Now that wild card weekend is officially over, the Vikings head into battle with a home game against the Saints. The Saints, off a 31-26 win over the Panthers, bring their high-powered offense into Minnesota to square off against the best defense in the NFL. Let’s take a look at the rosters and see how they compare.
Drew Brees versus Case Keenum. Brees has all the playoff experience in the world and is definitely on a short list of guys you would want for a game of this magnitude. Keenum, on the other hand, does not have the experience of Brees, but has the confidence he has been riding all season and the home crowd behind him.
Advantage: Saints. Keenum should play well, but Brees is built for games and moments like this.
Going into this game, this is the matchup everybody is talking about. How will Minnesota’s defense stop the one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara? These two have been lighting up the league this season, but the Vikings have the personal to stop these two with a strong interior defensive line and linebackers that can cover them in space. The Saints run defense has not been great this season, so Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon will definitely find running room.
Advantage: Saints. The Vikings are going to try to sell out to stop the running game and make the Saints pass happy. Still, Ingram and Kamara will get theirs and put pressure on this defense.
Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr both had huge games last week against a top defense in the Panthers, constantly beating them down the field and making big plays. With Brees throwing to them, this makes this passing attack hard to stop. For the Vikings, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs enter this matchup rested and ready to attack this defense.
Advantage: Vikings. Thomas is the best wide receiver on the field, but the combo of Thielen and Diggs is better than the combo of Thomas and Ginn.
If the Vikings had to play in the wildcard game last week, Kyle Rudolph said it would have been difficult for him to play. With a week of rest, Rudolph looks good to go and the Vikings are going to look for him in the red zone. Josh Hill had a big game for the Saints last week, catching a touchdown in a game where he had 49 receiving yards.
Advantage: Vikings. Rudolph is a better red zone option as he gets more targets than Hill gets.
Both teams feature some of the better offensive lines this league has to offer. The Vikings lost Nick Easton to injury a few weeks ago and the Saints just lost Andrus Peat to a season ending injury as well. The Saints offensive line has given Brees ample time in the pocket and great running lanes for the two running backs. Both offensive lines are going to get a ton of pressure from the defensive lines in this matchup.
Advantage: Vikings. This one is close as it gets, but with the home crowd and noise with the Vikings, I give them the slightest advantage.
This is another matchup that is going to be worth watching. Last week, Cameron Jordan of the Saints took over the game, constantly bringing pressure towards Cam Newton. Jordan is having a historic year that might land him the Defensive Player of the Year. For Minnesota, establishing Linval Joseph will be huge because he can clog up the running lanes for the Saints running back. Whatever team can get to the quarterback more in this matchup I believe will come out with the win.
Advantage: Vikings. Again, I think Jordan is the best pass rusher in this matchup, but Everson Griffin is going to get the crowd fired up and the Vikings will feed off it. But this is another really close matchup.
The linebacker duo of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks is going to be essential in this game for the success of the Vikings. These two have the athletic ability to stay with and cover Kamara and Ingram out of the backfield and limit their explosiveness. On the Saints side, this is the matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of. The same way the Saints put Kamara in space is the way the Vikings need to use McKinnon against these linebackers.
Advantage: Vikings. If the Vikings can get McKinnon in space, I do not see any way the Saints linebacking core can stop him.
A big part of the defensive revival of the Saints stems from the improved play of their secondary. The biggest reason for this is because of the future Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore has been exceptional this season and will need to be at his best covering Thielen and Diggs. For the Vikings, it is almost certain Xavier Rhodes will be shadowing Michael Thomas all game. Trae Waynes looks to be covering Ginn, a matchup of pure blistering speed for both guys.
Advantage: Vikings. The Saints lived off of big plays last week against the Panthers, and the Vikings just do not give up explosive plays like that. Harrison Smith will eliminate any big play down the field.
The kicking and punting game of the Vikings has greatly improved the last few weeks after struggling earlier in the season. Still, Minnesota’s special teams have been susceptible to some miscues, such as the Bears trick play that led to a punt return for a touchdown. Sean Payton is one of the most creative coaches in the NFL, so the Vikings will need to ready at all times for anything.
This has all the making of an epic game between the two. I said in my previous article that the Saints were the last team the Vikings wanted to face. However, the Vikings defense has the ability to limit what the Saints do best. The key to this game will be what team can get more pressure on the opposing quarterback. The Vikings need to make Brees feel uncomfortable and not give him a clean platform to throw the ball from.
Prediction: Vikings 31, Saints 28
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