|Running back Rashad Jennings, not Maurice Jones-Drew, is expected to get most of the carries against the Vikings on Sunday. (US Presswire)|
Jaguars vs. Vikings -- Week 1
Where: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis (turf, indoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Spread: Vikings by 4
2011 records – Vikings (3-13); Jaguars (5-11)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 23, 2008: Vikings 30, Jaguars 12; November 28, 2004: Vikings 27, Jaguars 16. Series record: Vikings hold a 3-1 edge.
What matters: The Jaguars get their first real chance to start rebounding from last year’s 5-11 season. After having the worst passing offense in the league in 2011, the front office set out to revamp the roster to have a more pass-friendly attack. Free-agent WR Laurent Robinson was brought in from the Cowboys, and the Jaguars moved up in the draft to take WR Justin Blackmon with the No. 5 overall pick. They need somebody to get them the ball. That will be the task of second-year QB Blaine Gabbert, who looked improved in the preseason after an inconsistent rookie season.
Who matters: After missing all of training camp, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ended his contract holdout last Sunday, and he will be active Sunday. He won’t start, though. That honor belongs to RB Rashad Jennings, who earned it with several strong preseason games. Coach Mike Mularkey has said that Jones-Drew will be used like a third-down back, but it will be interesting to see if they leave the franchise’s all-time leading rusher on the bench if the game comes down to the wire.
Key matchups: If the Jaguars want to revamp their passing game, Gabbert will have to have time. That’s a tall order against the Vikings, who led the NFL in sacks in 2011. Vikings DE Jared Allen facing off against Jaguars LT Eugene Monroe will be the matchup to watch on the line. Allen led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2011. Monroe might need his best game of the season to keep the feared pass rusher off the stat sheet.
Injuries of note: OLB Daryl Smith (groin) has been ruled out. Third-year LB Kyle Bosworth is expected to start in his place. CB Derek Cox (hamstring) is doubtful and will be replaced by CB William Middleton. Although he’s been limited in practice, G Uche Nwaneri (ankle) will likely start Sunday. Depth at DE will also be a concern. Andre Branch, Jeremy Mincey and Aaron Morgan are the only thee healthy DEs for this game.
Inside stuff: Robinson and Blackmon will get most of the attention at WR, but don’t forget about Mike Thomas, the Jaguars' leading receiver in 2011. He made several big plays in the preseason, and he might find some spaces in the defense if the Vikings focus too much on the others.
Connections: No players have switched sidelines recently, but Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey did play for the Vikings from 1983-88.
Stat you should know: The Jaguars gave up the eighth-most sacks in the NFL in 2011 (44), and they allowed their QB to be hit 76 times. The Vikings will certainly be aware of that.
Looking ahead: Dropping a road game to an NFC foe wouldn’t be catastrophic for the Jaguars. Still, the Texans, a team many consider to be the favorite in the AFC South, come to town next week, so the Jaguars don’t want to start digging too big of an early hole.
Prediction: Vikings 28, Jaguars 24
For more Jaguars news and analysis, follow Daniel Lewis @CBSSportsNFLJAC