Though it’ll be the best game this weekend, the New Orleans Saints will beat the Minnesota Vikings to reach the NFC Championship. Here are five reasons why.
It’s divisional round weekend in the NFL playoffs. Only eight teams are left with Super Bowl LII aspirations. At this juncture, frankly all eight remaining fan bases can stake a claim that they can totally hoist the Lombardi Trophy at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4. Well, maybe not the Tennessee Titans, but we still have at least on more great game to be played in the Twin Cities between the No. 4 New Orleans Saints and the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings.
These two teams met back in Week 1 in Minneapolis. Minnesota was victorious behind the greatest game of Sam Bradford’s career. The Saints offense was in disarray, marred by a shouting match between former Vikings great running back Adrian Peterson and Saints head coach Sean Payton. Peterson would be traded to the Arizona Cardinals and the Saints turned out to be one of the best teams in the NFC post-trade.
Minnesota has won a ton of games with journeyman Case Keenum as their starting quarterback. Bradford went down with a knee injury after Week 1’s win over New Orleans. Former franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is still somewhat on the mend from his devastating preseason injury to his knee in 2016. Keenum has been a near Pro Bowl talent for this Vikings offense. He’s never played better ball professionally and reminds us of why he was so good for the Houston Cougars in college.
That being said, this might a one-and-done trip to the NFC playoffs for Minnesota. Though they are the higher seed and got a first-round bye, this matchup with the Saints is not in their favor. While we should expect this to be a one-score game, here are five reasons the Saints will win in Minneapolis and play in the NFC Championship next weekend.
This is a different Saints team since Week 1’s loss to the Vikings, period.
Though the Vikings may have beaten the Saints at home back in Week 1, that was Week 1 and this is a completely different Saints team from that early September meeting. New Orleans found itself against the division rival that they owned this year in the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte in Week 3 and never looked back. This might be the most balanced roster of the Sean Payton era, and that includes the Super Bowl team in 2009.
New Orleans is still outstanding on offense, but it has been the resurgent defense under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen that has made all the difference. Sure, the Saints drafted marvelously this past spring on the defensive side of the ball in getting high-impact rookies like Marshon Lattimore, Alex Anzalone and Trey Hendrickson. That being said, defensive end Cameron Jordan might be the best at what he does in the NFC. He is a perennial Pro Bowler having his best season in the pros.
In essence, the Vikings can’t look at the tape from Week 1 to extract anything of note on the Saints. That tape is meaningless to Mike Zimmer and his staff. If they go by what they saw on tape from early September, they are going to get crushed. However, New Orleans can still take a good bit out of what it saw on that tape from Minnesota. The defense is the same and the offense is nearly as solid with Keenum at quarterback after Bradford went down.
The mysterious nature to this Saints team with which they beat teams is always alluring. Their recipe can change week to week depending on the matchup. Minnesota must win with defense and Keenum completing passes at a high clip to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to win games. Minnesota might be close to the same team it was in Week 1, but New Orleans could not be a more different team than that each early matchup up in Minneapolis.