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About scottj326

I write for my job and figured I'd write a blog in my free time.

5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Atlanta Falcons

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we turn our attention to the NFC South, beginning the division with the Atlanta Falcons, who came in third place in the division last season .

A season after playing in Super Bowl LI the Falcons finished in third place in the NFC South, but their 10-6 record was good enough to earn one of the conference’s wild cards. The Falcons still have one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the league with QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, and they added to their offensive depth this offseason by taking WR Calvin Ridley with their first pick in the draft. They also signed TE Logan Paulsen to serve as the No. 2 at the position.

The offense ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 5,837 yards and they were 15th with 353 points. Ryan’s 2017 numbers were down significantly from 2016; he threw for 4,095 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Jones had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards — which was the second most in the league — but just three touchdowns. WR Mohamed Sanu caught 67 balls for 703 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, and TE Austin Hooper added 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman was the team’s top rusher with 196 attempts for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games, adding 36 receptions for another 317 yards and a touchdown. RB Tevin Coleman played in 15 games, including three starts, and ran the ball 156 times for 628 yards and five touchdowns, with another three scores through the air. The Falcons were pretty good defensively, as well, ranking ninth in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed.

The Falcons’ season begins with the season opener as they visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles on the first Thursday night of the season. After that they have three straight home games, beginning with divisional rivals the Panthers and Saints, followed by the Bengals in Week 4. They then head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 5 before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 6. The Falcons host the Giants in Week 7 before their Week 8 bye. Coming out of the off week, they have consecutive road games at the Redskins and Browns. A home date with the Cowboys is on the slate for Week 11, followed by a Week 12 game at the Saints. The Falcons head to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Week 14 and host the Cardinals in Week 15. They then end the regular season with back-to-back road games, at the Panthers and Buccaneers.

The NFC South is a tough division, with three of the four teams having made the playoffs a year ago. The Falcons may be the best all-around team in the division, with a strong offense and a defense that was in the top 10 in the league in 2017. If the defense can continue that success into this season, it will help the Falcons stay out of shootouts against teams like the Saints and Falcons. They have a relatively easy schedule on paper, including a game with the Browns. I think the Falcons should be able to get to double-digit wins again this year, with another postseason appearance likely for the team that hopes to return to the Super Bowl after a one-year hiatus.

Source: http://www.atlantafalcons.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tennessee Titans

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we conclude our look at the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans, who finished in second place in the division last season.

Despite finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs last season, the Titans made a change at head coach, replacing Mike Mularkey with former Patriots LB Mike Vrabel. As far as player movement, the Titans signed RB Dion Lewis to fill the void left on the depth chart following the release of RB DeMarco Murray. They also signed G Xavier Su’a-Filo and backup QB Blaine Gabbert. They focused on helping their defense in this year’s draft, selecting LBs Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry with their first two picks. They lost WR Eric Decker in free agency.

The offense ranked in the bottom half of the league last season with 5,024 yards and 334 points. QB Marcus Mariota led the way with 3,232 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 15 games, with another five rushing touchdowns on his ledger. TE Delanie Walker led the team with 74 receptions, going for 807 yards and three touchdowns. WR Rishard Matthews added 53 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games  — 11 starts — and rookie WR Corey Davis caught 34 balls for 375 yards in 11 games, including nine starts. RB Derrick Henry ran the ball 176 times for 744 yards and five touchdowns. With the Patriots, Lewis had 180 rushes for 896 yards and six touchdowns, adding 32 receptions for 214 receiving yards and three scores. The defense was around the middle of the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Titans open the season on the road against the Dolphins, then face the Texans in their home opener in Week 2. Another divisional game follows in Week 3 when the Titans visit the Jaguars. The Titans host the defending champion Eagles in Week 4. They continue to alternate home and road games by visiting the Bills in Week 5, hosting the Ravens in Week 6 and heading to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in Week 7. The Titans’ bye follows that game, with a visit to the Cowboys on deck in Week 9. The Titans host the Patriots in Week 10 and then have two straight divisional games on the road when they take on the Colts and Texans in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively, Their second game against the Jaguars comes in Week 14, and that’s followed with a Week 15 game at the Giants. The Titans conclude the regular season with consecutive home games against the Redskins and Colts.

The Titans find themselves in a potentially tough position in 2018 with a quarterback who threw half as many touchdowns last year as he did in 2016 and a rookie head coach in Vrabel.They’re in a tough division with a Jaguars team that almost played in the Super Bowl last season and teams in the Texans and Colts that should be better this season as they get back stars who were injured for much — or all — of last season. On paper, the Titans appear to be the worst team in the AFC South and with tougher competition expected in the division, they’ll probably finish with a worse record than last year, unless Mariota has a breakout season. The Titans are probably looking at about a 7-9 mark, with a best-case scenario of 8-8.

Source: http://www.titansonline.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

Moving on with the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, today it is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who won the division last season.

Many people predicted a breakout season for the Jaguars last year, and that came true with the Jags not only winning the division and making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but they made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to the Patriots by just four points. Their defense was what carried them last season, so they focused on adding offense this offseason. Among the signings were TEs Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul — with veteran TE Marcedes Lewis being released as a result — and WR Donte Moncrief, who came over from the division-rival Colts. The team traded for QB Cody Kessler from the Browns to serve as Blake Bortles’ backup.

The offense ranked sixth in the NFL last season with 5,855 yards and fifth with 417 points last season. Bortles continued his downward trend last season, throwing for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. WR Marqise Lee was his leading receiver, with 56 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. Rookie WR Keelan Cole started six of his 16 games, totaling 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns, and WR Allen Hurns had 39 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games, including eight starts. With the Colts, Moncrief had 26 receptions for 391 yards and two scores in 12 games, while Seferian-Jenkins played in 13 games with the Jets, catching 50 balls for 357 yards and three touchdowns. RB Leonard Fournette led the ground game in his rookie season, carrying the ball 268 times for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games; he also had 36 receptions for 302 yards and a touchdown. RB T.J. Yeldon, who is No. 2 on the depth chart following the release of RB Chris Ivory, had 49 rushes in 10 games last season, running for 253 yards and two touchdowns with 30 catches for 224 yards through the air. The defense was second in the league in both yards and points allowed, behind only the Vikings.

The Jaguars open up the defense of their division title with a road game at the Giants in Week 1. Then it’s an early-season AFC Championship rematch when the Patriots come to Jacksonville. The Jaguars remain at home in Weeks 3 and 4, taking on the Titans and Jets, respectively. They hit the road after that, visiting the Chiefs and Cowboys. Their next divisional game comes in Week 7 with a home game against the Texans, followed by another home contest with the Eagles the Week 8 opponent. A bye is on the docket for Week 9, then the Jaguars visit the Colts in Week 10 and host the Steelers in Week 11. They play the Colts again in Week 13, this time at home, and then head to Nashville to take on the Titans. The Jaguars host the Redskins in Week 15 and visit the Dolphins in Week 16 before hosting the Texans in Week 17, which could be an important game for both teams’ postseason hopes.

With CBs A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey leading the way, the Jaguars should have a dominant defense again in 2018, but they still have a subpar quarterback under center. Fournette helped mitigate that last year with a strong rookie season and he’ll have to be the key cog in the offense again this season with Bortles likely remaining a tier below the league’s top quarterbacks. The Jags will probably not have as easy of a road to the division title this season, though, with the Colts and Texans getting back the likes of Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. That should make for a tight race at the top of the AFC South, with the Titans also having a chance to compete. I think it’ll be a two-way race between the Jaguars and Texans, though, with those two teams the most likely in the division to be in the range of nine to 10 wins in 2018.

Source: http://www.jaguars.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Indianapolis Colts

Next up in the AFC South as part of our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the Indianapolis Colts, who finished tied for third place last season.

The Colts’ biggest question mark entering the 2018 season is at the most important position on the field. QB Andrew Luck hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since Week 17 of the 2016 season as he has continued to recover from shoulder surgery he underwent that offseason. He is expected to be ready to play in Week 1 and reportedly looks good in camp, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do well in an actual game. QB Jacoby Brissett is Luck’s backup and could see a lot of playing time if Luck isn’t 100% or reinjures his shoulder. The team added to its offense this offseason, signing TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant and RB Christine Michael, who will add depth to a running game that will be without veteran RB Frank Gore, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency.

The Colts finished next-to-last in the NFL with 4,553 yards, and their 263 points ranked 30th in the league. Brissett threw for 3,098 yards and 13 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, in 15 starts last season. TE Jack Doyle led the team with 80 receptions, totaling 690 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. WR T.Y. Hilton had a team-high 966 yards with four touchdowns on 57 catches. With the Redskins, Grant caught 45 balls for 573 yards and four touchdowns in 16 games — seven starts — and Ebron had 53 receptions for 574 yards and four touchdowns in 16 games, including nine starts, with the Lions. Gore was the team’s leading rusher, but rookie RB Marlon Mack was behind him with 93 carries for 358 yards and three touchdowns. The defense wasn’t much better than the offense, finishing in 30th in the league in both yards and points allowed.

The Colts’ schedule begins with a home game against the Bengals, followed by a road game against the Redskins in Week 2. The Colts stay on the road in Week 3, taking on the defending champion Eagles in Week 3. They have their first divisional game in Week 4, a home contest against the Texans. The Colts then play a couple of games in the Northeast, at the Patriots and Jets in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively. The Colts visit the Raiders in Week 8, followed by their bye in Week 9. The Colts host the Jaguars, Titans and Dolphins the following three weeks. That homestand is followed by back-to-back divisional games on the road, at the Jaguars in Week 13 and the Texans in Week 14. The Colts’ final home games come in Weeks 15 and 16, against the Cowboys and Giants, respectively, before ending the regular season at the Titans.

Luck’s health is obviously the key to success for the Colts. Without him, the offense was among the worst in the league last season. If he can return to form of how he played prior to his injury, that would be huge for the Colts. If not, the team could be looking at winning just a handful of games again this season, especially with the subpar defense. They’re in a winnable division without a team that’s clearly better than the rest, but without their quarterback the Colts wouldn’t be able to compete with their division foes.

Source: http://www.colts.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Houston Texans

We move on to the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with the Houston Texans, who came in last place in the division last season.

The Texans’ 4-12 record last season is not representative of the amount of talent on the roster. The defense took a big hit with injuries to DE J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus, who each played just five games. And QB Deshaun Watson was on pace to set rookie records before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 that ended his season. Getting those three players back improves the team — especially on offense, which wasn’t good with Watson out — so they feel like the team’s big offseason acquisitions. The one major free agent the Texans signed was S Tyrann Mathieu, who was released by the Cardinals. They also signed veteran QB Brian Hoyer to serve as Watson’s backup. In terms of losses, the team released veteran LB Brian Cushing.

The Texans ranked in the bottom half of the NFL with 5,120 yards and 338 points in 2017. In the seven games — six starts — Watson played, he threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions; he also ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns. WR DeAndre Hopkins had 96 receptions 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 games last season, and WR. No one else had more than 36 catches — and that was RB Lamar Miller, who went for 327 yards and three touchdowns on the 36 receptions. In 10 games, WR Will Fuller caught 28 balls for 423 yards and seven touchdowns. Miller was the team’s leading rusher, with 888 yards and three touchdowns on 238 carries. In 10 games, RB D’Onta Foreman ran the ball 78 times for 327 yards and two touchdowns, and RB Alfred Blue had 71 carries for 272 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. With Watt and Mercilus out for most of the season, the defense ranked 20th in yards allowed and last in points allowed.

The Texans face the tough test to begin the season, playing at the Patriots in Week 1. They stay on the road to take on the Titans in Week 2, then get their first home game in Week 3, when the Giants come to town. The Texans visit the Colts in Week 4, then host the Cowboys in a Lone Star battle. Week 7 sees the Texans heading to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then the Dolphins come to Houston in Week 8. After a game in Denver against the Broncos, the Texans have a bye in Week 10. Coming out of the bye, the Texans visit the Redskins. After that, they have three straight home games — against the Titans, Browns and Colts in Weeks 12, 13 and 14, respectively. Following a road game with the Jets, the Texans visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 17. They finish the regular season at home, taking on the Jaguars.

The health of Watson, Watt and Mercilus is going to be the key to how the Texans do this season. If Watson can continue the success he had in the first half of the 2017 season and the defensive guys can play like they have in the past, that will prove the defense that played most of last season, which is already improved by the signing of Mathieu. The Texans have also not had Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney both healthy at the same time for an extended period. It appears that they will finally get that luxury this season. If things go right for the Texans this season, they should be competitive with the Jaguars for the top spot in the division, and could compete for a wild card if the Jags win the South.

Sources: http://www.houstontexans.com/, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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Stadium Series: My experience with a Bay Area doubleheader

Visiting all 30 MLB stadiums isn’t an easy task, so trying to visit multiple venues in a single trip makes it easier to accomplish. As someone who eventually wants to complete the accomplishment, I try to visit more than one stadium whenever possible. I went to Nationals Park and Camden Yards on back-to-back days a few years ago, and I got the chance to do it again this year.

Of the stadiums I had not yet visited, AT&T Park was at the top of my list at which to see a game. With the Astros set to play a series there this season, I decided that was going to be the stadium I wanted to travel to this year. With the A’s in close proximity to the Giants, it offers me a chance to double-dip with AT&T Park and the Oakland Coliseum. The teams’ schedules were such that they were both playing at home while the Astros were in San Francisco for a short Monday-Tuesday series with the Giants. There was an early start for Tuesday’s game — 12:45pm PT first pitch — with the A’s starting a two-game series against the Dodgers at 7:05pm PT that night, it gave me plenty of time to get to the Coliseum following the Astros-Giants game to complete the Bay Area doubleheader and see games at both stadiums on the same day.

The three-games-in-24-hours began with the first of two between the Astros and Giants on Monday night, allowing me to get my first in-person experience at AT&T Park, which is always ranked near the top of Best MLB Stadiums lists — and for good reason. It is located in downtown San Francisco but, more importantly, is next to the San Francisco Bay, with a section that is now unofficially known as McCovey Cove, which has become the ballpark’s signature feature. Its location also provides for great views of the landscape surrounding the stadium, including the Bay Bridge beyond left field. In McCovey Cove, there are several people in kayaks who wait for home runs that are hit into the water. That doesn’t happen often, as the the “splash hits” counter that tracks such balls — hit by Giants players — shows that the home team has gotten 78 balls into the Cove since the stadium, originally named Pacific Bell Park, opened in April 2000. And of those 78, 35 were hit by now-retired OF Barry Bonds.

Another notable feature of AT&T Park is the giant Coca-Cola bottle and baseball glove in left field. Those are part of a kids’ section of the park, and on the back of the soda bottle are two slides for kids to play on. Outside the ballpark, the Giants pay homage to the team’s history, dating back to the franchise’s time as the New York Giants. As part of that history is a Wall of Fame, showcasing plaques dedicated to some of the best players in the team’s history, including notables like Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry and Vida Blue, but also less-famous players like Shawn Estes, Marvin Benard and Kirk Rueter, whose contributions to the Giants are more distinct than their overall places in MLB history.

While AT&T Park is known for its beauty, the main attraction is still the games that are played there. On Monday, that meant a pitching matchup of veteran Astros SP Charlie Morton, who is having a career year in his 11th major league season, facing rookie Giants SP Dereck Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame C Ivan Rodriguez, who is pitching well as he gets his first taste of the majors. The Astros’ offense was shorthanded for this series with SS Carlos Correa, 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer all on the disabled list at the time. And with it being an interleague game in a National League park, DH Evan Gattis — who entered the series with 21 home runs — was limited to pinch-hitting duties. The injuries and lack of a DH meant guys like 1B Tyler White and OF Jake Marisnick, who is a good defender but not much of a hitter, started Monday’s game. For the Giants, after their top four hitters in the lineup — OF Andrew McCutchen, C Buster Posey, 3B Evan Longoria and SS Brandon Crawford — their bottom half of the order also left something to be desired.

The less-than-ideal lineups for both teams and strong pitching by Morton and Rodriguez led to an as-expected low-scoring affair, with the game remaining scoreless through the middle of the sixth inning. The Giants finally broke through on the scoreboard in the bottom of that inning, when Crawford hit a solo home run with two outs to make it 1-0 in favor of the home team. That would remain the score through eight innings, as the starters — who each went seven innings, with Morton striking out eight and Rodriguez getting seven outs via the K — and the first relievers out of the bullpen pitched well. For the Astros, that first player out of the ‘pen in the game was controversial RP Roberto Osuna, who was making his first appearance for the team and first overall after completing his 75-game suspension. He pitched great, needing just five pitches to complete the 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, to ensure the Astros were down just one run entering the ninth.

The Giants called upon closer Will Smith to get the final three outs and secure the victory, but he did not have his best stuff that night. After getting C Max Stassi to pop out, Smith walked SS Alex Bregman, then OF Josh Reddick made the second out of the inning when he flied out to center. That final out proved elusive for Smith to get, though. After Reddick’s at-bat, Smith walked 3B Yuli Gurriel, then gave up the big hit — a three-run homer off the bat of OF Marwin Gonzalez, giving the Astros a 3-1 lead. It was the first home run Smith had allowed in just shy of 55 innings. After the longball, Smith did get the third out when White grounded out to short.

With the Astros having taken the lead in the top of the ninth, manager A.J. Hinch turned to his closer, Hector Rondon, to try to do what Smith could not and earn the save for his team. He got Longoria to strike out leading off the inning, then Crawford singled to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of 1B Austin Slater. He struck out, leaving it up to 2B Joe Panik to extend the game, but he lined out to end the game and give the Astros the come-from-behind victory.

Astros win Game 1

All told, the teams combined for just eight hits — four for his team — with the four combined runs all being scored via home runs. Osuna earned the win in his Astros debut, with Smith suffering the loss and Rondon recording his 12th save of the season.

Tuesday afternoon saw a pitching matchup of Dallas Keuchel going for the Astros and Madison Bumgarner taking the mound for the Giants. It was another low-scoring affair with the Giants scoring first, this time with a RBI single by 2B Chase d’Arnaud to score Crawford in the bottom of the second inning. That 1-0 lead would hold up until the top of the eighth inning, when RP Ray Black relieved Bumgarner, who struck out seven in seven scoreless innings. When Black entered the game, Gonzalez doubled to lead off the inning. Black then got Gurriel to strike out, but in the next at-bat White hit a two-run home run to left-center field, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom half of the inning, when RP Collin McHugh came into the game and retired both batters he faced before being relieved by RP Ryan Pressly, who got Crawford to line out to end the inning. After an uneventful top of the ninth, Rondon came in to try for his second save in as many nights. He got the job done again, allowing just a walk and closing out the 2-1 victory for the AL West leaders.

After a BART ride to Oakland, I went to the Coliseum to complete the second half of the two-stadium doubleheader. Unlike AT&T Park, the Coliseum is routinely ranked among the worst stadiums in MLB and will need to be replaced soon if Oakland wants to avoid the A’s moving out of the city. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, given what I have heard of it. There’s nothing special or notable about it and is a cavernous structure with many empty sections in the seating bowl because it is — for now — shared with the Raiders, the last stadium that is shared by MLB and NFL teams. There was a bigger-than-expected crowd for a weeknight A’s game, given that the Dodgers were in town and there were a lot of the team’s fans at the game; the attendance of 33,654 was more than 15,000 better than the team’s season average of 18,552.

As for the game, it was a slow-moving game that saw both starters pulled pretty quickly, with A’s SP Sean Manaea lasting only 2.2 innings in which he gave up three earned runs and Dodgers SP Rich Hill going 5.1 innings of two-run ballf, in a game that the Dodgers won 4-2 after the bullpen 3.2 scoreless innings, with closer Kenley Jansen striking out two batters in the ninth inning to close out the game. DH Khris Davis accounted for the home team’s only runs, with a two-run home run in the sixth inning that led to Hill coming out of the game. The Dodgers had a more balanced offense, with OF Kike Hernandez, DH Matt Kemp, 1B Cody Bellinger and C Austin Barnes each driving in a run in the winning effort. Before the game, Oakland native and former A’s batboy M.C. Hammer threw out the first pitch.

With AT&T Park and the Coliseum now crossed off the list, I have visited 14 of the 30 current major-league stadiums. That means I should reach, and possibly pass, the halfway point of my journey to visit all 30 stadiums during the 2019 season.

Ballparks visited map

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Minnesota Vikings

Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the season, continues as the NFC North comes to an end with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last season.

The Vikings came within a game of making it to Super Bowl LII last season, losing to the Eagles in the NFC Championship, after finishing the regular season 13-3. Despite that success, they didn’t stand pat and stick with the same team this season. Instead of doing that, they signed QB Kirk Cousins to a three-year contract, with $84 million guaranteed. He’s replacing QB Case Keenum, who was the starter for the bulk of the 2017 season. Other signings this offseason included WR Kendall Wright and DT Sheldon Richardson, That’ll help them stay atop the division and fight off an expected challenge from the Packers, who are coming off a disappointing season because of a shoulder injury to QB Aaron Rodgers.

The Vikings’ offense finished 11th in the NFL with 5,710 yards and 10th with 382 points scored last season. With the Redskins, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards — almost 900 fewer yards than 2016 — with 27 touchdowns and a career-high 13 interceptions. His favorite target was WR Adam Thielen, who had 91 receptions for 1,276 yards but just four touchdowns. WR Stefon Diggs caught 64 balls for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games, while TE Kyle Rudolph added 532 yards and eight scores on 57 catches. On the ground, RB Latavius Murray carried the ball 216 times for 842 yards and eight touchdowns. Rookie RB Dalvin Cook was limited to four games, but he ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries. The defense led the league in both yards and points allowed.

The schedule sees the Vikings opening at home against the 49ers before heading to Lambeau Field for a battle with the Packers in Week 2. After a Week 4 game at the Rams, the Vikings have to fly across the country to Philadelphia for a Week 5 rematch with the Eagles. They host the Saints and Lions in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, before getting their bye in Week 10. The Vikings visit the Bears in Week 11 and host the Packers in Week 12. Next on the docket is a Week 13 matchup at the Patriots. That leads to another cross-country trip, as they play the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 14. The season wraps up with a home game against the Dolphins in Week 15, a road game against the Lions in Week 16 and a final home contest with the Bears in Week 17.

The Vikings won 13 games last season and seem to have improved their team this offseason, with Cousins in particular an improvement over Keenum. They’ll face tougher competition in the division with Rodgers’ returning from his injury for Green Bay, but the Vikings probably have a better team than the Packers, so they should repeat as division champs. The offense is improved with Cousins and there’s no reason to think the defense will take a step back after it was the best unit in the league a season ago. Cook will have an increased role in the offense, which should improve the running back if he reaches the expectations the Vikings had when they drafted him. The Vikings should win back-to-back NFC North titles this season.

Sources: http://www.vikings.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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