And then there were eight.
With four teams eliminated over Wild Card weekend, eight teams will now prepare for the upcoming Divisional round of the playoffs.
In anticipation of this weekend’s matchups, ESPN’s Dan Graziano took a look at each of the teams and posed “one big question” for each of them. Graziano kept it big-picture for the Vikings, asking if Minnesota is “the NFC’s best team.” He wrote:
The Vikings have a smothering defense, high-end receivers, a versatile run game and a quarterback playing the best football of his life. Yes, that quarterback is Case Keenum, and you don't associate him with quarterbacking greatness. But this isn't a three-week hot streak. Keenum has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this year, and assuming he keeps it up, the Vikings could be the most complete team in the NFC. They're two wins from being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
And the Vikings now know that it will be the Saints facing that smothering defense and talented offense, after New Orleans defeated Carolina 31-26 on Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota defeated New Orleans 29-19 in the 2017 season opener, but both teams have experienced significant changes since that game back in September. In looking at the Saints right now, Graziano asked if they will more heavily run or throw the ball against the Vikings.
The Saints were fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and fifth in passing yards per game in the regular season. Carolina seemed to focus Sunday on the stellar Saints running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and Drew Brees responded by shredding them for 376 yards while Ingram and Kamara combined for only 45 [rushing yards]. Minnesota has the best defense in the league, but it's not as if Carolina's defense is some pushover. The Saints are as versatile and balanced as any offense we've seen in a while, and they will be a tough out.
Scouting a Saints squad that significantly changed since Week 1
From the Vikings No. 1 defense, to Brees and his substantial experience in the postseason, to the Vikings having home-field advantage, several factors will come into play for Sunday’s Divisional round game between Minnesota and New Orleans.
Nate Davis of *USA TODAY *recently published a “3 Things to Know” article about the matchup.
While the two teams faced each other in Week 1, and a Sam Bradford-led Vikings walked away with the win, Davis advised fans to “disregard that result almost entirely” because both teams have undergone changes.
Davis emphasized the significant roles that rookies Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams are now playing in the Saints defense. He also highlighted the dynamic duo of Kamara and Ingram. Davis wrote:
Fellow Pro Bowlers Kamara and Ingram, the first pair of running backs to each exceed 1,500 yards from scrimmage for the same team in the same season, were effectively held in check Sunday by the Panthers, who limited them to a collective 68 yards. Carolina's defense is good. Minnesota’s D, which allowed both the fewest yards and points in the league this season, is special. And the loss of [guard Andrus] Peat makes life easier for the Vikings while simultaneously hurting the Saints.
Brees won't be in the friendly confines of the Superdome this time, and No. 1 WR Michael Thomas will likely have a much harder time being productive against All-Pro CB Xavier Rhodes.
Davis said that a matchup to watch is Lattimore and corner Ken Crawley against Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
[If] the Saints can contain Thielen and Diggs, they'll probably be more than content to let Keenum try and beat them by going to TE Kyle Rudolph, RB Jerick McKinnon and/or WR Laquon Treadwell as his secondary reads.