchdowns. However, they lost their first three games. . .all by one score, and all as a result of a touchdown given up by their special teams. In all, they allowed three kickoffs and one punt to be returned for touchdowns, and they allowed five punts to be either blocked or deflected.
If the Chargers can overcome their special teams problems, the San Diego offense will be a huge test for the Minnesota defense. Quarterback Philip Rivers is among the NFL's best, and he has an outstanding group of big, athletic receivers to throw the ball to, including Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd. Oh, and if you manage to cover all of the receivers, there's always the option of finding tight end Antonio Gates in the middle of the field. The San Diego rushing attack isn't necessarily great, with Ryan Mathews having a rough rookie season in 2010. . .but with Rivers pulling the trigger on offense, it doesn't have to be. Cedric Griffin will get a huge test in his first regular season game since his second ACL tear, and he and Antoine Winfield will have to come up huge if the Vikings want to slow down the San Diego offense.
For Minnesota, the name of the game is obviously going to be ball control, as the Vikings will attempt to hammer away with running back Adrian Peterson and a short, controlled passing game led by the newly-acquired Donovan McNabb. The new-look Minnesota offense is going to be based on a lot of power running, a lot of two tight end sets, and attempting to keep San Diego's potent offense off of the field. If this game turns into a shootout, the Vikings are likely in big trouble. . .if the Vikings can somehow turn it into a slugfest instead, it will play more readily into their chances.
Vegas doesn't seem to think much of the Vikings in Week One, as they're the co-holders of the distinction of the NFL's biggest underdogs going into this match-up. The Vikings are nine-point underdogs to San Diego, the same spread as the (now) Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts are staring at as they travel to Houston to take on the Texans.
Kickoff on Sunday afternoon is scheduled for 3:15 PM Central time from Qualcomm Stadium.