MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-7-1)
New faces: C Garrett Bradbury, RG Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison, P/K Kaare Vedvik, LS Austin Cutting, WR Jordan Taylor, assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak.
Key losses: DT Sheldon Richardson, RB Latavius Murray, DT Tom Johnson, RG Mike Remmers, LG Tom Compton, PR Marcus Sherels, LS Kevin McDermott, SS Andrew Sendejo, WR Aldrick Robinson.
Strengths: Defense, entering sixth season in coach Mike Zimmer's aggressive, effective scheme, remains as reliable as there is in league. Vikings ranked fourth in NFL in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed last year, and front office managed to bring almost entire band back, losing only Richardson from starting lineup. DE Everson Griffen, NT Linval Joseph and FS Harrison Smith are now 30-plus, but Smith in particular remains one of best in game at his position. LB Anthony Barr changed mind after verbal agreement to join New York Jets, keeping solid duo with Eric Kendricks in middle of defense intact. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs comprise one of best WR tandems.
Weaknesses: Offensive line, again, is concern until proven otherwise. Though QB Kirk Cousins made his share of mistakes in first season in Minnesota, he was often under duress. Run blocking was an even bigger problem last year, as Vikings finished with third-fewest rushing yards in NFL. Bradbury will be asked to anchor group as rookie, with Pat Elflein moving to LG and Kline sliding in to his right. Kicking game continues to be in flux, with surprise acquisition of Vedvik likely to push P Matt Wile out or, perhaps, K Dan Bailey.
Fantasy Player To Watch: TE Kyle Rudolph. With Thielen and Diggs bound to draw most of attention from opposing defenses, and recent admission by Cousins that he didn't throw to Rudolph enough last year, longest-tenured offensive player on team remains ever important in new scheme designed by Kubiak under direction of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Rudolph, who hasn't missed game in five years and is still just 29, had 634 receiving yards last season, second-highest total of career.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl, 27-1. Over/under wins, 9.
Expectations: After stumbling underneath weight of Super Bowl goal following NFC championship game appearance and signing of Cousins to fully guaranteed contract, Vikings enter 2019 with less buzz — exactly how Zimmer wants it. Still, team has as many individual stars as any in league, and Zimmer has just one playoff win in five years. Pressure remains on him and GM Rick Spielman to help guide Vikings to deep playoff run before window for proud, fierce defense closes. Committing new money to Barr, Thielen and Rudolph, on top of megadeals doled out in 2018 to Cousins, Diggs, Kendricks and DE Danielle Hunter, has pushed team even harder against salary cap and further cemented aggressive approach to securing franchise's elusive first championship.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL