Heading into the divisional round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs, various storylines rise to the top for each of the eight teams still in the hunt.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, "certain players and interesting facts have slipped through the cracks" amongst the buzz. Harmon took a look at all eight teams and opined potentially "under-the-radar storylines" for each.
For the Vikings, he highlighted Case Keenum's success in play-action situations. Harmon wrote:
NFL offenses don't make enough use of play-action, but Keenum threw 28.7 percent of his passes out of play-action during the regular season. Only Deshaun Watson (30.3 percent) and Jared Goff (29.1 percent) checked in with higher play-action rates among quarterbacks who took at least 25 percent of their team's dropbacks. Keenum's passer rating jumps from 92.8 to 111.8 when he throws out of play-action.
And as for the Saints, whom the Vikings will face on Sunday?
Harmon said New Orleans has the best offensive line in the league. He pointed out, however, that while running back duo Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were voted to the Pro Bowl, none of the Saints linemen were selected for the NFC.
You'd think plowing the way for one of the NFL's most dynamic rushing attacks would be enough to earn at least one of the players along the front five a spot. The snub becomes more egregious when you consider New Orleans' pass-protection prowess. The Saints led the NFL in [analytics site] Pro Football Focus' pass blocking efficiency metric (with an 84.7 score) and allowed a league-low 68 hurries. Terron Armstead, Senio Kelemete (in line to replace Andrus Peat, who suffered a broken fibula in the Wild Card Round), Max Unger, Larry Warford and Ryan Ramczyk are names you should know.
Vikings-Saints matchup features dynamic defenders in Griffen, Jordan
Minnesota's Everson Griffen and New Orleans' Cameron Jordan have been dueling statistically all season.
Each defensive end tallied a career-high 13 sacks for their respective team, a total that tied them for fourth in the league. On Sunday, Griffen and Jordan, the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, will each look to help their team progress in the playoffs.
Mark Craig of the *Star Tribune *wrote about the pair of defenders and said that "chances are one of these two edge rushers will have an impact that helps send the other home for the season." Craig wrote:
Griffen will have a significant advantage with crowd noise favoring the Vikings, but also has the disadvantage of chasing Drew Brees, whose quick release and mastery of [Saints Head Coach] Sean Payton's system makes him the least-pressured quarterback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Craig highlighted that the Week 1 contest between the Saints and Vikings featured seven quarterback hits and two sacks – Griffen accounted for three of the quarterback hits, while Jordan had two, including a sack of Sam Bradford.
New Orleans finished 10th in the NFL in scoring defense (the Vikings finished first).
Craig said the Saints are an entirely different team from the one that visited Minnesota in September. According to Craig, Jordan became only the fifth defender in Saints history to earn First-Team All-Pro honors.
"I didn't play against [Jordan] the last time, but looking at him on tape, you can tell he's a smart guy who's been playing a long time and feeds off whatever you given him," Vikings tackle Rashod Hill told Craig. "There are some similarities between him and Everson. Both of them try to jump the snap count. They got speed, power, spin moves. They're both smart and use their hands real well."