MINNEAPOLIS—Adrian Peterson's Hall of Fame-type career with the Minnesota Vikings ended on a rocky note following a tumultuous final three seasons.
Sour feelings were bound to follow as Minnesota moved on from its all-time leading rusher. The Vikings never showed a desire to re-sign Peterson, the 32-year-old running back who had rushed for 11,747 yards in 10 seasons.
Peterson signed with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason, joining a backfield that already had 1,000-yard rusher Mark Ingram and drafted Alvin Kamara in the third round.
The NFL schedule makers didn't wait to reunite Peterson and his former team.
Peterson gets his chance at the Vikings in the season opener Monday night as he returns to Minnesota with his new team. For the ultra-competitive Peterson, the juices must be flowing, and he admitted as such to a Minnesota reporter that went to New Orleans to visit with the long-time Viking.
"In my mind, we're starting and ending the season in Minnesota," Peterson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, referring to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota's U.S. Bank Stadium. "Of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them."
Seahawks at Packers
Two NFC playoff regulars open the season against one another when the Seattle Seahawks visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Green Bay's streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances is one shy of the NFL record, while Seattle has made the postseason each of the last five years.
Aaron Rodgers is the pivotal factor in the Packers' longstanding success as he has topped 4,000 passing yards six times and recorded his second season of 40 or more touchdown tosses last year. "He's at the peak of his career. He's at the top of his game," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters of the 33-year-old Rodgers. "It's hard to imagine what more he can do or how much better he can play. All the great players are looking for extraordinary consistency. He is just such a fantastic football player." Seattle counterpart Russell Wilson passed for a career-best 4,219 yards last season but threw just 21 touchdown passes - 13 fewer than the career high he set in 2015. Wilson was picked off a career-worst five times when the Seahawks were routed 38-10 at Lambeau Field in December.
Falcons at Bears
The Atlanta Falcons take the field for their first meaningful game since squandering a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI when they open the season against the host Chicago Bears on Sunday. The Falcons have most of their key players back as they look to begin their quest for a championship.
The biggest question surrounding the Bears is whether - or when - rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky will get his chance, but for the time being, Chicago will go with Mike Glennon under center. Glennon will have to deal with a defense led by fierce pass rusher Vic Beasley Jr., who led the league with 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles a year ago. Bears coach John Fox is a familiar opponent for the Falcons from his time with NFC South-rival Carolina, as he is 7-12 all-time against Atlanta. Chicago has won its last two meetings with the Falcons, including a 27-13 victory at Atlanta in the most recent clash in 2014.
Cardinals at Lions
One of the league's most disappointing teams a year ago, the Arizona Cardinals look to erase the stench of a sub-.500 record in 2016 when they open the season at the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon. Arizona won 34 games over a three-year span, capped by a 13-3 mark and NFC West title in 2015, before stumbling to a 7-8-1 mark last season.
The Cardinals have won seven in a row against the Lions and newly minted quarterback Matt Stafford, who became the league's highest-paid player when he signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension at the end of last month. Detroit made the playoffs last season with a 9-7 mark, but it lost its final three games after Stafford dislocated a finger on his throwing hand and bowed out meekly in a first-round playoff loss in Seattle. "I'm a big, huge fan of Matthew," said Arizona coach Bruce Arians. "I think he's got one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw. He's tough as nails." Arians is looking for a bounce-back season from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who figures to throw often despite the presence of third-year running back David Johnson, the NFL leader with 20 touchdowns in 2016.
Raiders at Titans
The 2016 season was a bittersweet one for the Oakland Raiders, who qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2002 but had their hopes go down the drain when Derek Carr suffered a broken leg in Week 16. With its star quarterback fully healthy, Oakland hopes for bigger things this season, beginning with its opener against the host Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Carr's injury was a major blow for the Raiders, as the 26-year-old has developed into one of the top signal-callers in the NFL - as evidenced by his becoming just the fifth player in league history with at least 80 touchdown passes (81) in his first three seasons. Carr has an excellent pair of targets in receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and hopes the luring of Marshawn Lynch out of retirement will strengthen the backfield and reduce his workload. Tennessee also is welcoming back its quarterback from a broken leg, as Marcus Mariota is ready to improve upon a campaign in which he completed more than 61 percent of his passes. Mariota also has numerous weapons at his disposal, as receiver Rishard Matthews is joined by newcomer Eric Decker and Western Michigan product Corey Davis, who was selected fifth overall in this year's draft.
Colts at Rams
The Indianapolis Colts will be without their star quarterback when they open their season Sunday against the host Los Angeles Rams, who won't have their top defensive player on the field. Andrew Luck is on the shelf for the Colts with a sore right shoulder, while Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is expected to miss Week 1 as he continues to hold out for a new contract.
Scott Tolzien will make his fourth career start in place of Luck, who threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Indianapolis also will be missing center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Vontae Davis, who respectively are dealing with foot and groin ailments. Donald, who recorded a team-high eight sacks in 2016, has been named to three straight Pro Bowls and is scheduled to make $1.8 million this season and $6.9 million in 2018 but is seeking in the neighborhood of $19 million per year. New coach Sean McVay is hoping to lead the Rams to their first winning season in 14 years as he relies on quarterback Jared Goff, who was the first overall pick of the 2016 draft but went 0-7 as a starter. Goff, who threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, has a nice pair of receivers at his disposal in Tavon Austin and newcomer Sammy Watkins.
Jaguars at Texans
The Houston Texans hope to give the city of Houston, devastated by the effects of Hurricane Harvey, a sense of hope when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in an AFC South matchup. Houston, which will start Tom Savage at quarterback, welcomes back the city's hero, All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, while eyeing a return to the playoffs.
Watt, who missed all but three games last season after undergoing two back operations, jumped into the nation's spotlight by spearheading a drive that has netted more than $20 million for the city's flood-ravaged victims. His return on the field will be just as important for last season's top-ranked returning defensive unit, as the Texans' offense is loaded with questions after trading embattled quarterback Brock Osweiler in the offseason and turning to the unproven Savage, who has never thrown an NFL touchdown pass. Jacksonville will give Blake Bortles another shot at quarterback but the leash may be a short one as the once-promising gunslinger has thrown 51 interceptions over the past three seasons. Doug Marrone, who was 15-17 in two seasons with the Bills and served as interim coach for the final two games last season, is the Jaguars' fifth head coach.
Jets at Bills
Tyrod Taylor cleared concussion protocol just in time to get the nod at quarterback as the Buffalo Bills open the season against the New York Jets in an AFC East division contest on Sunday. The Jets swept the Bills last season, including a 30-10 road win in the season finale which came just days after Buffalo fired head coach Rex Ryan.
Taylor's targets may give him headaches as the Bills dealt their top receiver, Sammy Watkins, to the Rams in the offseason, leaving exiled Eagle wideout Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones as his best options. Buffalo disappointed on defense under Ryan over the past two seasons but still has some talent, especially on the line, to improve after finishing 29th in the league against the run in 2016. Some Jets fans are already talking about tanking the season after the team let veteran stars like Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold go after the disappointing 2016 campaign. Journeyman Josh McCown will start under center for New York, which has been discouraged with the development of Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty in their time with the club.
Eagles at Redskins
The Washington Redskins came within an eyelash of securing a playoff berth last season before a pair of brutal losses at home to teams with little on the line left Kirk Cousins and company with plenty of questions for the offseason. Signed to his second franchise tag in as many years, Cousins looks to put the Redskins back on track Sunday when they open their season against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field.
Cousins (franchise-record 4,917 passing yards in 2016) extended Washington's winning streak to five games over Philadelphia after tossing a pair of touchdowns in both victories last season, with one each going to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in a 27-22 triumph on Dec. 11. The Redskins saw Jackson sign with Tampa Bay and Garcon shuffle to San Francisco in free agency while former offensive coordinator Sean McVay is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, although 1,000-yard wide receiver Terrelle Pryor joined the club from Cleveland. While Washington entertained postseason aspirations last season, Philadelphia finished in the NFC East cellar for the first time since 2012 as quarterback Carson Wentz went from the toast of eastern Pennsylvania to a rookie enduring growing pains. The Eagles gave Wentz some offseason firepower with the additions of former Pro Bowl selection Alshon Jeffery (Chicago), fellow free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith (San Francisco) and running back LeGarrette Blount, who had a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns last season with New England.
Giants at Cowboys
The news the Dallas Cowboys did not want to hear came down on Wednesday when an NFL arbiter upheld the six-game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott following accusations of domestic violence. However, Elliott got a one-week reprieve and will play in Sunday's season opener when the Cowboys host the NFC East rival New York Giants in prime time.
Elliott, who led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards as a rookie last season, filed a temporary restraining order to block the ban, but the timing of Wednesday's ruling allowed him to face New York before the suspension kicks in. The Giants, who swept Dallas last season and have won three straight in the series, are looking forward to facing the Cowboys at full strength. "I don't want to hear the backlash of, 'This person wasn't here,'" said New York safety Landon Collins. "If you want to be the best ... you have to beat the best. He's one of the best in the game." The Giants have one of the best in the game on their sideline in mercurial wideout Odell Beckham Jr., but his status for the game is in question after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday due to a left ankle injury sustained in a preseason game against Cleveland.
Ravens at Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals had a franchise-best string of five straight playoff appearances come to an end last season and are itching to get back to the top of the NFC North. The Baltimore Ravens, who visit the Bengals on Sunday in the season opener, are hoping to end a two-year playoff drought and have not won in Cincinnati since 2011.
The Ravens offense is just getting up to speed with quarterback Joe Flacco, who returned to practice on Sunday after missing the entire preseason and all of training camp recovering from a back injury. "He's really sharp. He's smart," Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told reporters of Flacco. "He's got all of those great qualities. We will have a discussion (Friday) on the game plan and that sort of thing. I want to make sure he's really comfortable with everything that's a possible call." The Ravens can always fall back on their defense, which held opponents to an average of eight points in four preseason games and drew the attention of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. "They've been playing well. They're playing with a lot of confidence," Dalton told reporters of the Baltimore defense. "When their first unit was in, they played really well this preseason. We've got to prepare for what they're doing. It's always a tough game when we play them. It always feels like it's coming down to the end. Both teams are preparing for the season the right way, and for us, we're going to do what we can to win this one."
Steelers at Browns
The Pittsburgh Steelers locked up Antonio Brown in the offseason and finally brought Le'Veon Bell into camp when he signed his franchise tender earlier this week, once again giving the team two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL. Those two and the rest of the Steelers' offense open the season on Sunday by visiting the Cleveland Browns, who will be without top overall pick Myles Garrett.
The Browns made Garrett, a defensive end from Texas A&M, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and expected him to be a force against opposing quarterbacks like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. "In order to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, we do have to get Ben down," Cleveland coach Hue Jackson told reporters. "That is just the truth. That is not something that is out of the ordinary. In order to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, you have to slow Ben down. That is the only way to slow him down is by getting him on the ground." Cleveland will have a tough time doing that without Garrett, who went down with a high ankle sprain in practice on Wednesday and will miss the game. The Steelers will test the Garrett-less defense with a healthy dose of Bell, who is expected to assume a full workload in Week 1 despite sitting out most of camp.
Panthers at 49ers
The Carolina Panthers suffered a bit of a Super Bowl hangover a year ago, winning only six times a season after losing in the championship game. The Panthers hope to return to the role of NFC title contenders when they travel to face the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener on Sunday.
The Panthers return to Levi's Stadium for the first time since losing to Denver in Super Bowl 50. To return to championship contention, Carolina needs quarterback Cam Newton to get back to the MVP form he showed in 2015. The game marks the head-coaching debut of San Francisco's Kyle Shanahan, who spent the last nine years as an offensive coordinator and guided Atlanta's league-leading offense last season. The Panthers have won four straight against the 49ers, including a 46-27 home victory last season.
Chargers at Broncos
The firsts go way beyond Monday night's season-opening meeting between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers are kicking off a new era as they play their first meaningful game since moving in the offseason from their longtime San Diego home.
In addition, Vance Joseph of the Broncos and Anthony Lynn of the Chargers are making their head coaching debuts in a game that marks the first time two African American head coaches have faced each other in their inaugural game.
The Chargers' Antonio Gates, in his 15th season, enters the opener tied with Tony Gonzalez for most touchdown catches in NFL history by a tight end (111). With his next scoring catch, Gates would also rank sixth all-time behind Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison.
For the Broncos, Trevor Siemian returns for his second season as the team's starting quarterback after beating out second-year pro Paxton Lynch in training camp. Lynch suffered a right shoulder injury during an exhibition game against Green Bay on Aug. 26 and remains sidelined indefinitely.