After a long-awaited 2 weeks, the wait is finally over. Here we are…the playoffs! Your Minnesota Vikings are hosting the New Orleans Saints in a rematch dating all the way back to the very first week of the season. This game will consist of elite matchups across the board. Let me lay a few of them out for you.

QB Drew Brees vs. the #1 defense in the league.

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WR Michael Thomas vs. CB Xavier Rhodes

WR Ted Ginn Jr. vs. CB Trae Waynes

RBs Mark Ingram & Alvin Kamara vs. LBs Eric Kendricks & Anthony Barr

LT Terron Armstead vs. DE Everson Griffen

CB Marshon Lattimore vs. WR Stefon Diggs & WR Adam Thielen

DE Cameron Jordan vs. LT Riley Reiff

These are just a few of the biggest standouts in my opinion. These teams match up perfectly with each other and it promises to be a game full of fireworks. The Saints are coming off a narrow escape against division-rival Carolina Panthers by a score of 31-26. A game in which future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees shined. Throwing for nearly 400 yards through the air, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.2. So how do Mike Zimmer and his team ensure Drew Brees doesn’t do this again?

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Defend the Two-Headed Monster: For years the New Orleans Saints offense has run through quarterback Drew Brees. Posting incredible numbers through the air year after year. Brees is now on the back half of his career and the Saints have begun to search for a new breath of fresh air. Enter…rookie running back Alvin Kamara. What’s interesting about Alvin Kamara is that he barely touched the field the last time the Vikings met. Seeing just 11 touches for a total of 38 yards in a game in which Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram were the feature backs. It wasn’t long thereafter that Adrian Peterson was traded away to the Cardinals and Alvin Kamara became the hot name in the state of Louisiana. He poses a threat to defenses across the league because the Saints like to line him up all over the field and find matchups with linebackers and safeties that they know he can win. Even the plays he isn’t involved in; he still draws an impact. He’ll start a play lined up in the shotgun next to Brees and the Saints will motion him out wide in hopes of drawing a key defender along with him. Kamara serves as an obvious threat but go ahead and throw in Mark Ingram on top of that who’s a terrific runner in between the tackles and extremely serviceable in the passing game as a receiver and blocker. The New Orleans offense will run a bit differently from the last meeting we had with them. I expect Anthony Barr to be matched up with Alvin Kamara for a majority of the game and Zimmer will do what he can to take away Kamara and make Drew Brees beat them with his arm. Sounds simple enough, right? Not. Even at age 39. Mr. Brees can still sling it and beat teams by himself he has to.
  2. Take Care of the Football: I know it’s a cliche statement, but let’s be honest… turnovers are what prevented the 2009 Vikings from beating the Saints and heading to the Super Bowl. This is Case Keenum’s first career playoff game as a starter and it’s not uncommon for a first-time playoff quarterback to have some nerves and stomach butterflies. Pat Shurmur will stress to Keenum that he must take care of the football. The Vikings can’t afford to give an offense like the Saints a short field. Keenum needs to take what the defense gives him and trust in his arm. He’s made plays all year and this week will be no different. He has the weaponry in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Jerick McKinnon, and Latavius Murray. Those guys will help him along the way and make plays for the team. All he has to do is get the ball in their hands. You don’t have to be superman to get to the next round. Do your job and don’t try to do more than what’s asked of you.
  3. Force Brees Out of the Pocket: According to “NFL Matchups” Saints quarterback Drew Brees was near the bottom half of the league in QB rating when he was forced out of the pocket this season. The Saints have arguably the best offensive line in football so Brees isn’t forced to leave the pocket very often but when he does his accuracy becomes sporadic and his decision-making becomes flawed. Mike Zimmer is one of, if not the best defensive coach in football. There’s no doubt in my mind he knows this from watching film and he’ll do what he can from a play-calling standpoint to get Brees flushed out of the pocket. Putting pressure on the quarterback is always a vital part in any game, but it’s even more critical when you’re playing against a future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees.
Vikings WR Stefon Diggs hauls in a touchdown pass against the Saints in week 1. (Photo Courtesy: Andy Kenutis)

New Orleans Saints Offensive & Defensive Ranks

Total Offense: 2nd (391 YPG)                                                      Total Defense: 17th

Passing: 5th (262 YPG)                                                                 Pass Defense: 15th

Rushing: 5th (129 YPG)                                                                Rush Defense: 16th

Offensive Line: 2nd                                                                               Pass Rush: 9th

New Orleans Saints Offense
New Orleans Saints Defense
Photo Courtesy: Andy Kenutis

Scouting the Opponent with John Hendrix

John is the managing editor for the “Canal St. Chronicles” of SB Nation. For Saints news, updates, and info you can follow John on Twitter at —> @JohnJHendrix.

1. Stefon Diggs was the guy that went off in week 1, but since then Adam Thielen seems to be the wide receiver that has had a bigger impact on the Vikings season. Should we expect rookie stud cornerback Marshon Lattimore to shadow one of these guys during the game? Or will he stay put to one side of the field? “It wouldn’t shock me to see the Saints run Marshon Lattimore on one particular receiver, whether that’s Thielen or Diggs. He goes up against the best, and he should draw the best. In my onion, that has to be Thielen right now. Ken Crawley, who didn’t play in the season opener, should likely draw the other receiver.”

2. What do the Saints need to do differently this week that they didn’t do back in the first meeting between these two teams? “They’re going to have to be better in two areas. Third down conversion rate (4-of-11), which is something that has been a big issue all season, and then red zone efficiency (1-of-5). They were able to move the ball on the Vikings in the Week 1 matchup, but they weren’t able to finish. It’s going to rely on Drew Brees and Sean Payton ensuring they have a perfect game plan to counter for a stellar defense.”

3. Do you believe the Saints need to have success on the ground with Kamara and Ingram in order to secure a victory in this game? “The Panthers figured they’d bring more 5-man fronts and other looks to the table to prevent the Saints from getting some success on the ground, daring Drew Brees to beat them. Well, that didn’t exactly work. I believe it’s important to get these two going, whether it’s running the ball or in the passing game. Only 60 rushing yards on the ground collectively for the Saints in the first meeting, and it’s a tall order seeing them light up the Vikes run defense.”

4. Give me one matchup you are looking forward to watching in this game. “Senio Kelemete filling in for Andrus Peat at left guard. In general, the left side of the Saints’ offensive line. They didn’t have Terron Armstead in the first meeting, kicking rookie Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle. Their entire offensive line looks completely different than Week 1, with only Larry Warford and Max Unger as the real returning presences at right guard and center. How they handle the Vikings front seven will obviously be a focal point of this Sunday.”

5. Give me one Vikings prediction, one Saints prediction, and a final score prediction.

John’s Vikings Prediction: “The Vikings take the pressure off of Case Keenum by replicating what Sam Bradford was able to do in the first meeting. Get him to get the ball out early and often, and frequently target Kyle Rudolph. They exploit that weakness on the Saints defense without Kenny Vaccaro.”

John’s Saints Prediction: “With WR Brandon Coleman out this game due to injury, the Saints will need Willie Snead to step up to the plate. He hasn’t at all this year, but that changes this Sunday.”

John’s Final Score Prediction: “The Saints will give the Vikings their best on Sunday, as they’ve had a very good run this season, surpassing many expectations in the process. They haven’t won a divisional playoff game on the road as they are 2-3 in franchise history. The Vikings are the team to beat and I just don’t see New Orleans coming out on top here. Vikings-26 Saints-19

The Vikings defense gets the stop. (Photo Courtesy: Andy Kenutis)

Final Thoughts and Game Notes

The game will have the makings of an NFC Championship game in the second round of the playoffs. The media, the fans, and the players have been hyping this matchup for a week and it will not disappoint. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is coming to Minnesota looking to extend his legacy and Mike Zimmer’s Vikings are looking to become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

Look…the New Orleans Saints have arguably the best offense in all of football, but I honestly can’t see a team in the league coming into US Bank Stadium and scoring a lot of points against what is arguably the best defense in all of football. The fans are going to be loud and the defense is going to be amped. If Case Keenum and the Vikings offense can take care of the football and score at least 2 or 3 times, there is no reason the Vikings shouldn’t win this game. But as we all know, we are Vikings fans…and crazier things have happened to us before.

My Vikings Prediction: Adam Thielen: 9 catches, 115 yards, and a touchdown.

My Saints Prediction: Will Lutz: 4 Field Goals

My Final Score Prediction: Vikings-26 Saints-19 (No, John and I did not plan this.)

  • Drew Brees‘ career playoff stats on the road:
    • 10 Touchdowns
    • 5 Interceptions
    • 356 yards per game
    • 86.8 QB Rating
    • Record: 1-4
  • The Vikings will see 3 familiar faces this weekend: LBs Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, and FB Zach Line have all spent time in Minnesota with the team.
  • Sunday marks Vikings QB Case Keenum‘s first career playoff start.
  • The Vikings lost a heartbreaker to the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship in New Orleans.
  • Vikings defeated the Saints back in Week 1 by a score of 29-19.
  • Vikings Center Pat Elflein is back this week after sitting out the regular season finale 2 weeks ago with a shoulder injury.
  • Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has been calling defenses since 2000. He has never been on a team that’s won a playoff game.
  • The New Orleans Saints are 0-3 all-time in the Divisional round of the playoffs on the road.
  • The Vikings have played a total of 3 games against the Saints in the playoffs. They are 2-1 all-time. 1-0 in Minnesota.
    • 1987 @ New Orleans: 44-10 (Win)
    • 2000 Minnesota: 34-16 (Win)
    • 2009 @ New Orleans: 31-28 (Loss-OT)

For all the latest Vikings news, stats, breakdowns, and analysis you can follow me on Twitter at @Purple_Post. #SKOL

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