Minnesota Vikings 2020 season preview: Can retooled defense be elite again?

The Minnesota Vikings are ranked No. 13 in ESPN's Football Power Index ahead of the 2020 NFL season. With no preseason games this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Week 1 is the first time we'll see new acquisitions and rookies for every team.

Here's everything you need to know about the Vikings heading into the season, from the big question to answer and the toughest stretch on their schedule to a bold prediction and potential breakout fantasy football stars.

Full schedule | Roster | Depth chart

The big question: Is the Vikings' defense back?

Minnesota still had a host of stars on the defensive side of the ball, despite losing nine players, including five starters, in free agency. Then the Vikings added defensive end Yannick Ngakoue via trade with the Jaguars to boost their pass rush, which underwent major changes this offseason. Now a unit with the likes of Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter is back to elite status. Those stars will be relied on to bring along a young group of cornerbacks and elevate the play around them. Ngakoue joins a Vikings defense that ranked top-10 in defensive efficiency each of the past five seasons. Can this unit be a top-10 defense yet again, despite a reboot at several positions? -- Courtney Cronin

How the pandemic has affected the Vikings

Minnesota lost its biggest free-agent acquisition when nose tackle Michael Pierce opted out of the 2020 season because of respiratory concerns. The Vikings also didn't have time for the anticipated "wide-open" competition at both interior spots on the offensive line. They instead decided to move Pat Elflein to right guard and had Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins battle for the left guard spot. Even though Minnesota drafted 15 rookies, the majority might not have an opportunity to contribute right away (such as second-round OL Ezra Cleveland) because of the team's need to prioritize getting veterans up to speed first. -- Cronin

Football Power Index projections for the Vikings

Overall ranking: 13
Offensive ranking: 11
Defensive ranking: 11
Special-teams ranking: 26

Total wins: 8.6
NFC North title chances: 38.2%
Chances to make playoffs: 54.5%
Super Bowl chances: 2.1%
2021 draft pick: No. 21

Inside the Vikings' schedule

FPI's strength of schedule rank: 24

Toughest stretch: All three of Minnesota's prime-time games happen away from U.S. Bank Stadium (Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans), but the Vikings' hardest stretch comes at the beginning of the season. Zimmer's young cornerbacks won't have much time to ease into the first five weeks, when the defense will run into Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson. Four of the Vikings' first five opponents went to the playoffs in 2019.

Over or under 8.6 wins? Over. The NFC North is up for grabs one season after 10 wins separated first and last place in the division. The Vikings are banking on offensive continuity led by Dalvin Cook, a dominant run game and all the weapons (Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr.) around quarterback Kirk Cousins. If the defense is further along than expected for a unit with this much turnover, the Vikings could surpass the over by two or three games on the way to back-to-back trips to the postseason. -- Cronin

Bold prediction for 2020: Justin Jefferson will have as close to a Randy Moss-level rookie season as any receiver has had.

A scorching-hot prediction would have Jefferson surpassing Moss' 69 receptions for 1,317 yards and 17 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998. But given how often the Vikings execute two-receiver sets and that Jefferson is behind Bisi Johnson as the No. 2 receiver, it's likely that he'll gradually come along before being worked into the game plan regularly. By midseason, the former LSU star will hover around the 35-catch mark. By season's end, he'll cross the 1,000-yard threshold and cement himself with one of the best rookie receiver seasons in recent memory. -- Cronin

Breakout fantasy star: Justin Jefferson, WR

Minnesota traded No. 2 WR Stefon Diggs during the offseason and used the compensation to select his de facto replacement, Jefferson, in the first round of April's draft. The LSU product is a near lock for a sizable role as a rookie, with the likes of Bisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe his top competition for snaps behind Adam Thielen. Minnesota's run-heavy offense might limit his upside, but an every-down role would be enough to put Jefferson in the weekly flex discussion. -- Mike Clay

ADP for the top players:

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 28-1 (opened 30-1)
Over/under: 9
Playoff odds: Yes -125, No +105

The Vikings went 10-6 (9-7 ATS) in 2019, beating their projected win total by one game. Nine games went over the total for Minnesota, which beat the Saints in overtime in the wild-card round and fell to the 49ers in the divisional round. -- ESPN Chalk staff

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Sept. 1.

Where the Vikings landed in NFL Rank

Speed reads before Week 1