Tonight, Minnesota Vikings make the trip to Louisiana where they will take on New Orleans Saints for a place in the NFC Divisional Round. The Vikings come into the game as HUGE underdogs, but do they have it in them to pull off another miracle against New Orleans?
As I’m sure we all remember, the miracle I alluded to in the above paragraph came in Minneapolis two years ago as the two teams fought it out for a place in the NFC Championship game. The big moment came with the last play of the game, 25 seconds left on the clock and the Vikings trailing 24-23 with the ball on their own 39-yard-line. Case Keenum took the snap, looked right to Stefon Diggs who dodged Marcus Williams and ran to the end-zone for a miraculous 61-yard touchdown pass.
However, that game had a few things that tonight doesn’t – first and foremost, the Vikings had home field advantage and were 5.5 point favourites to win it. Tonight, they travel to New Orleans as the lowest seeded team in the NFC play-off picture, and you’ll struggle to find an analyst, bookmaker or pundit alike who see the Vikings as having any shred of a chance to beat Drew Brees and his Saints team.
The oddsmakers tonight see the Vikings as eight-point underdogs to come away from the Superdome with a win – with some people even feeling that could be a little too generous. It’s worth noting that, while they seemed to have been given a tag that would make them the post-season version of the Bengals, the Vikings still have a very good team and can cause problems for the Saints.
Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison both return to boost the Vikings offence tonight, and you can be damn sure that Mike Zimmer and Kevin Stefanski will use the pair extensively throughout the game. Despite the fact the Saints defence was one of the best in the league against the run this season, there were two separate occasions wherein they gave up over 140 yards on the ground and lost.
As a result of that, if the Vikings are going to come away with a win tonight, they’re gonna need to get that run game in full flow pretty quickly – much the way the Titans did at Foxborough yesterday. The Vikings managed to pick up over 140 yards on the ground eight times during the regular season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do it again this evening.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings will have some serious worries about the Orleans offence. The likes of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara will have been giving the Vikes DC George Edwards a major headache for the last week. There is a silver lining for the Vikings defence when it comes to Alvin Kamara – in the regular season, the running back set a career low for total scrimmage yards and TD’s, while simultaneously setting a career high for fumbles.
Minnesota had a top ten defence against the run this season so, if they can keep that up, this could be another frustrating night for Kamara. Meanwhile, the Saints receiving corps has one standout performer – Michael Thomas. Short of doubling him up all game, there’s not a lot that can be done to shut down a receiver of Thomas’ quality. In turn, that could, and probably will, allow the likes of Ted Ginn and Jared Cook to pick up a few more receptions.
Tight-End Jared Cook this season averaged just three receptions per game for a total of 705 yards. However, he did manage to get nine receiving touchdowns – the same amount as Michael Thomas did, so the likes of Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith will have to be on their game to keep him at bay, especially in the red zone. Other skill players to look out for are Latavius Murray, who can be very effective on his day, and the human Swiss army knife, Taysom Hill – who could literally lineup anywhere.
So, can the Vikes pull off a miracle tonight? It’ll be tough, but I do believe they are more than capable of going to the Superdome and coming away with a win. There are a lot of factors to this game that will need to be perfect for Minnesota, so it will be a big ask for them to pull it off. I do believe the Saints will likely edge out the Vikings, but I don’t think it’ll be a blowout in the way many do – given that New Orleans’ last five play-off games have been decided by an average of less than five points, I think a blowout would be a bit of a surprise.