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Early Look: Vikings at Saints

EAGAN, Minn. — Welcome to the playoffs.

The Vikings are one of 12 teams in the postseason, and are the sixth seed in the NFC following a 10-6 record in the regular season.

Minnesota will visit New Orleans in the Wild Card round, as the Saints are the No. 3 seed after going 13-3 and winning the NFC South. Kickoff is at 12:05 p.m. (CT) from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The teams have met four previous times in the postseason, most recently in January of 2018. The Vikings pulled out a 29-24 win in the Divisional round when Stefon Diggs scampered into Vikings lore with the Minneapolis Miracle.

Minnesota is 3-1 all-time against New Orleans in the postseason. The last meeting in the Big Easy occurred in the 2009 NFC title game, which was won by the Saints.

The teams did not meet in 2019, but played each other in the 2017 and 2018 regular seasons. Each team won one of those meetings.

Including the four postseason games, Minnesota is 22-12 all-time against New Orleans.

Here's a look at the Vikings Wild Card playoff matchup against the Saints:

Passing: Kirk Cousins had Week 17 off, as the Vikings quarterback was among numerous starters who did not play in the regular-season finale against Chicago. Sean Mannion made his second-career start.

Cousins completed 307 of 444 passes (69.1 percent) for 3,603 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games in 2019. His passer rating of 107.4 was a career high and ranked fourth in the NFL.

Cousins will now get ready to start his second-career playoff game. He is 0-1, making his lone start with Washington in 2015.

He is 1-2 in his career against the Saints, but has put up solid numbers in those three games. Cousins has completed 73 of 98 passes (74.5 percent) for 1,005 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception.

The Saints will counter with quarterback Drew Brees, a future Hall of Famer, who is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes (547) and passing yards (77,416).

Brees completed 19 of 30 passes (63.3 percent) for 253 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions as the Saints won 42-10 over the Panthers. His passer rating of 123.3 was his third-best of the season.

The 40-year-old completed 281 of 378 passes in 11 games in 2019. His completion percentage of 74.3 percent fell 0.1 percent shy matching of Brees' own single-season NFL record from 2018. He threw for 2,979 yards with 27 touchdowns, four picks and had a passer rating of 116.3 that ranked second in the league.

Brees is 8-6 in his playoff career with New Orleans, which includes a victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV. He is 1-1 in the postseason against the Vikings.

Former Vikings first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater is the backup in New Orleans. He went 5-0 as the starter when Brees was injured midway through the season.

Rushing: The Vikings were without their top two running backs Sunday, as both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison were inactive in Week 17.

Minnesota hopes the duo that combined for 1,597 yards and 14 touchdowns is healthy for Sunday. Cook and Mattison helped the Vikings finish the season ranked sixth in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game.

Cook led Minnesota with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games in 2019. Mattison added 462 yards and a score. Mike Boone had 273 yards and three scores as his workload increased in the final month of the season.

The Saints were a middle-of-the-pack running team, finishing 16th with 108.6 yards per game.

New Orleans has a two-headed attack of its own. Alvin Kamara and former Vikings running back Latavius Murray each scored five touchdowns in 2019. Kamara had 171 rushes for 797 yards in 14 games, and Murray totaled 637 yards on 146 attempts.

Taysom Hill, who is listed as a quarterback but plays multiple positions, had 156 rushing yards and a score on 27 attempts.

Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.

Receiving: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches each in the regular season. Thielen and Diggs did not play at all on Sunday. Rudolph was on the field for the first snap, extending his consecutive starts streak to 81 games.

Diggs set a career high with 1,130 yards on 63 catches, and Rudolph had 39 receptions for 367 yards.

Thielen had 30 catches for 418 yards in nine games in 2019. Cook also was a threat out of the backfield, adding 53 catches for 519 yards.

Brees spread the ball around Sunday as five different players — Michael Thomas, Tre'Quan Smith, Hill, Jared Cook and Josh Hill — had at least 35 receiving yards.

The Vikings focus will surely be on Thomas, who might be the best wide receiver in the NFL.

The 2016 second-round pick has at least 90 receptions and 1,100 yards in his first four seasons, but 2019 was easily his best campaign yet. Thomas set a new single-season record with 149 receptions and led the league with 1,725 yards. He also found the end zone nine times.

Cook also had nine scores, as he hauled in 43 catches for 705 yards. Kamara is a threat to catch the ball, as he had 81 receptions for 533 yards and a score. Taysom Hill had six touchdown catches, Smith had five and Josh Hill had three.

Defense: The Vikings defense chose rest and recovery Sunday, as key players were either inactive or did not play against the Bears.

Regulars such as Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Xavier Rhodes watched from the sidelines, as did Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Shamar Stephen, all of whom were inactive. Danielle Hunter played one snap to record a start but then didn't play the rest of the game. His streak of 77 consecutive starts ranks third among current defensive ends.

Minnesota hopes its veteran defense will be fresh for the playoffs after an up-and-down performance in the regular season. The Vikings finished 14th in the league allowing 341.6 total yards per game, but a strong red-zone performance helped Minnesota tie for fifth with 18.9 points allowed per game.

The Vikings were suspectable to opponents' passing attacks in 2019, as they allowed 3,737 total passing yards — the second-most under Zimmer since 2014. Minnesota used a cornerback rotation in the final month of the season, which could continue in the playoffs.

Smith and Harris make up one of the league's best safety tandem, while the same can be said of Barr and Kendricks at linebacker. The Vikings will need all hands on deck to slow down Brees and the Saints offense.

Hunter led Minnesota (and tied his career high) with 14.5 sacks. Griffen recorded 8.0 sacks, and Ifeadi Odenigbo had 7.0 in a breakout season. Harris tied for the league lead with six picks.

The Saints ranked 11th with 333.1 yards allowed in the regular season, and were 13th with 21.3 points allowed per game. New Orleans was anchored by its run defense, which ranked fourth at 91.3 yards per game.

The unit is led by defensive end Cameron Jordan, the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan who set a career-high with 15.5 sacks in 2019. Jordan leads all defensive ends with 144 consecutive starts. Linebacker Demario Davis, a third-round pick of the Jets in 2012, can roam the field from sideline to sideline. He recorded 111 tackles (league stats), 11 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and tied with Eric Kendricks for the NFL lead among linebackers with 12 pass breakups.

Safety Marcus Williams led New Orleans with four picks. Nine other players had one interception.

It's worth noting that key defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport are both on Injured Reserve with injuries.

Special Teams: Dan Bailey capped off a strong 2019 season by staying perfect at home Sunday.

The Vikings kicker made all five of his kicks Sunday in Week 17, as he was true on an extra point and four field goals from 34, 37, 38 and 39 yards. He went 14-for-14 on field goals and 21-for-21 on extra points in his second season at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Britton Colquitt also ended his season on a high note, as he did not record a touchback on 62 punts in 2019. He averaged 45.2 yards per punt in 2019.

Mike Hughes averaged 7.4 yards on 14 punt returns in 2019, while Ameer Abdullah averaged 25 yards on 13 kickoff returns.

Saints kicker Wil Lutz had another strong season, as he made 13 of 15 field goals and 48 of 49 extra points. Lutz, who is in his fourth season, currently ranks fourth all-time with an 87.5 career field goal percentage (Bailey is sixth at 87.3).

Saints punter Thomas Morstead averaged 46.2 yards on 60 punts in 2019.

Rookie Deonte Harris, who was voted to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist, averaged 9.4 yards on 36 punt returns and scored on a 53-yarder against Seattle. He averaged 26.8 yards on 24 kickoff returns.

Why not us?

The Vikings will try to become the third team in NFL history — along with the 2005 Steelers and 2010 Packers — win a Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed. The playoffs expanded to six teams per conference in 1990.

"It's been done before," Zimmer said Sunday. "Why not us?"