Titans host Vikings to open season

The Titans open the regular NFL football season this weekend by hosting the defending NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings. The Titans bring a three-game winning streak into opening day, and as a franchise are 30-26 all-time in Week 1. This is their first regular season opener at home since 2012. In 2013, they went to Pittsburgh in Week 1 and won, followed by opening day victories at Kansas City in 2014, and at Tampa Bay in 2015 in Marcus Mariota’s stunning and memorable professional debut.

The Titans and Vikings have met only 12 times in the regular season, including one previous opener when they were the Houston Oilers in 1989. The Vikings won that contest at home and lead the all-time series 8-4. Fans attending the game are encouraged to participate in the LP PENCIL Box School Supply Drive. Collection locations will be positioned outside of Nissan Stadium to collect donated items, the most needed of which are pencil boxes, paper towels, backpacks, construction paper, notebook paper, art supplies, primary tablets, Kleenex and classroom cleaning supplies for needy students.

After finishing the preseason with a 3-1 record, the Titans begin the regular season for the first time under general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey, in his 31st season in the NFL (nine as a player and 22 as a coach), served as the interim head coach for the final nine games of 2015 before being named full-time in January.

The Titans roster is significantly different from the one Mularkey and Robinson inherited last season. At press time, 22 of the 53 players on the current active roster were not on it in 2015 (a turnover rate of 41.5 percent). Among the new players are right tackle Jack Conklin, the eighth-overall draft choice and the first of nine 2016 draft picks who remain on the active roster; running backs DeMarco Murray (aquired in a trade) and Derrick Henry (one of three second-round picks); center Ben Jones (free agent); wide receivers Rishard Matthews (free agent), Andre Johnson (free agent) and Tajae Sharpe (fifth-round draft pick); and safety Rashad Johnson (free agent).

The Titans return two Pro Bowl standouts from 2015 in tight end Delanie Walker and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota enters his second NFL season. The 2015 first-round pick broke virtually every rookie passing record for the franchise, and his 91.5 passer rating is surpassed in franchise annals by only Steve McNair in his MVP season of 2003 (100.4) and Hall of Famer Warren Moon in 1990 (96.8). Mariota’s 62.2 completion percentage not only set the franchise rookie record but also qualified as the fifth-highest rookie percentage in NFL history.

The Vikings went 4-0 during the 2016 preseason, and won the NFC North in 2015, Mike Zimmer’s second year as head coach. In their first playoff appearance since 2009, they were defeated 10-9 at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks during the Wild Card Round last season. The Vikings are without one of their main protagonists this week and for the entire 2016 campaign. Their emerging superstar third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sidelined with a knee injury on Aug. 30 and placed on injured reserve.

The Vikings pulled off a major trade Sept. 3 to acquire veteran Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings sent the Eagles a 2017 first-round draft pick plus a conditional pick in 2018 for the rights to Bradford, a former first-overall draft pick entering his seventh season. Bradford has passed for 14,790 career yards and 78 touchdowns in 63 games. He joins 15th-year veteran Shaun Hill as the two active quarterbacks on the roster.

Bradford was drafted by the St. Louis Rams with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He played college football at Oklahoma and as a redshirt sophomore Bradford became only the second sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. In 2010, his first season in the NFL, Bradford set the record for most completions by a rookie in NFL history, which helped earn him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He has also played for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Vikings possess one of the most feared rushing attacks in the NFL, courtesy of Adrian Peterson. Since entering the league in 2007, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound tailback has rushed for 11,675 yards and 97 touchdowns. His career average of 4.90 yards per carry ranks fourth in NFL history. Kickoff at Nissan Stadium is scheduled for noon CDT on Sunday, Sept. 11, and, as an NFC road game, can be seen locally on WZTV- Fox 17.