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Early Look: Vikings vs. Saints

EAGAN, Minn. — This one has been circled on the calendar for a while.

It’s a matchup of division leaders and teams with championship aspirations and, oh yeah, a rematch of the unforgettable Divisional Round playoff game from last season.

You know, the 29-24 Vikings win over the Saints that included “The Minneapolis Miracle.”

Both teams are rolling heading into this nationally-televised matchup on Sunday Night Football.

The Vikings have won three straight games and sit in first place in the NFC North with a 4-2-1 record. Minnesota earned a 37-17 road win over the Jets in Week 7.

New Orleans sits at 5-1 having won five straight, including a 24-23 nail biter over Baltimore on Sunday.

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s Week 8 home game against the Saints:

Passing: Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 25 of 40 passes (62.5 percent) for 241 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jets. He had a passer rating of 95.9 in windy conditions.

The quarterback is ranked second in the NFL with 2,162 yards. He is also tied for sixth with 14 touchdown passes, and is one of four quarterbacks with a completion percentage of 70 percent or better.

Minnesota will go up against one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks Sunday in Drew Brees, who is a surefire Hall of Famer.

Brees threw for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday’s win over the Ravens. He had a passer rating of 114.9.

The 39-year-old has thrown for 1,870 yards with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in 2018. He leads the NFL with a completion percentage of 77.3.

Brees is the NFL’s all-time passing leader with 72,315 yards and ranks third all-time with 501 career touchdown passes. He threw his 500th career touchdown pass on Sunday.

Rushing: The Vikings had an efficient day on the ground against the Jets as Minnesota tallied 88 rushing yards and a pair of scores.

Vikings running back Latavius Murray led the way with 69 yards and both touchdowns on 15 carries.

Murray’s touchdown runs were of the double-digit variety as he scored from 11 and 38 yards out.

Dalvin Cook was inactive with a hamstring injury, but Roc Thomas had one carry for 23 yards.

The Saints two-headed attack of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for 96 yards on 29 attempts. Kamara had a rushing touchdown.

New Orleans ranks 16th in the NFL with 108.3 yards per game while the Vikings are 28th at 87.4 yards per game.

Receiving: Adam Thielen cruised into the NFL record books Sunday.

The Vikings wide receiver had nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to start a season with seven straight games with at least 100 receiving yards.

Thielen leads the league with 67 receptions for 822 yards and also has five scores, which is tied for third in the NFL.

Stefon Diggs had eight receptions for 33 yards on Sunday, and Aldrick Robinson had a 34-yard touchdown.

Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas led New Orleans with seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Benjamin Watson had 43 yards and a score, and Tre’Quan Smith had 44 receiving yards.

Thomas is one of the NFL’s top receivers and leads the Saints with 53 receptions for 588 yards and four touchdowns.

Defense: The Vikings defense had a takeaway party on Sunday against Sam Darnold, intercepting the Jets rookie quarterback three times and recovering a fumble.

Harrison Smith, Trae Waynes and Holton Hill all picked off Darnold. Tom Johnson recovered a fumble for the second straight week.

Minnesota was also stellar on third down, limiting the Jets to just two conversions on 13 tries. The Vikings have been successful at stopping 33 of opponents’ past 38 third-down plays.

Jayron Kearse and Jalyn Holmes each picked up a sack. Danielle Hunter and Jaleel Johnson shared another. Hunter is tied for second in the NFL with 7.5 sacks.

Minnesota ranks 11th in yards allowed per game (345.9) and 14th in points allowed per game (23.6).

The Saints allowed 351 yards to the Ravens, and limited Baltimore to 77 yards on the ground.

New Orleans has just two interceptions on the season. Cameron Jordan has a team-high 5.0 sacks.

The Saints rank 18th in yards allowed per game (366.0) and 27th in points allowed per game (27.2).

Special Teams: Minnesota’s specialists endured a windy and wild day Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Dan Bailey made three of his four field goal attempts and all four extra point tries on Sunday in swirling winds. Bailey is 11 of 14 on field goals since joining the Vikings in Week 3.

Matt Wile averaged 47.8 yards on five punts and landed four of them inside the 20-yard line. He also had a long on 66 yards and helped flip the field on multiple occasions for Minnesota.

Marcus Sherels had five punt returns for 52 yards, including a long of 20 yards.

Saints kicker Will Lutz hit his only field goal try on Sunday. He has made 12 of 13 field goals in 2018.

New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead averages 48.0 yards per punt.

Neither the Vikings nor Saints have a kickoff or punt return for a score in 2018.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 22-11 all-time against the Saints in a series that includes four postseason matchups. Minnesota is 19-10 in regular-season play against New Orleans.

Minnesota won the most recent matchup (more on that below), and last faced the Saints in the 2017 season opener for both teams on Monday Night Football.

The Vikings have four different win streaks of at least four games against the Saints, and New Orleans has one such streak. Minnesota’s longest win streak is six games over the years (Sept. 27, 1970-Sept. 12, 1976).

The teams have met in the playoffs in January of 1988, 2001, 2010 and 2018.

Last meeting: Vikings 29, Saints 24, Jan. 14, 2018, in Minneapolis

This one won’t ever be forgotten.

The Vikings trailed by a point with 10 seconds left. The offense was at its own 39-yard line.

Diggs ran a corner route on the play call, ‘Buffalo Right Seven Heaven,’ and hauled in a pass from quarterback Case Keenum at the 35-yard line. He avoided a tackle, kept his balance and sprinted into the end zone as time expired.

It was a “Minneapolis Miracle,” as the most thrilling win in Vikings franchise history elevated Minnesota to the NFC title game. The unbelievable ending capped off a clash between two of the NFC’s top teams.

The Vikings raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns and a field goal.

But Brees and Thomas connected twice in a four-minute span to bring the Saints within three points.

Minnesota added a field goal, but Brees found Kamara for a touchdown pass — and a 21-20 lead — with three minutes remaining. Kai Forbath then calmly nailed a 53-yard field goal with 89 seconds left as the see-saw battle continued.

Lutz put the Saints ahead by one point on a 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.

But there was still time for a miraculous ending that sent U.S. Bank Stadium into a frenzy and left players and coaches looking around with shock and bewilderment at what had just transpired.

Diggs finished with six catches for 137 yards and that score, and Keenum threw for 318 yards in the win.

Brees threw for 294 yards and three scores but was intercepted by Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Barr.

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