NFC Playoff Preview: Divisional Round

New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

Sunday, January 14 th , 4:40 PM EST.

If there’s a game that’s poised for high drama in this round of the playoffs, this is probably it.

The Saints are coming off of their third win over Carolina this season and boast the best rounded offense in football. The Vikings are the NFC’s number two seed, rested and ready for a showdown. They bring in the NFL’s best defense by almost any measure. The allowed the fewest yards and fewest points this season, and their offense has come a long way under Case Keenum as well. These teams met in week one, with Minnesota coming out on top 29-19.

New Orleans stumbled early, starting out 0-2. They suffered from a bit of an identity crisis, as Sean Payton struggled to put together the pieces that would eventually become one of the most dangerous offensive units in the league. With the emergence of rookie RB Alvin Kamara, and the subsequent trading of aging superstar Adrian Peterson, the Saints offense took shape. Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram formed a two-headed monster for Brees to play with, keeping defenses from doubling down against the pass as they had in previous seasons. Increasingly, the Saints have kept defenses guessing; and they are frequently guessing incorrectly. They’ll look to upend the Minnesota defense with an array of QB screens, play action passes and slants. Drew Brees is, after all, Drew Brees, so when he sees a matchup he likes, he’s going to test this young Vikings secondary. It will be up to them to make a play.

Minnesota’s dominance this season has come as a surprise for a lot of folks. After all, they lost their rookie phenom running back Dalvin Cook who was off to a blazing start, averaging 4.8 yards per carry until his injury in week four. The also lost backup QB Sam Bradford early as well. Franchise QB Tedy Bridgewater is finally healthy again, but for this season at least, this is third-stringer Case Keenum’s team. Keenum might not be the future of the Vikings, but he’s proven his value as a team leader. His touchdown-interception ratio is solid (22-7) as is his completion percentage (67.6) and yards per attempt (7.4). Unless he unravels under the postseason pressure, I think we’re unlikely to see Bridgewater’s number called. WR Adam
Thielen is quietly the league’s fifth best receiver, with over 1200 yards this season. Minnesota has one of the league’s most talked-about defenses, and rightly so, but this offense is nothing to sneeze at.

While I won’t go so far as to say that history is about to repeat itself, I do think that the Vikings are the class of the NFC. I see the Vikings winning this one in a close game and moving one step closer to playing the first ever home Super Bowl.

 

Tom Capo

 

Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.

 

 

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