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Filtered by the Fan: Which Phase is Most Important for Vikings in Wild Card Matchup?

Run offense

The Vikings on Sunday should see the return of starting running back Dalvin Cook, who told reporters yesterday that he'll be "ready to go" for the Wild Card matchup. The hope is that rookie Alexander Mattison also will be back in action after missing the final two games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Mike Boone has stepped up in a big way and demonstrated the depth that the Vikings have in their running backs room. This phase of the game also will hinge on the offensive line's ability to move the ball against a New Orleans defensive line that is without DT Sheldon Rankins and DE Marcus Davenport.

Pass offense

Minnesota didn't play its starters in the regular-season finale, so QB Kirk Cousins hasn't played since Week 16, when the Vikings struggled to get their offense going against the Packers. Cousins has put up career numbers throughout much of the season but struggled in division matchups against Green Bay (Weeks 2 and 16) and at Chicago (Week 4). When things click in the passing game, though, watch out. The Vikings pass catchers are healthy and ready to go, and Sunday would be an opportune time for a big outing from Adam Thielen, who missed all or part of Weeks 7-14 with a hamstring injury.

Run defense

Of the six Vikings losses this season, five occurred when the opponent rushed for more than 100 yards. In contrast, Minnesota's defense limited teams to under 90 yards rushing in eight of its 10 wins. While New Orleans does much of its damage through the air, Saints running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray (who spent 2017-18 with the Vikings) have combined for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. If Minnesota can force New Orleans to be one-dimensional offensively, it might enable the defense to put more pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees.

Pass defense

Brees leads the NFL in completion percentage (74.3); and despite missing five games with a thumb injury, his 27 touchdown passes are fifth-most in the league. The Saints most-dangerous target through the air is undoubtedly Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches this season. Thomas totaled 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. Also quite effective is tight end Jared Cook, who has 705 yards and nine touchdowns on 43 catches. Kamara also can't be counted out in the backfield; the running back has recorded 81 catches for 533 yards and a touchdown.

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