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The Skinny Post: Vikings, Saints Set for Divisional Round Showdown

Posted Jan 12, 2018

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The wait is almost over.

In roughly 48 hours, the Vikings and Saints will meet up in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Kickoff is at 3:40 p.m. (CT) on Sunday.

Minnesota, the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff field, is coming off a first-round bye after going 13-3 and winning the NFC North in the regular season.

New Orleans, the No. 4 seed and NFC South champion, will travel to Minnesota after getting a 31-26 win over Carolina in the Wild Card round.

This game is a rematch of the season opener for both teams, a Week 1 game in which the Vikings scored a 29-19 win.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday’s contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

A Cohesive Plan | By @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings defense was stellar at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2017, holding opponents to just 12.5 points per game and stopping them on 23 of 99 third-down opportunities, good for a 23.2 percent clip.

Minnesota had three home games when it allowed just a single third-down conversion all game.

While it’s tough to expect the Vikings to limit Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his high-powered New Orleans offense to a lone third-down conversion (the Saints offense ranked 19th overall with a 37.6 conversion rate), Minnesota’s defense can execute a winning formula by getting off the field as many times as possible.

Additionally, the Vikings can form a cohesive plan by putting together a strong rushing attack with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon that keeps Brees and the rest of the Saints playmakers on the sideline.

Minnesota averaged 133 rushing yards per game at home in 2017, eclipsing the 100-yard mark as a team in all but one game.

If the defense can get off the field and the offense can stay on the field, Minnesota could find itself ahead on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

#BringItHome | By @LindseyMNSports

The #BringItHome movement is growing toward Sunday’s game. Fans in Minnesota and beyond are embracing the opportunity to support the Vikings in their first Divisional home game since the 2009 season. 

Fans that have attended games have significantly enhanced the game-day atmosphere and helped Minnesota’s defense by providing crowd noise at key times throughout 2017. The result was the Vikings went 7-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium en route to their 13-3 mark and earned the right to host this game.  

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer frequently implores fans to make the stadium the loudest in the league and then top that performance each week. He pointed out that Brees likes to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and a lively crowd can make that more difficult for the future Hall of Famer.

Opponents totaled just 100 points against the Vikings this season, as the defense limited opponents to just 55 rushing yards a game and passers to a combined rating of 73.

The 19 points by the Saints were the most of any visiting foe, and Brees finished with a rating of 104.7 that was 16 points higher than Joe Flacco, who had the second-highest passer rating at Minnesota.

Watch Out for Explosives | By @pcraigers

NO and MIN have provided TNT on offense this season.

The Saints led the NFL with 89 plays that gained 20 or more yards this season. That tally included three to start the season against Minnesota.

The Vikings finished tied for seventh with 68 such plays, including 10 against the Saints in Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Last week in the Wild Card round, the Saints recorded three plays of 20 or more yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Ted Ginn, Jr. in the first quarter and a 46-yard completion to Michael Thomas in the fourth quarter that moved the ball to the Panthers 5-yard line and set up the clinching score for New Orleans.

The gain to Ginn included 39 yards after the catch, and the pass to Thomas benefited from 23 yards after the catch.

The Saints allowed six plays of 20-plus yards, including a 56-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Christian McCaffrey on which the rookie streaked 50 yards after securing the catch.

Substantial Stats

— The Vikings finished the 2017 season ranked first with 15.8 points allowed per game. Five the previous 10 defenses to have that distinction went to the Super Bowl, with three wins and two losses. 

Case Keenum set a career high with a quarterback rating of 98.3, which was the seventh-best in the NFL in 2017 and is the fifth-highest in team history. Keenum also set career bests in yards (3,547), touchdown passes (22) and completion percentage (67.6), ranking second in the NFL in the latter category.

— Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Kamara combined for 3,094 total offensive yards this season. The duo became the first pair of running back teammates to each have at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season.

— This will be the seventh time that the Vikings have played in a Divisional round game since the NFL adopted the current playoff format in 1990. Minnesota has gone 3-3 so far and is 19-28 all-time in the playoffs. Minnesota is 2-1 in its postseason history against the Saints, including wins in the 1987 and 2000 NFL playoffs.

Quotable 

“We need the fans to come out early this week, be loud and rowdy, make this the loudest stadium that the Vikings have ever played in, and help us get a win on Sunday.” — Zimmer on the atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium.