NFL Season Opener Preview

Everyone who laments that the Saints don't get any respect for being Super Bowl champs hasn't been checking out the betting trends at Sportsbook.ag this week. Fully 79% of the point spread bettors favor New Orleans on the Saints Vikings odds list, a number that could see the public clean up if Minnesota can't make a game of it. The regular season gets started with a bang on Thursday night with a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. For anyone that forgets, the Saints defeated the Vikings 31-28 in overtime in the NFC title game on the way to their first Super Bowl championship. Drew Brees led the Saints with three touchdown passes in the win, while Brett Favre passed for 310 yards and a TD but also had two interceptions - including one extremely costly one late when the Vikings were in Saints territory.

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Both teams will look slightly different than they did when they squared off last season. The Vikings have Favre back, but his favorite receiver from a year ago, Sidney Rice, is out for at least the first chunk of the season. Rice was placed on the PUP List last week due to hip surgery and won't be eligible to return until Week 7. That leaves Favre with Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin as his starting receivers, while the recently-acquired Greg Camarillo will be the No. 3 wideout. Don't forget about tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who could be in for another big season after having 11 TD receptions last season.

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The loss of Rice, and also the up in the air status of Harvin due to migraine headaches, means the Vikings' offense needs a big season from running back Adrian Peterson. Last year Purple Jesus rushed for 1,383 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he also had problems holding on to the ball. Peterson fumbled seven times during the regular season and he also coughed up the ball twice against the Saints in last year's championship game. Defensively the Vikings should rank among the strongest units in the league once again. The front four includes two of the best run stoppers in Pat and Kevin Williams, while Ray Edwards and Jared Allen combined for 23 sacks on the ends last year. Linebacker E.J. Henderson is returning from a broken leg, while CB Antoine Winfield is finally 100% after playing most of last season on a bad foot.

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The Vikings should have their hands full with a Saints offense that remains stacked. Drew Brees' complement of receivers still includes Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and tight end Jeremy Shockey. Brees also has the electric tandem of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush out of the backfield to keep teams honest to the run. Where the Saints will look a little different Thursday night is on defense. Up to three starters from last year's Super Bowl winning defense won't be playing against Minnesota. Linebacker Scott Fujita flew the coop in free agency, and safety Darren Sharper is out until Week 7 after offseason knee surgery landed him on the PUP List. The question mark Thursday night is linebacker Jonathan Vilma; he injured his groin in the preseason and hasn't taken the field since. Look for the latest updates on his status heading into game time. The Saints are a 4.5-point favorite at Bovada in Thursday's rematch. New Orleans was 6-2 SU and 4-4 ATS at home last season, while the Vikings posted a 4-4 record both SU and ATS on the road.

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