Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Saints Head Coach Sean Payton have a longtime history – and even a friendship – with one another. But this weekend will pit them against each other in the postseason for the second time in the span of two calendar years.
And as they work to prepare their respective teams ahead of Sunday's Wild Card matchup, Zimmer and Payton share two things: a deep passion for winning football games and the mentorship of Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells.
The pair of NFC coaches worked together under Parcells in Dallas before getting their own shot at head coaching gigs.
Now, as The Athletic's Chad Graff pointed out, they each receive weekly, Monday-morning phone calls from Parcells. Graff wrote:
Occasionally, the Monday calls are cheery. But typically, Parcells is more blunt. He wants to know why the coaches called certain plays. He'll ask directly how they could have missed something so obvious. He'll ask why they employed a certain strategy. Sometimes the questions for Zimmer and Payton are the same. Rarely does the conversation venture to something outside of football.
"I enjoy the conversations, and I do have concern for them both," Parcells told Graff. "They have a hard job. They're not rookie coaches anymore. They've been through the grinder, and they've got their programs in position where expectations are increased on an annual basis. It's not the easiest thing to deal with all the time."
See photos of the Vikings equipment staff readying the team's uniforms for Sunday's Wild Card showdown with the Saints.
In January of 2018, Parcells watched the Vikings defeat the Saints in the Divisional round of the playoffs via the walk-off touchdown dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle.
Parcells "remembers how difficult it was to watch" and said he doesn't like when "his favorite former assistants" go against each other.
"I'd rather be rooting against somebody," he said. "So, yeah, it's hard for me. But that's the way it is in this business. You sometimes play against people that you like and have a high regard for. That's the way it is. Right now, they're rivals. That's what they are."
During weeks like this, Parcells doesn't play favorites. He called them both on Monday. He and Payton talked about the Saints strong close to the season, a 42-10 road win over the Carolina Panthers. He and Zimmer talked about the decision for the Vikings to rest starters in preparation for the looming playoff game.
"I care about what happens," Parcells told Graff. "They know that I know first-hand what they're going through. That puts me in a pretty good minority of people. There's not too many that can identify with the week-to-week stuff they're going through. And I've been out of football for quite a while now so they have to tell me some things about new rules, things that are going on that I'm not familiar with.
"I try to help all coaches that ever worked for me," he continued. "The way I came up was with coaches helping me. I just generally like coaches. I spent my whole life with them. So anything I can do to help them, I'm certainly willing to do. … Especially them. I have a high regard for both of these guys. I like them both very much. I think they're both very dedicated coaches."
Cousins ranked 7th among 12 playoff QBs
How do quarterbacks of the NFL's 12 playoff teams stack up?
ESPN's Seth Walder recently ranked the dozen passers and explained his list took into account the 2019 season and current play – not career performance – and was "heavily informed" by two sets of metrics:
1. Total QBR (quarterback rating is different from passer rating) and expected points added per play
2. Completion percentage over expectation and completed air yards over expectation
Walder ranked Cousins seventh and wrote the following:
The forever-underrated Cousins put together a strong 2019 campaign even if his regular season ended ugly against Green Bay. As with [Texans QB Deshaun] Watson, there was a moment midseason in which he looked as though he was on the cusp of the MVP debate. Though he faded from that spot, Vikings fans should still be happy with the season they got out of their quarterback, who is signed through the 2020 season.
Walder opined that Cousins' biggest strength is accuracy.
Cousins put up above-average completion percentage over expectation numbers across every depth, ranked third in completed air yards over expectation per attempt and had the fifth-lowest off-target percentage in the league. A second strength is his ability to throw on the run. Cousins completion percentage over expectation was best in the league on those throws.
As for weakness, Walder pointed out that Cousins' QBR is 6 when under pressure, which ranks 26th overall in the NFL.
Walder's full ranking was as follows: Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Drew Brees (Saints), Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Ryan Tannehill (Titans), Watson, Cousins, Carson Wentz (Eagles), Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers), Tom Brady (Patriots), Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and Josh Allen (Bills).
Minneapolis Miracle among NFL 100 'Greatest Moment' candidates
In advance of Sunday's Vikings-Saints playoff matchup, fans can vote for the Minneapolis Miracle play that occurred the last time these teams in the postseason.
As part of the NFL 100 campaign celebrating the league's 100th season, the NFL is asking fans to weigh in on the century's top moments.
Fans can visit nfl.com/100/greatestmoment this week to pick their 16 favorite moments (8 from AFC; 8 from NFC) from the 32 NFL teams' history. Feel free to vote again and share your picks with friends on social media.
Voting began on Thursday at 8 a.m. (CT) and will conclude on Thursday, Jan. 9 at 11 p.m. (CT). Sixteen of the teams' moments will then advance to the next round. In total, there are four rounds of voting, with the winner announced on the FOX pregame show the morning of Super Bowl LIV (Feb. 2).
Hutchinson again a finalist for Pro Football HOF
Steve Hutchinson, who earned three of his five Associated Press All-Pro selections with Minnesota from 2006-09, has once again been named a Modern-Era finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The selection committee will evaluate Hutchinson and 14 others prior to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. This is the third designation as a finalist for Hutchinson, who was named to the All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
Hutchinson started all 89 games he played for Minnesota from 2006-11 after entering the NFL in 2001 as a first-round pick of Seattle, where he made 68 starts. He closed his career with the Tennessee Titans in 2012.