The playoffs are finally here and the NFC, as expected, will be the source of most of the playoff excitement. With Minnesota taking the week off, we can take a peek ahead at each of their potential matchups with NFC postseason teams. From there, we will go over the keys to a Vikings win in each game on their road to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles @ Minnesota (Divisional Round)
In this scenario, the Rams would be coming off a Wild Card round win over the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings would, in theory, be rested off of their first round bye. The Rams will come to Minnesota for the second time this season. The first ended in a loss 24-7, their only road loss of the season.
Offensive Key: Keep Turnovers to a Minimum
Minnesota’s offense does not turn the ball over often. When they do, however, they have the luxury of a defense that keeps the consequences of said turnovers to a minimum. But with the Rams elite offense, do not expect LA to completely shut down like they did in week 11. The Vikings offense needs to help the defense by not turning the ball over to a Rams offense which ranks first in points per game with 29.9.
Defensive Key: Stop Todd Gurley
In this game, the Minnesota defense should have Rams running back Todd Gurley pegged as public enemy number one. Gurley had a bounce-back year, placing second in total rushing yards (1,305) and first in rushing touchdowns (13). The Pro Bowler and MVP candidate was almost unstoppable.
When the Vikings hosted the Rams in week 11, Gurley was held to 37 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown. The Vikings need to accomplish this a second time if they are to defeat the Rams in the divisional round. Despite Gurley’s dominance, Minnesota is as capable as anyone of slowing him as they are second in rushing yards allowed per game.
New Orleans @ Minnesota (Divisional Round or NFC Championship Game)
This 2009 NFC Championship Game rematch could be played in the divisional round if the Saints and the Falcons win. It will be played, fittingly, in the NFC Championship game if the Saints and the Rams win. And what a rematch it would be.
Offensive Key: Keep Playbook Full of 20-Plus Yard Pass Plays
This key may seem like an oddly specific one, but it is for a good reason. The Saints defense, while exponentially improved compared to recent years, is still young and has a few years before it is a top-10 group.
New Orleans has put together a defense that ranks 15th against the pass and 16th against the run. They allow 4.4 yards per carry and 25.4 rushing attempts per game. Seeing that, one may think, “Okay, so just run the ball down their throats.” Well, maybe not.
True, the Saints have allowed a decent amount of yards per attempt this season on the ground. But the stat that sticks out is the fact that the Saints have allowed 57 passing plays of 20-plus yards this season, the third most in the NFL. On top of that, they also have one of the worst third down defenses in the league, allowing first downs on 41 percent of third down plays. Combine these two stats and you have a perfect situation for the Vikings, who like to run the ball on first and second down and convert a lot of third downs.
Defensive Key: Stop 2 out of 3 Offensive Monsters
The Saints offense was better this year than it has maybe ever been. Drew Brees was the most accurate QB in NFL history. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram led the New Orleans running attack as arguably the best running back combo in the league. It is hard to imagine this team losing at all with this offense backed by a solid defense, but they have. Five times to be exact.
Looking over the raw stats, it is hard to find a spot on this offense that a team can exploit. But one thing that each loss had in common was that two of the players in the three-headed monster were held to average games.
Let’s break down this idea:
In the Minnesota game in week one, the New England game in week two and the Atlanta game in week 14, the Saints offense relied entirely on Brees. In those 3 games, Kamara and Ingram averaged a combined 11.6 carries, 47 yards, and zero touchdowns. Those same three games, Brees averaged 39 pass attempts, 306 yards and 1.6 touchdowns. Take out Kamara and Ingram, you have a chance to win.
Brees and Ingram were shut down in their losses to the Rams and the Buccaneers with Kamara left to carry the load. Brees averaged 245.5 yards and one touchdown in these games while Ingram averaged 12 attempts for 33 yards and no touchdowns. Kamara, however, recorded a total of 131 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 rushing attempts (10.8 yards per attempt), and caught 12 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. Take out Brees and Ingram, you have a chance to win.
Minnesota has the weapons at their disposal on defense to take out all three of these players if they want to, but the stats show that if two are taken out, your chances of defeating the Saints are increased exponentially.
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