Minnesota Vikings 2019 season preview: All-in with title window closing

Berry: Thielen due for another big year (0:21)

Matthew Berry believes Adam Thielen will have another big season as the number one target for the Vikings. (0:21)

The Minnesota Vikings are ranked No. 7 in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. Here's everything you need to know about the Vikings heading into the 2019 NFL season:

The big question: Can the defense return to its vaunted form?

The Vikings' once-loaded cornerback group has been depleted by injury (Mike Hughes) and suspension (Holton Hill) and it remains to be seen whether Xavier Rhodes will be able to play like he did in 2017. Coach Mike Zimmer will have to get creative in the way he schemes to overcome the Vikings' weaknesses, relying heavily on Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander to hold this group together. At safety, All-Pro do-everything talent Harrison Smith will lead the way opposite Anthony Harris, while Jayron Kearse provides the Vikings with a different look when they utilize their nickel packages (run 77 percent of the time last season), but the numbers game at safety is a concern too. -- Courtney Cronin

Offseason in a nutshell

In order to get back to where they left off in the NFC title game two years ago, the Vikings brought back three players -- LB Anthony Barr, DE Everson Griffen and TE Kyle Rudolph -- to help them despite tight finances with the salary cap. Minnesota placed heavy emphasis on offense in the draft and brought in new pieces to the coaching staff, removing the interim tag from Kevin Stefanski's title as offensive coordinator and hiring Gary Kubiak, the man whose offense Stefanski will run in 2019. -- Cronin

Inside the Vikings' schedule

Most important game: In Week 4, Minnesota travels to Soldier Field, a place that has yielded some less-than-stellar performances over the years. In Week 17, the Vikings host the Bears to close the season. The early game against Chicago provides a measuring stick while the last game of the season could have a trip to the playoffs on the line like last year.

Toughest stretch: Weeks 6-10 feature a home contest against NFC favorite Philadelphia and a statement-making game for quarterback Kirk Cousins against his former team, Washington. Minnesota also goes on the road during this stretch to face a Detroit team that will be tough to run against and travels to Kansas City and Dallas in consecutive weeks. If the Vikings can go 3-2 during this stretch, they'll be in good position before their Week 12 bye.

Over or under 8.8 wins? Over. Minnesota's floor should be 9-7, and the ceiling could be as high as 11 wins. This team was constructed to contend for a Super Bowl and is seeing its window closing. If the Vikings don't get it done this year with as much talent as they have surrounding Cousins, it's hard to believe they'll be in position to contend for a championship in a year or two when age and money force them to move on from certain core players. -- Cronin

Schedule ranking: No. 11

The Vikings play all three divisional road games in the first seven weeks -- that includes Week 2 against Green Bay, when the Packers will have extra rest after opening on Thursday night -- then all three divisional home games in the final four weeks. Like the Colts, the Vikings get both strong AFC West teams (Chiefs and Chargers) on the road. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking

Breakout fantasy star: WR Chad Beebe

Beebe went undrafted last year but is the favorite for slot duties between Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in 2019. Beebe barely saw the field as a rookie, catching all four of his targets for 39 yards. The 25-year-old is on the small side (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) and will do most of his damage in the short area. Beebe's ceiling is limited by Minnesota's new-look, run-first offense, but if he's regularly on the field when Minnesota is passing, he'll sneak into some value in deeper PPR leagues. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 20-1 (opened 18-1)
Over/under: 9 (O -125/U +105)
Playoff odds: Yes +115, No -135

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.

Most interesting player prop

Over/under 1,157.5 receiving yards for Adam Thielen:

  • Courtney Cronin: Over. Thielen's efficiency won't dip even though his target share might with an added emphasis placed on the Vikings' running game. His output should be somewhere around 1,200 receiving yards in 2019.

  • David Bearman: Under. Yes, he was close to 1,400 yards last year. However, 925 of that (115 per game) came in the first eight games. A switch to a more run-heavy approach under a different offensive coordinator ended with 448 yards (56 per game) over the last eight games.

Bold prediction: The Vikings will have a top-five rushing attack

This outside zone scheme is going to bring out the best in Dalvin Cook and Minnesota's deep corps of running backs. Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who is the run-game coordinator, will help Cook become a 1,000-yard rusher while also contributing to the passing game. Minnesota will go from the bottom of the league to one of the NFL's most efficient rushing offenses. -- Cronin

Where the Vikings landed in NFLRank

Speed reads before the opener