View practice photos from Monday, January 8 at Winter Park as the Vikings prepare for the New Orleans Saints.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —It's playoff time in Minnesota.
But even as the electricity ramps up in advance of Sunday's Divisional round showdown between the Vikings and Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium, players and coaches inside Winter Park are doing their best to keep things in perspective.
There will be a kickoff and offensive and defensive plays, and a few touchdowns are likely. The field is still 100 yards long, and each team will line up with 11 players on each play.
"You try not to make it too big and bigger than what it is, but it's the playoffs in the NFL, so it is big," said Vikings center Pat Elflein. "You don't want to get out of your routine and what got you to where you're at.
"Just remembering how we got 13 wins … what got you there and don't lose sight of that," Elflein said. "But you realize the challenge ahead of us and how big this game is."
Elflein, who missed Minnesota's Week 17 win against the Bears with a shoulder injury, said he is "practicing and rolling" this week and will be in action for Sunday's 3:40 p.m. (CT) kickoff.
"It's not fun being on the sidelines and watching your brothers compete," Elflein said. "This week I'll be back and ready to roll.
"I'm real excited, especially to have [this game] at home and play in front of our fans. It's going to be awesome," Elflein added.
Elflein will be the anchor on an offensive line that helped the Vikings rank seventh in the NFL with 122.3 yards per game while finishing 11th in total yards per game (356.9).
Defensively, the Vikings enter the postseason with a unit that led the league in points allowed per game (15.8), yards allowed per game (275.9) and opponents' third-down rate (25.2 percent).
One of Minnesota's key players on defense said he'll keep things as normal as possible this week in preparation for a rematch from Week 1 with New Orleans.
"We just play our ball. We go out each and every week and do what you do," said Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. "You don't want to change up anything. When you change up things, that's when you have issues, you have [miscues] and stuff like that. You just do what you do, do what you believe in, trust in your technique and trust in yourself."
And even though the plays and points mean more going forward, the Vikings will stick to their usual routine. Players will be off Tuesday before returning to the grind on Wednesday.
"This is a normal week for us. I view it as a normal game for us. I focus the same," said Vikings kicker Kai Forbath. "You can't try to put extra pressure on weeks because that's when bad things happen. So I'm viewing this the same as any other game."
Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "I always get excited for every game. I'm going to get juiced for this one like I always do. That's just how I am personally. But you just treat it like every other game, I feel like. It's high stakes, but at the same time, you have to trust your preparation, trust what got you in the situation you're in, and fall back on that sometimes."
Staying close to home
The Vikings might have been out of sight this past weekend while not being on the television, but football wasn't far from their minds.
While some players chose to escape the Minnesota winter, others stayed local and kept their minds on the task at hand.
"I didn't go back to California, so I stayed right here," said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. "There's obviously more at-stake coming out of this bye week than we had last time, but other than that, that's about it.
"I can go back in the offseason. The bye week [in Week 9 of the regular season] was kind of time to get away, and I didn't want to get away this time," Barr later explained. "I wanted to stay in the moment, stay focused, stay locked in. Flying makes me kind of tired, and I didn't want to deal with that. It's good to be here."
Forbath quipped that he went home to Southern California to try and "warm up a little bit," but the kicker reiterated Monday that his sole focus was on New Orleans.
"I didn't want to take too much time off," Forbath said. "I'm feeling fresh and ready to go now."
Praise for Lattimore
New Orleans had numerous options with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but the Saints have appeared to find a playmaker in Marshon Lattimore.
The rookie cornerback tallied five interceptions in 2017, which was tied with seven players, including Vikings safety Harrison Smith, for the fifth-most in the league.
Wright mentioned that Lattimore is a player to keep an eye on Sunday.
"You see the way [Lattimore] is playing … he's been playing lights out," Wright said. "He's getting a lot of recognition and he should, not only him, but the guys run around. They're fast and they play hard."
Elflein knows Lattimore well because they were teammates in college at Ohio State.
"Marshon is doing great. I'm happy for him," Elflein said. "He's playing at a high level, so I always like to see my former teammates do well.
"He'd show up to work every day, no matter the circumstances," Elflein added.
Lattimore's five picks led the Saints, and one of them was a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 6 against Detroit.