For the Minnesota Vikings, this could be one of the most satisfying postseasons ever. Never mind the fact that they have a very real chance to play the Super Bowl in Minnesota – which would be the first time a team has played in the Super Bowl at home – there’s a chance they’ll play against the two teams responsible for the most heartbreaking losses in their franchise’s history: the Saints and the Falcons.
The Falcons, of course, have to beat the Eagles to make that a reality, but all the Vikings can do is handle their own business.
The Saints are coming into this game with a chip on their shoulder. The team just completed a three-game season sweep of the Panthers in the wild-card round, and they’re trying to get past a team that crushed them in nearly every aspect of the game in Week 1. However, these two teams are very different from when they started this season.
The Saints have adopted a ground game that is one of the most consistent in the NFL. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara produce a dual threat that is possibly rivaled by only Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta. When these two teams played before, the Saints were still forcing carries to Adrian Peterson, and had no idea of the diamond in the rough that they found in Kamara. He’s added a new dimension to the Saints’ offense. And if that doesn’t work? Do what the Saints did Sunday and let Drew Brees air it out. He’s still a Hall of Fame quarterback, and with Ted Ginn having a resurgence and Michael Thomas standing among the best receivers in football, stopping the offense is a tall order.
If any team can do so, however, it’s the Vikings’ defense. Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith anchor a defensive unit that is dominant at all three levels, and one that has absolutely stymied teams throughout the season. That, combined with the sound level at U.S. Bank Stadium, makes for one of the toughest challenges that the Saints (or any team) has had to deal with this year. Going from the friendly confines of the Superdome against a divisional opponent to a hostile stadium that, frankly, still hates the Saints for 2009 is going to make operating very difficult for the offense. The Vikings were the best in the league in total defense this season, and the Saints will have to find a way to be an exception.
How to watch Saints vs Vikings Online
Date: Sunday, Jan. 14
Time: 4:40 p.m. ET
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium — Minneapolis, Minnesota
Channel: Fox (check local listings)
Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Can the Saints’ defense slow down Case Keenum?
It’s time to stop viewing this as a silly question for Vikings opponents. Case Keenum has had an excellent season since Sam Bradford got hurt, and his mobility has only added a new dimension to the offense. The Saints have struggled with scrambling quarterbacks, often seeming to forget about containment, and they were shredded by Bradford earlier in the year. With weapons like Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, not to mention red-zone mismatches like Kyle Rudolph, the Saints will have to do a lot of work to try and cover everyone. Marshon Lattimore is only one player, and it’s a big ask of Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams to trail Vikings players from the slot. The Saints hate playing zone this year, but they may have to at least go hybrid in this game.
However, the defense isn’t scared. Star defensive end Cameron Jordan was not shy talking about how he wanted to play the Vikings.
“I want to destroy them just the same,” Jordan told the Associated Press on Thursday. “There’s going to be an offensive line that I want to destroy. There’s going to be a running back I want to destroy. There’s going to be a quarterback that I have to destroy.” It’s that mentality that has propelled Jordan to being one of the most disruptive forces in the league, amassing 13 sacks. While the end position opposite Jordan has been in flux since an injury to Alex Okafor, Jordan has been an anchor.
“He’s had a great career, great year, and it’s going to be a tough battle,” the Vikings’ Mike Remmers told the AP. “The first thing that we’d like to do is just block him. … He’s just fast, physical, just a smart player. He’s really got a little bit of everything.” Jordan will be the X-factor for the Saints. If he can pressure and contain Keenum, this game could look very different for the Saints from their Week 1 matchup.
Who wins: Drew Brees or a defense of All-Stars?
No offense to the Saints’ defense or the Vikings’ offense, but this is the matchup people are tuning in to see. An elite defense against a heavyweight offense. The Saints running game sputtered against the Panthers, with Kamara and Ingram picking up only 23 and 22 yards on the ground, respectively, but they compensated by letting Brees let it rip. Brees had one of his best games of the season, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns, with his only interception coming on a 4th-and-two that benefited the Saints more than it hurt them.
The Vikings’ defense, however, is built differently from the Panthers. Harrison Smith has the capacity to shut down a vertical attack almost singlehandedly, and Xavier Rhodes will likely be shadowing Michael Thomas. If the running game isn’t able to get it going in this game, the Saints’ chances of beating a team like the Vikings are next to none.
On the Saints’ offense, the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer was his usual blunt self.
“Sean [Payton] has run this offense for a long time and Drew Brees has been there for a long time so a lot of that stuff’s very similar,” Zimmer said on a conference call. “Obviously, [Alvin] Kamara’s been a factor. But you are talking 16 weeks ago, there are a lot of things that change time and time and Sean has a huge playbook and he runs different plays and he probably finds plays he likes best with the particular group that he has and that is what good coaches do.”
For Saints head coach Sean Payton, obviously the key is the pass rush.
“Number one, you’re getting a real good pass rush so the time to throw is quicker,” Payton said Wednesday, via 247sports. “Number two, you have an extremely talented back end, the corners as well as the safeties. Then I would say a pressure package that causes you problems with linebackers up in the A-gaps, slot pressure, strong safety blitz. You start factoring those things in and then you take a good scheme with real good players, great players, and then you end up with the No. 1 defense in the league.”
So who comes out on top?
This game is a straight up coin flip. It’s two of the best teams in the league right now, and the winner will probably be favored to go on to the Super Bowl regardless of who they play. However, they have to survive each other first. Of our eight experts at CBS, six expect the Saints to come out on top. If the favored Falcons beat the Eagles, that would make for an all-NFC South NFC Championship Game, the Saints’ second NFC South playoff match-up in three weeks.