Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, and Calvin Johnson nearly reached that same mark as a receiver.
Even in the quarterback-driven NFL, their remarkable performances stood out.
"A.P.'s the man. What he does, all the carries he gets, he doesn't really take punishment, he dishes it out," Johnson said. "That's one way of keeping yourself in the game and staying healthy. That's a grown man back there. Much respect to him and what he does. I just hope he doesn't do it against us."
Johnson and Peterson will resume trying to top each other when the Detroit Lions host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Johnson set a record last season with 1,964 yards receiving, but that didn't even get him serious mention in the Most Valuable Player discussion. Peterson won the award over Peyton Manning after rushing for 2,097 yards and leading Minnesota to the playoffs.
The Lions dropped their final eight games and finished 4-12. So while the Vikings try to prove last year wasn't a fluke, Detroit hopes to return to the playoffs after making it two seasons ago for the first time in a dozen years.
Here are five things to watch in this early NFC North matchup:
QUARTERBACK CLASH: Although Peterson and Johnson are the main attractions, quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Christian Ponder will be under the microscope. Stafford has thrown for more than 10,000 yards over the last two seasons, but he's still facing questions around Detroit about whether he can win consistently against top competition.
Ponder, meanwhile, enters his second full season as Minnesota's starter. He missed the team's playoff game last season because of an elbow injury.
"By the time we got to our offseason program, he was well past that," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "There were no residual effects, so maybe a few weeks after the season ended, he was moving along and moving well. But no, there are no long-term effects. He's raring to go."
Ponder will no longer have Percy Harvin to throw to after the multi-talented wide receiver was traded to Seattle.
BIG DEBUTS: The Lions hope newly acquired running back Reggie Bush can boost a rushing game that added little balance to the offense last season.
"I think this team is right where it needs to be," Bush said. "I think the first thing you want to have on a team is guys that want to be here — the guys that aren't just showing up for a check. … We have a lot of hard workers on this team. Our playmakers are some of the hardest workers on the team, and I think that's important."
The Vikings signed wide receiver Greg Jennings, who played seven seasons for division rival Green Bay. He's been limited by abdominal and knee problems the last couple years.
BLOCKING ALLEN: Detroit lost tackles Jeff Backus (to retirement) and Gosder Cherilus (via free agency) — so the offensive line looks a bit different now. The first test is a big one: slowing Minnesota pass-rushing star Jared Allen.
Tackle Riley Reiff, a first-round draft pick in 2012, will play a bigger role this year, stepping into Backus' spot at left tackle.
Allen has an NFL-best 117 sacks since entering the league in 2004.
MINNESOTA'S SECONDARY: The Vikings did a good job of containing Johnson in the first meeting with Detroit last season. Then in November, the Detroit star caught 12 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown in the rematch.
The Vikings let defensive back Antoine Winfield go, and it's now up to cornerbacks Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes to pick up the slack.
ANSAH'S STATUS: Detroit drafted defensive end Ziggy Ansah with the fifth overall pick. The Lions could use an immediate contribution from him after the team parted ways with defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Ansah's health is already a concern. He didn't travel to the team's last preseason game, and the Lions finally acknowledged that he's been recovering from a concussion.
He was able to participate in drills at the start of Thursday's practice.
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Vikings vs. Lions: Five things to watch
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