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5 Minnesota Vikings to Know before 49ers Regular Season Opener

The 49ers and Vikings have played 41 times in the regular season, with Minnesota holding a 21-19-1 advantage. San Francisco, however, has won four of five postseason meetings.

  • In this Wednesday edition of Niners Daily, we offer up a first look at the San Francisco 49ers Week 1 opponent on "Monday Night Football."*

Although the Minnesota Vikings haven't won a division title since 2009, expectations are high that the team is ready to contend with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions for NFC North supremacy.

The reason for such optimism? Minnesota appears to have all the ingredients for sustained success: a superstar at a skill position, a promising second-year quarterback and a defense filled with high draft picks.

As the 49ers continue their Week 1 preparations, let's take a look at five Vikings players who will elicit significant discussion in San Francisco's meeting rooms.

  1. Adrian Peterson

For the first time since 2009, the Vikings finished outside the top 10 in rushing last year.

Why? Peterson spent all but one game in 2014 on the commissioner's exempt list while he faced legal action.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2012 NFL MVP is back this season and many believe he'll return to the form that saw him rush for more than 10,000 yards in his first seven pro campaigns.

Peterson has faced the 49ers three times, rushing for a career-low three yards on 14 carries in 2007, 85 yards on 19 carries in 2009 and 86 yards on 25 carries in 2012.

Over the last four seasons, San Francisco has ranked seventh, fourth, fourth and first against the run in the NFL. With a deep defensive line and NaVorro Bowman back on the field, the 49ers defense figures to be strong in that facet of the game again in 2015.

Peterson, obviously, is a good first challenge.

  1. Teddy Bridgewater

After being selected behind Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel at No. 32 overall in last year's draft, Bridgewater showed great potential as a rookie – especially when considering Peterson's absence.

In his first six NFL starts, Bridgewater completed 61 percent of his attempts for four touchdowns, six interceptions and a 49.7 QBR. In his next starts, the quarterback completed 68.9 percent of his attempts for 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 65.7 QBR.

How's that for growth from a 21-year-old rookie signal-caller?

With Peterson back in the lineup, some of the pressure will be taken off of Bridgewater's shoulders this year.

So while the Minnesota run game is more dangerous, Tramaine Brock and the trio of young cornerbacks behind him (Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker and Dontae Johnson) figure to be tested by Bridgewater, who finished the preseason 29-for-35 passing for 295 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

  1. Kyle Rudolph

The Vikings acquired deep-threat wide receiver Mike Wallace in the offseason to bolster Bridgewater's weapons. The veteran has averaged 15.6 yards per catch in his seven-year career, and he scored 10 touchdowns in 2014 with the Miami Dolphins.

But when talking about Bridgewater's go-to pass-catcher, look no further than Rudolph.

The Pro Bowl tight end was sidelined half of last year with various injuries but Bridgewater has voiced his affinity for the big-bodied target, who stands 6-foot-6, 265 pounds.

"Whether he's the primary read or he's a late outlet as I'm going through my progression, Kyle is always in the right place at the right time," Bridgewater recently told the Star-Tribune.

Especially in the red zone, the 49ers defense will have to keep Rudolph in tight coverage.

  1. Anthony Barr

The No. 9 overall pick from 2014 delivered early returns to the Vikings as a rookie. Playing both as a pass-rusher and cover linebacker, Barr amassed 70 tackles, four sacks and three fumble recoveries, including one returned for a game-winning touchdown in overtime versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Barr stands a massive 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and has terrific speed to complement his power. The 23-year-old dealt with knee issues in training camp but appears to be back to full strength.

The 49ers offensive line will be tasked with slowing down Barr and Everson Griffen, who led the Vikings with 12 sacks a year ago.

  1. Harrison Smith

The Minnesota secondary features three first-round picks all taken in the last four years: Smith (2012), Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Trae Waynes (2015).

Smith is the leader of the group. In just 40 career NFL games, the safety has totaled 255 tackles, 23 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, four sacks, three touchdowns and two fumble recoveries.

According to Grantland’s Robert Mays, "If the Vikings make a push for the playoffs, Harrison Smith should finally start to get some recognition this year, as he deserves mention right alongside Devin McCourty and Eric Weddle as the best safety in football not named Earl Thomas."

Colin Kaepernick's connections with the likes of Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Vernon Davis will be interesting to watch against a talented Vikings secondary.

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