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Previewing Monday Night Football's doubleheader

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This time around, the NFL saved its best for last.

Monday night's nationally televised double-header offers a pair of season-opening tilts thick with intrigue.

For starters, Adrian Peterson -- now a member of the Saints -- will head back to Minnesota for a showdown with his former Vikings teammates.

Once that wraps, fans will get a late-night look at a fascinating AFC West bout between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos.

Sunday's action offered just three games decided by eight-or-fewer points -- the fewest in Week 1 since 1973 -- but Monday night has the potential to deliver a pair of gems.

Here's what we'll be watching for:

Saints at Vikings, 7:10 p.m. ET, ESPN


1. Expect the Saints to give Peterson a chance to make his mark right away. Facing the team he starred with for a full decade, the 32-year-old running back was largely kept tucked away all summer. We saw the Saints replace Peterson with Mark Ingram near the goal-line during preseason fare, but both backs should see their share of carries against a Vikings team that finished 20th against the run last autumn. The X-factor for New Orleans remains rookie runner Alvin Kamara, who has a shot to steal the show after a headline-grabbing dose of work in August. The third-rounder runs with explosion and power while doubling as a dangerous asset on passing downs.

2. Minnesota has a rookie back of their own -- Dalvin Cook -- headed for a monster workload out of the gate. The first-rounder has emerged as an every-down player for the Vikings, one who will test an improving Saints defense with his ability to run inside and also hit the edges as a receiver in space. New Orleans struggled last season to shut down pass-catching backs, giving Vikings signal-caller Sam Bradford an attractive target to work with all evening. Behind Cook, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Latavius Murray figures to see a handful of carries near the goal-line.

3. Drew Brees remains a threat to pass for major numbers in a Saints attack featuring Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn and Brandon Coleman, who earned consistent praise from coach Sean Payton during the summer. New Orleans must find a way to mask over the loss of suspended receiver Willie Snead, which could mean a bigger workload for Coleman, slot-man Tommylee Lewis and tight end Coby Fleener. This collection of targets will battle a Mike Zimmer-coached secondary fronted by cornerback Xavier Rhodes and the up-and-down Trae Waynes. Traded-for cover man Tramaine Brock is questionable with a thigh injury.

4. Stretching back half a decade, the Saints and their high-octane offense have been sabotaged by an asleep-at-the-wheel defense that kept this team from its true potential. New Orleans finished dead last in total yardage allowed and points surrendered in 2016, but preseason observers saw an improved bunch in August. The additions of A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o and rookie Alex Anzalone have overhauled a suddenly quick and efficient linebacking core that will be tasked with shutting down Cook. Versatile safety Kenny Vaccaro should see work in the slot covering Adam Thielen while rookie Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore will man the outside. The key to Monday's game, though, could boil down to Cameron Jordan and his fellow Saints pass rushers facing a Vikings offensive line that struggled all preseason. If Bradford can't shake free, the big story coming out of this game will be a New Orleans defense that finally looks ready to turn the corner.

Chargers at Broncos, 10:20 p.m. ET, ESPN


1. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers faces a grueling test out of the gate, taking his Bolts offense into Denver to face one of the league's grittiest secondaries. Look for star wideout Keenan Allen to primarily square off against Chris Harris, Jr., who earned the highest grade league-wide at his position last season from Pro Football Focus. Denver's defense -- just two years removed from Super Bowl glory -- marches into this game without released Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward; retired star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware; and former play-caller Wade Philips, now spinning his magic with the Rams. With Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby still entrenched as Broncos cover men, look for Rivers to lean on tight end Hunter Henry and his ground game to offset the menace of All-Pro pass-rusher Von Miller.

2. Considering the matchup with Denver's ultra-thorny secondary, Monday could mean big things for Melvin Gordon. The third-year running back is coming off an impressive 997-yard campaign and looms as the key to Anthony Lynn's offense. The first-year head coach has overseen nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons since 2003 and turned the Bills into the NFL's top rushing squad over the past two seasons in Buffalo. During that same span, the Chargers finished 31st in ground yards per game, 30th in rushing touchdowns and dead last in yards per carry. Los Angeles suffered a handful of key injuries along the offensive line, but look for the Bolts to strive for balance on offense come Monday night.

3. It's easy to forget that Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was undefeated as a starter with a 99.6 passer rating before injuring his left shoulder in Week 4 last season. That setback impacted his numbers down the stretch -- his completion percentage dropped a full 10 points -- before Siemian opted for offseason surgery. The Broncos starter still has Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to throw to against a Chargers secondary boasting Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. The key for Denver, though, is finding a way for its less-than-stellar O-line to hold up the fort against Melvin Ingram and terrifying second-year pass-rusher Joey Bosa.

4. Denver's ground game fizzled up last season after C.J. Anderson was lost in Week 7 with a torn meniscus. Coach Vance Joseph said during the summer that Denver's lead back was in the best shape of his career, but it's anyone's guess which Anderson you'll get from year to year. He's ticketed for a large workload against the Bolts, but Jamaal Charles should also see a handful of snaps against a Chargers defense that finished a respectable 10th against the run in 2016. After last year's Broncos became just one of six teams over the past decade to miss the playoffs despite a top-five scoring defense, it's on Siemian, Anderson and Denver's collection of blockers to pick up the slack.

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