The week has finally arrived. The Minnesota Vikings and the rest of the NFL finally begin the 2021 regular season this week, kicking off the new format of a 17-game regular season that concludes in early January. Minnesota’s journey to trying to have a bounce-back season this year begins at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. The Vikings enter the season with hopes of returning to the playoffs after failing to do so in 2020, with Week 1 against the Bengals being the first step in accomplishing that goal. Going into the game, Minnesota should be viewed as favorites to come away with a road victory, and it will be important for the purple and gold to start the year strong. There are few different keys to victory for Minnesota in Week 1, including the offense taking advantage of opportunities and the defense setting a tone early against a Bengals offense that features a rough offensive line. But one of the biggest keys specifically will be Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook.
Dalvin Cook Will Be Key to Minnesota Vikings Week 1 Win
Cook has been and will continue to be an important aspect to Minnesota’s offense, which also features the likes of quarterback Kirk Cousins and the wide receiving duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen that counters the running attack with the threat of a passing game. Right out of the gate to begin the new year, Cook will have an opportunity to set the tone for the Vikings offense against a Bengals defense that ranked one of the worst in the league last season.
Bengals Rush Defense
The first reason Cook could be poised for a big day and will be a key for Minnesota is the Bengals run defense, which will likely continue to struggle at least in the early weeks of the 2021 campaign. The Bengals rushing defense gave up 2,368 total yards (fourth-worst in NFL) on 463 rush attempts (8th most) in 2020, giving up 5.1 yards per carry (2nd worst) and 13 touchdowns to opposing offenses on the ground.
Vikings Ground Attack
On the other side of things, the Vikings run game was one of the best in the league last season and Cook will continue to be the focal point of the offense in 2021. During the 2020 season, Minnesota ran the ball 468 times (eighth-most in NFL) for 2,283 yards (fifth-most) and averaged 4.9 yards a carry (fourth-most), and found the endzone via the ground game 20 times (tied for sixth-most).
Cook’s 2020 Season
Cook himself finished with a solid year in 2020 en route to his second straight Pro Bowl selection, finishing his fourth season in the league with career-high totals of 1,557 rushing yards, 312 carries, and 16 touchdowns. He also averaged career-best marks of five yards per carry and 111.2 rushing yards per game. He finished second in the NFL in rushing yards, rushing attempts, and rushing touchdowns, trailing only Derrick Henry in all three categories.
The Vikings run game led by its star running back will be key all season long, as long as Cook is able to stay healthy as he did basically for the first time in his career in 2020. But right away in Week 1 on Sunday on the road in Cincinnati, Cook is one of the biggest keys to Minnesota starting the year off strong and coming away with a win.