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Early Look: Vikings vs. Saints (Playoff Edition)

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings will open the playoffs the same way they opened the regular season — with a home game against the New Orleans Saints.

Minnesota spent its weekend resting during its first-round bye after the Vikings went 13-3 and claimed the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

The Vikings now prepare for their first playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Kickoff is Sunday at 3:40 p.m. (CT).

The Saints won the NFC South at 11-5 before getting a dramatic 31-26 win over the Panthers in the Wild Card round. It was the third time this season New Orleans had beaten Carolina.

Here’s a look at a Vikings Divisional matchup with New Orleans:

Passing: Case Keenum finished the season 11-3 as a starter and helped the Vikings win another game by entering just before halftime at Chicago. The Vikings quarterback finished his first season by throwing for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Keenum also posted a season-long quarterback rating of 98.3, which was the seventh-best in the NFL in 2017 and is the fifth-highest by a Vikings QB. He had eight games in which he had a rating of 100 or better.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 23 of 33 passes for 376 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Carolina. He had a quarterback rating of 115.2.

Brees set an NFL record by completing 72 percent of his passes (386 completions on 536 attempts). He threw for 4,334 yards, the 12th season of his career with 4,000-plus passing yards, and had 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Rushing: A season after eclipsing 100-plus rushing yards just twice, the Vikings ground game did so 13 times this season behind a triple-headed attack. Minnesota finished 2017 ranked seventh with 122.3 yards per game. 

Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon promptly picked up the slack when rookie running back Dalvin Cook got injured, combining for 1,412 rushing yards in 2017.

Murray led the way with 847 yards and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns, as he overcame a slow start to produce a pair of 100-yard games and consistent attack down the stretch. McKinnon scored a career-high three times on the ground and added 570 rushing yards.

Saints rookie Alvin Kamara had 23 yards and a score on 10 carries against Carolina, while Mark Ingram had 22 yards on nine attempts.

Former Vikings fullback Zach Line had a 1-yard touchdown run for New Orleans.

Kamara and Ingram combined for 1,852 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns during the regular season.  Ingram had 1,124 yards and a dozen scores, and Kamara had 728 yards and eight touchdowns.

New Orleans ranked fifth overall with 129.4 rushing yards per game.

Receiving: Adam Thielen produced the best season of his career, and one of the top seasons in Vikings history. The first-time Pro Bowler and Second Team All-Pro selection hauled in 91 catches (seventh-most in team history) for 1,276 yards, a mark that ranks as the ninth-best for a single season by a Vikings wide receiver. The Minnesota native also had four touchdowns.

Stefon Diggs also had a solid season with 64 catches for 849 yards, including a 173-yard performance in Week 3 against Tampa Bay. Diggs had eight touchdown catches, which was tied for the team lead with Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings tight end who had 57 catches for 532 yards.

McKinnon was a threat out of the backfield with 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell chipped in with 200 receiving yards, and Jarius Wright had a pair of scores and 198 yards.

Michael Thomas had eight catches for 131 yards while Ted Ginn, Jr., had four catches for 115 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown, in the playoff win against the Panthers. Brandon Coleman had four receptions for 44 yards, and tight end Josh Hill had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas had 104 catches for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season, tying Kamara for the team lead in touchdown catches. The running back had 81 receptions for 826 yards.

Ginn had 53 catches for 787 yards and four scores, and Ingram had 58 receptions for 416 yards. Coleman had three touchdown catches.

Defense: The Vikings produced the best defense in the league — and one of the best in franchise history. Minnesota ranked first in points allowed (15.8), the first time it had done so since 1970. The Vikings also allowed the fewest yards per game (275.9), the team’s best mark since 1993.

If that wasn’t enough, Minnesota also had the best third-down defense in NFL history (the stat started being tracked in 1991). The Vikings allowed just 51 conversions on 202 attempts (25.2 percent). 

Everson Griffen notched a career-high 13 sacks with three forced fumbles, and Danielle Hunter added 7.0 sacks. Brian Robison had 4.0 of his own.

Linval Joseph anchored a defensive line that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game at 83.6, and he also added 3.5 sacks. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks formed one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the NFL.

Barr, a Pro Bowl selection had 98 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with a sack and nine tackles for loss. Kendricks had 136 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with 10 tackles for loss and added a 31-yard interception return for a score against Cincinnati. It was the third time in as many seasons for Kendricks to lead the Vikings in tackles.

Harrison Smith nabbed five picks to tie a career high, and he had 93 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) along with 10 tackles for loss. Andrew Sendejo had 98 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with two interceptions. Xavier Rhodes routinely shut down opponents’ top wide receivers, and Trae Waynes showed great growth in his third season as he and Smith tied for the team lead with 14 passes defensed. Rhodes and Waynes had two picks.

New Orleans allowed 413 total yards of offense against Carolina on Sunday and did not force a turnover. The Saints fared well in the red zone, only allowing one Panthers touchdown on four trips inside the 20-yard line, and also recorded four sacks by four different players.

The Saints defense tied for 10th in the regular season by allowing 20.4 points per game, and were 17th in yards allowed (336.5 per game).

Defensive end Cameron Jordan finished with 13 sacks, and rookie cornerback Marcus Lattimore led the Saints with five interceptions.

Special Teams: Vikings kicker Kai Forbath made 32 of 38 field goal tries, including six makes from 50-plus yards. He was 34 of 39 on extra points.

Punter Ryan Quigley averaged 42.2 yards per punt and tied an NFL record by not having any touchbacks this season. Marcus Sherels averaged 9.5 yards per punt return with a long of 46, and averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return.

Saints kicker Wil Lutz made his lone field goal try from 57 yards out and hit all four of his extra point attempts Sunday. Lutz was 31 of 36 on field goals in the regular season and 47 of 50 on extra points.

Punter Thomas Morstead averaged 47 yards per punt, and Kamara returned a kickoff for a score in the regular season.

Both Minnesota and New Orleans allowed a punt return for a score in 2017.

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Sept. 11 game against the Saints.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 21-11 all-time against New Orleans, a series that includes three postseason matchups.

Minnesota is 2-1 against the Saints in the playoffs. New Orleans won the molest-recent matchup in the 2009 NFC Championship, but the Vikings were victorious in the two previous meetings.

Last meeting: Vikings 29, Saints 19, Sept. 11, 2017, in Minneapolis

Minnesota opened its 2017 slate with a strong home win over New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

But two important pieces of that victory — quarterback Sam Bradford and Cook — have barely played since due to injuries. Bradford returned from Injured Reserve and practiced last week. Cook remains on the mend from a torn ACL.

Bradford threw for 346 yards and three scores, and Cook ran for 127 yards in his NFL debut.

Thielen had nine catches for 157 yards, and Diggs had seven receptions for 93 yards and two scores. Rudolph also had a touchdown catch.

The Vikings trailed 6-3 late in the second quarter before Bradford found Diggs for a pair of touchdown passes in the closing minutes.

Minnesota eventually built a 29-12 lead as Forbath nailed three total field goals on the day. New Orleans scored with just under two minutes left to cut the Vikings lead to 10 points.

The 19 points were the most allowed by the Vikings at home this season. Minnesota allowed just 12.5 points per game at home in 2017.

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