Written by Cody Manning
Previous Matchup: It seems so long ago since the season kicked off in September. I’m sure that both teams feel the same way about their Monday Night Football matchup that kicked off their 2017 seasons. The Vikings beat the Saints 29–19, but were led by two players we won’t see this Sunday. Sam Bradford had 346 yards and 3 touchdowns while Dalvin Cook had 127 yards on the ground. One player we will see kicked off his career year that night — Adam Thielen, who posted nine catches for 157 yards. The Saints were a different team than they are right now. They were confused on how to use Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara, as the three of them only managed 60 total rushing yards. Drew Brees did his job as he finished with 291 yards and a touchdown. This time around, there will be no AP and the Saints have found their identity in their offense. Will things be different this time around for the Saints? We will find out this Sunday if their changes pay off.
Offense: The Vikings will be entering the game with underdogs at quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers. I call them underdogs because Case Keenum and Adam Thielen were undrafted, and Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, and Stefon Diggs were all drafted after the 2nd round of the draft. Kyle Rudolph was their only 1st round pick that we will see out of their skill positions on offense. Minnesota is balanced on offense, where they are in the top half of the league averaging 356.9 YPG, 234.6 in the air, and 122.3 on the ground.
Minnesota will have their hands full on defense when they face the Saints offense this time around. New Orleans has the 2nd best offense in the NFL, averaging 394.2 YPG. They are ranked 5th in both the pass and run. New Orleans will have to find a way to get their running game going against the Vikings stout run defense. Ingram and Kamara are going to have to play at their best if they want to move the ball up the field. Drew Brees will have to depend on his supporting cast, since his number one target, Michael Thomas, will be blanketed by Xavier Rhodes.
While the Vikings may have an easier road to having a better offensive day then the Saints, if it comes down to a shootout, my money would be on New Orleans. Not to take anything away from Case Keenum’s season that he is having, but this is playoff football. If I must choose an offense to lead me to victory, then give me the one that includes a Super Bowl winning quarterback, and one of the best running back tandems in the history of the NFL.
Defense: We are in store for a great matchup between New Orleans’ offense and the Minnesota defense. The Vikings have the best defense in the league, as opponents only averaged 275.9 YPG this season. They are ranked 2nd in both pass and run defense, so they are as balanced as possible Minnesota has playmakers on all levels of their defense. At any moment, players like Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Everson Griffen can change the game.
In their previous matchup, Minnesota put up 470 total yards on the Saints defense. Since then, New Orleans did tighten things up on their defense, which helped lead them to winning the NFC South. Even though their defense got better since week one, they still find themselves in the bottom half of the league in total defense. The Saints defense gave up an average of 336.5 YPG, ranking 15th in pass defense and 16th in run defense. They are going to have to find a way to force turnovers to help keep themselves in the game.
I don’t have to go into detail on why Minnesota has the defensive advantage in this matchup. They have enough talent in their front seven to help contain the deadly duo of Ingram and Kamara. Xavier Rhodes is a shutdown corner and held Michael Thomas to only two catches in the first matchup. Defense wins championships, and this win could get the job done.
Special Teams: I really don’t see which team has an advantage in this category. It’s a toss up between each kicker. I would go with either one if it came down to a game winning field goal. While the Saints have the name, Alvin Kamara in their return game, the Vikings also have a threat in Marcus Sherels who can take it to the house. I would be happy with either team’s special teams on my side.
Coaching: Each team has a great coach on their sideline that both led their team to winning their respective division. I feel like Mike Zimmer should be up for Coach of the Year after leading his team to win the division, and getting a 1st round bye despite losing his starting quarterback and running back. While he does have playoff experience, the other sideline has a Super Bowl winner in Sean Payton. Because of that, I will give the Saints the edge on this one.
Prediction: This is the matchup of the divisional weekend. We have the red-hot offense in New Orleans going against the best defense in the league. The Saints are going to have to play as perfect as they can on offense if they want to put up points against Minnesota. While I do think they will find the endzone a couple times, I don’t think it will be enough to beat the Vikings. I think Case Keenum will perform well in his first playoff game as he leads them to the NFC Conference Championship.
Vikings win 24–17