The San Francisco 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings in the late matchup of ESPN's "Monday Night Football" doubleheader to conclude Week 1. Minnesota is coming off a 7-9 record and third-place NFC North finish in 2014. But the team expects to improve in Year Two of the Mike Zimmer regime with second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a talented defense and the return of former MVP Adrian Peterson.
San Francisco went 8-8 last season and mutually agreed to part ways with former head coach Jim Harbaugh. The team also lost several key members of its roster including guard Mike Iupati and running back Frank Gore to free agency as well as offensive tackle Anthony Davis and linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement.
Minnesota at San Francisco
Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET (Monday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Minnesota -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Return of Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson makes his return after a nearly season-long suspension and a tumultuous offseason. But after claiming that his relationship with the Vikings was "permanently damaged" the two parties reconciled. Peterson now joins an offense that has a capable, young quarterback, an underrated group of wide receivers and a solid offensive line that should provide enough holes for one of the league's best running backs to make a successful return.
2. Teddy Bridgewater in Year Two
Bridgewater enjoyed a solid rookie campaign as the Vikings' starting quarterback. He threw for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on 259-of-402 passing. Bridgewater started in 12 games and led Minnesota to a 6-6 record. With Peterson back in the fold, as well as having a year of NFL experience, many expect the former Louisville standout to improve in Year Two. Bridgewater should find success in Minnesota's offense with the addition of Mike Wallace and several other capable targets.
3. 49ers Bounce Back After Tough Offseason
San Francisco had the worst offseason in NFL history. The infamous breakup with Harbaugh was a sign of bad things to come for the 49ers. The team lost the majority of its key players to free agency, retirement and — in Aldon Smith's case — breaking the law multiple times. There's also the fact that many expect Vernon Davis to continue to see a decline in production after a disappointing 2014 campaign and the jury is still out on whether Colin Kaepernick is an "elite quarterback." San Francisco needs a strong performance Monday to reassure its fans that the franchise is still moving in the right direction.
Monday's game is the perfect example of two franchises going in different directions. Minnesota is on the rise with a young, talented roster that is expected to be a dark horse in a tough NFC North division. San Francisco is on the decline and should struggle after a horrendous offseason. This should be a big win for the Vikings, who need as many wins as possible to compete with Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.
Prediction: Vikings 28, 49ers 14
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.