NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-5)
at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-3)
NFC Divisional Playoffs — U.S. Bank Stadium – Minneapolis, MN
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Line: Minnesota -4.0, Total: 45.5
The Saints and the Vikings will battle for a spot in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Last week, New Orleans hosted a good Carolina team in the Wild Card playoffs. The Saints ended up coming away with a 31-26 victory as 6.5-point favorites, and they have now won three of their past four games heading into this one. The Vikings, meanwhile, are going to be feeling rested on Sunday. Minnesota’s 13-3 season earned the team a bye and home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. The Vikings would also have their home crowd on their side if they were to make the Super Bowl, as the game will also be in Minnesota this season. They were playing well heading into the postseason, as they had won three straight games. The Saints and Vikings met in Minnesota earlier in the season, so we do know a bit about how these teams match up with one another. Minnesota came away with the victory in that one, as they won 29-19 as three-point home favorites. The Vikings improved to 6-2 SU when hosting the Saints since 1992, and seven of those eight games went Over the total. One trend that favors New Orleans when looking at this game is the fact that the team is 12-3 ATS when revenging a loss versus an opponent over the past three seasons. The Vikings, however, are a ridiculous 9-0 ATS when coming off of a win over a division rival over the past three seasons. They’re also 15-4 ATS as a home favorite in that span.
The Saints rode the legs of RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for most of the regular season, but it was the arm of QB Drew Brees that earned them a win against the Panthers last week. In that game, Brees threw for 376 yards with two touchdowns and only one pick. He was making throws all over the field and it’s likely that he’ll need to do a lot of the same against Minnesota on Sunday. The Saints are obviously going to do everything they can to establish the running game in this one, but it’s just going to be extremely difficult against a Vikings defense that was nearly impossible to score on during the regular season. When the Saints met the Vikings in September, Brees was 27-for-37 for 291 yards, one touchdown and no picks. While he did not turn the ball over, Brees definitely left some yards on the field and the offense had trouble moving overall. Head coach Sean Payton is a very smart offensive mind, though. It wouldn’t be surprising if he can make some sound adjustments in order to help his offense get things going on Sunday. As for New Orleans’ defense, stopping the run will be important. The Saints don’t want to allow the Vikings to get short yardage situations on third downs, as that is exactly what Case Keenum wants. If New Orleans can force him to make tough throws and get some pressure on him then the team could come away with the win.
The Vikings have shocked a lot of people with their ability to win at such a high clip, but this team is just on another level defensively. Minnesota allowed only 15.8 points per game during the regular season, which was the lowest number in the entire league. The Vikings are capable of both stuffing the run and getting after it in the secondary. That is what made them such a tough matchup for the Saints the last time they met, and they’ll need to be similarly solid at both levels in this one. On offense, QB Case Keenum will need to play like the guy he was during the regular season. The Vikings have two very good backups in Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, so they won’t hesitate to pull Keenum if he starts off poorly. Keenum didn’t play against the Saints when the teams met during the regular season, but he is entering this game in pretty good form. In six of the final seven games of the year, he did not throw a single interception. His weapons include WR Stefon Diggs, TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Adam Thielen. Any of the three can come through with a big performance here. And RBs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray are more than capable of having productive days in the running game. McKinnon might also chip in as a receiver out of the backfield.