With two impressive wins to open the season, the San Francisco 49ers have sent a message to the rest of the NFL that they are the team to beat. However, last week proved that anything can happen in this league.
The Minnesota Vikings come into the game with a 1-1 record, but both games ended with three-point margins. A few bounces one way or another could have made the team undefeated or winless.
Still, it will take a big effort from Adrian Peterson and company for the team to be able to knockoff one of the most complete teams in the sport.
Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know heading into this conference matchup.
When: September 23, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN
Spread: 49ers (-6.5) via Vegas Insider
San Francisco has already knocked off two superior NFC North teams by eight points each. Minnesota has a solid home-field advantage, but so do the Green Bay Packers. The 49ers were still able to go into Lambeau Field and take care of business.
The Vikings simply do not have enough offensively to get past this tough defense and cover the spread.
Over/Under: 43 via Vegas Insider
Any game involving the 49ers should be relatively low-scoring. They have allowed a combined 41 points so far, but that has been against two of the best offenses in the NFL.
Minnesota has reached the 20-point plateau in both games this year, but it was against defenses that are average at best. This could be a defensive struggle throughout the game and those betting should take the under.
Key Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Brandon Jacobs (Knee) Questionable
WR Ted Ginn (Ankle) Questionable
DE D'Aundre Reed (Calf) Questionable
LB Marvin Mitchell (Ankle) Probable
LB Erin Henderson (Concussion) Questionable
Fantasy Big Plays
49ers: TE Vernon Davis
There are only a handful of elite tight ends in the league, and Vernon Davis is one of them. He has three touchdowns so far in his first two games and is Alex Smith's go-to target when he needs a big play.
The seven-year veteran had a knack for disappearing in games last season, but last year's big playoff performance seems to have motivated him to take that next step in his career. He is ready to be a safe play to help your team every week.
Vikings: WR Percy Harvin
Adrian Peterson is the most talented player on the offense, but it is never safe to play a running back against the San Francisco 49ers. The defense has only allowed one rusher since 2009 to top 100 yards on the ground against them.
Instead, fantasy owners should look towards Percy Harvin. He is already off to a good start to the season with 188 receiving yards and 33 rushing yards. He is a consistent target and he is always capable of a big play.
This might be the only way to beat the tough defense. The 49ers have already allowed big games to Randall Cobb, James Jones and Calvin Johnson this season. Harvin has the speed to get past the veteran secondary and get a few long catches.
Keys to 49ers Victory: Stop the Run
It is nice when the key to the game is already a team strength, but this is the most important aspect of the game as the 49ers attempt to remain undefeated.
Even coming off an ACL injury, Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in football. Without him, the Vikings must rely on Christian Ponder to lead them to victory. The young quarterback has been outstanding this season, but the defense would be better off making him do the work, instead of Peterson.
In addition, running the ball helps control the game and to keep the opposing offense off the field. Even without much success, the Detroit Lions continued to run the ball and ended with 82 total rushing yards. This gave the team a slight advantage in time of possession to help them keep the game close.
The 49ers do not want to let that happen.
Keys to Vikings Victory: Get to the Quarterback
So far the Vikings have gotten two sacks in each of the first two games, but it was also the seven quarterback hits on Blaine Gabbert that helped the team win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Although 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has proven he can handle pressure, he is obviously much better when he has time to throw the ball.
His effectiveness over the past year has been based on his ability to avoid turnovers. Minnesota needs to come hard with Jared Allen and some blitzing by Erin Henderson to get Smith out of his rhythm and force him into making mistakes.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Vikings 10
Ponder has performed well at quarterback this season for the Vikings, but he has not seen a defense of this level. The corps of linebackers will be able to stuff the run game and put pressure on the passing game at the same time.
San Francisco might have its own difficulty moving the football. However, the offense has versatility for the first time in years and should do enough to get the job done.