The Vikings have the good fortune of opening up the 2012 season against the Jaguars, who went 5-11 last year. The same can be said about the Jaguars, as they have the fortune of facing the Vikings after the team's dismal 2011 season.
Either way, one of these two disappointing teams from last year will start off the new season with a much-needed win.
There are many storylines worth paying attention to in the upcoming Jaguars-Vikings game. Here are the top five:
1. The QB Matchup
The biggest storyline has got to be the development of the two potential franchise quarterbacks. Both teams used their top pick from 2011 on a quarterback, with Blaine Gabbert going No. 10 overall and Christian Ponder going with the 12th pick.
They both had their ups and downs last year, but Ponder was the consensus better player.
On the plus side, Ponder showed some great development in his connection with his biggest playmaker as the season wore on. Percy Harvin used that connection to go towards his best season yet as a pro. Gabbert was thrown into the fire without any real receiving threats, and still finished with more touchdowns than interceptions (via espn.com)
Negatively, Ponder had issues staying healthy, and the amount of sacks he took started affecting his game, as he began to make rookie throws after a great start.
Gabbert had the lowest quarterback rating of any qualifying player from a year ago (via espn.com), and looked incredibly uncomfortable in the pocket. Neither of those things are good when you consider that these players are expected to lead their respective teams out of the cellar in the NFL.
Both Gabbert and Ponder have impressed in the preseason, and their teams made an effort to improve the talent around them, both in the draft and free agency. This first game will be a telling sign of whether they can continue to impress.
Fun side fact: these two players became friends after they were drafted (via The Florida Times Union).
2. The RB Issues
In the pass-happy league that the NFL has become, these two teams have made a living in the running game. They have arguably the two best running backs in the league, and utilize them to run their offense.
However, as we enter 2012, both have huge question marks surrounding them.
Maurice Jones-Drew ended his holdout after missing all of the offseason and he is going to be rusty. Looking at Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans after his holdout, and one can expect MJD to struggle throughout most of the season.
This does not bode well for the Jaguars as he was the entire offense from a year ago, when he won the rushing title. He has been told that he will be the team's third-down back.
Adrian Peterson finished last season just 30 yards shy of 1,000, and it was a devastating end for fans of the one called Purple Jesus. He destroyed his knee in a meaningless game against the Washington Redskins late in the season, and only just fully returned to practice a few weeks ago. He expects to play right away, but the team has stated that he will be a game-time decision (via espn.com).
Both teams are confident in their backups, with the Jaguars having Rashad Jennings and the Vikings having Toby Gerhart. The latter is more proven, as he had to carry the load after Peterson's injury, but both have a lot of potential.
3. Revamped Rosters
Obviously each team had holes to fill after they disappointed in 2011. Both made moves in free agency, trying to add talent where it was needed most.
Both teams added a receiver, with Jacksonville going all out in signing former Cowboy Laurent Robinson to a five-year deal worth $32.5 million (via cbssports.com). The Vikings were a little more conservative, but got someone who may have just as big an impact. They signed former Bengal Jerome Simpson to a one-year deal worth only $2 million (via spotrac.com).
The rookies who signed to both teams are expected to have an impact early, with the Vikings having two first-round picks (Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith) and third-round pick Josh Robinson looks like he may be the team's third corner.
The Jaguars drafted another receiver in Justin Blackmon with the sixth pick, and added a big defensive end with their second-round pick Andre Branch.
With new players come expectations, and these players will have to perform early if they want their team to be successful. It isn't easy turning a franchise around, and we will see if either team took a step in the right direction after Week 1.
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