The New Orleans Saints have made it through the wild card round, defeating the Panthers 31-26. Now the Saints have a road matchup this weekend against the #2 seed Minnesota Vikings. The Saints and Vikings played once this season in Week 1. The Vikings won that contest 29-19, but both teams have very different teams now. They divisional game is slated for this Sunday at 4:40 ET broadcasted on FOX.
In the first game of the season, the Vikings won in a showdown between kickers. There were a total of seven field goals made between the two kickers. The Saints also were held to 60 rushing yards among running backs Alvin Kamara, Adrian Peterson, and Mark Ingram. Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford had three touchdowns and 346 passing yards in the game along with running back Dalvin Cook getting 127 rushing yards. Between Weeks 4 and 5, both Bradford and Cook suffered injuries that would end their season. But that did not end the season of the Vikings.
Quarterback Case Keenum stepped into the void Bradford left after being injured and rose to the occasion. Through the regular season, Keenum finished with over 3,500 passing yards and 22 passing touchdowns. His main target has been wide receiver Adam Thielen, who finished in the top ten in receiving yards in the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl. To replace Cook, the Vikings have had running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combining for over 1,300 rushing yards.
The Vikings have evolved in the past two seasons into one of the best defenses in the league. They rank second overall in both rushing and passing yards allowed. That combined puts them as the top defense in terms of total yards allowed. They are led in the secondary by safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Both of them were named All-Pro, helping the defense lead the league in points allowed with 15.8. The front seven also features Pro Bowl selections in linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Everson Griffen. The Vikings hold the most defensive Pro Bowl selections in the league.
The Saints have changed, as well, since their matchup with the Vikings in Week 1. A few weeks after playing against his former team, Adrian Peterson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. And that helped Ingram and Kamara become arguably the best one-two punch rushing game in the NFL. And the defense has improved after allowing 29 points against the Vikings. The Saints finished ranked in the top in the NFL by allowing only 20 points per game. And hold one of the best turnover margin with 20 total interceptions from the defense.
This game will come down to turnovers and drive efficiency. While the Saints have one of the best turnover margins, the Vikings are ranked 23rd in turnover margin with only 14 interceptions and five fumbles recovered. If the Saints can force turnovers and get good field position for quarterback Drew Brees, they can put up a lot of points. The Vikings have the advantage in both third down and redzone efficiency, ranking in the top ten in both categories. Even though both teams have good defenses, it could end up being a high scoring matchup with the winner being who has the ball last. And I trust Brees to win in clutch situations more than Keenum.