The Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers welcome back their two best players and open the 2015 season with a Monday Night Football matchup at Levi’s Stadium.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, after spending a year away battling the NFL and facing child abuse charges, makes his return while 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman will be in action after an ACL tear that cost him all of the 2014 campaign.
Peterson, the 2012 NFL MVP, returns to a budding Vikings squad, complete with second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and promising cornerback Trae Waynes.
With a career average of 5.0 yards per carry, Peterson’s return provides Bridgewater and the Minnesota offense a consistent rushing threat after dropping to No. 14 in the league a year ago and draws attention away from top receivers Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace, and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Bridgewater showed some encouraging signs, particularly late in the season, connecting on 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards and 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, but he also took 39 sacks. And with no Vikings receiver recording more than 750 yards, the team ranked No. 28 in the league in passing.
Peterson also comes back to one of the better defenses he’s seen in Minnesota. The Vikings bring back young linebacker Anthony Barr, who was fifth on the team with 70 tackles and came up with 4.0 sacks and three fumble recoveries, along with secondary leader and safety Harrison Smith and new faces at cornerback Terence Newman and Waynes.
Bowman and the 49ers are in the midst of a transition in coaching and personnel, with several key contributors from last year’s squad retiring or leaving via free agency. Head coach Jim Tomsula, formerly San Francisco’s defensive line coach for nine years, takes over for Jim Harbaugh and tries to keep a defense that finished No. 5 overall last year atop the league.
The job is made much more difficult following the retirements of defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Chris Borland and Patrick Willis, a group that started 30 combined games last season. The 49ers also released veteran linebacker Aldon Smith after he was arrested for his third DUI.
Bowman still has holdover linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Michael Wilhoite, but second-year defensive end/linebacker Aaron Lynch, who started only three games last year, must adapt quickly to his larger role.
On offense, the 49ers are hoping quarterback Colin Kaepernick can bounce back from a sub-par season. Attempting to become more of a pocket-passer in 2014, Kaepernick completed 19 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions but his offensive line allowed 52 sacks.
In an effort to protect Kaepernick, San Francisco added former Bills right tackle Erik Pears in free agency and drafted Ian Silberman and Trent Brown to make up for Mike Iupati signing with Arizona.
San Francisco also said goodbye to its all-time leading rusher Frank Gore, moving second-year running back Carlos Hyde to the forefront of the rushing attack with veteran Reggie Bush as the No. 2.
Start Time: 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN