We've almost made it to Sunday.
The Vikings and Saints will meet in the Wild Card round of the NFC Playoffs, with kickoff at 12:05 p.m. (CT) from New Orleans.
Minnesota, the sixth seed, went 10-6 and finished second in the NFC North. New Orleans is the No. 3 seed after going 13-3 to claim the NFC South.
And while there has been plenty of coverage on the Purple in the past week, Vikings.com chatted with Saints reporter John DeShazier for a glance at what the other side is thinking before Sunday's contest.
View practice images from the Vikings practice on Jan. 2 at TCO Performance Center.
Here is the Wild Card edition of Opposing Viewpoint:
Thanks for helping out, John. We'll start with the high-powered Saints offense, which seems to be humming along at its best right now. Michael Thomas looks like the best wide receiver in the game, while running backs Alvin Kamara and old friend Latavius Murray make up a dynamic 1-2 punch. Is there a way to slow down this offense? It seems that when a defense takes away one or two options, then two or three more guys just step up?
JD: I guess the best way to attack the Saints on offense is the old-fashioned way, and that's to get pressure on the quarterback. In two of the three games New Orleans lost, against the Rams and Falcons, the key was those opponents posted wins against the Saints offensive line. That hasn't been a regular occurrence, though, as you can see, especially when the line is healthy. Significant for the Saints is that tight end Jared Cook has helped carry the load in the passing game; since he returned from injury eight games ago, he's caught 28 passes for 537 yards and seven touchdowns. He adds another weapon to the mix that has to be accounted for.
Of course, you can't talk about New Orleans without bringing up Drew Brees. How remarkable is it that he's playing so well at the age of 40? Is there any chatter of him hanging it up if the Saints win it all this year? Or he is a guy that loves the preparation and competition and wants to keep playing?
JD: He's a guy who knows that it won't last forever, and yet, he looks like he has forever in him – or, probably, at least another three to five years. I definitely don't believe he's going anywhere after this season, regardless of where the Saints finish, because he's playing at such a high level and he's that kind of competitor. It's hard to ever say that an injury was beneficial, but Brees very well could be fresher than he normally would be if he hadn't missed the five games with his thumb injury and surgery. And his focus may have narrowed – if that's possible – because the injury gave him a different perspective on how precious it is for him to play the game. He's as precise as he ever has been, really looks comfortable, and he also seems to be enjoying the moment.
Defensively, the Saints are led by Cam Jordan and his 15.5 sacks. But a name I've also heard a lot about this season is linebacker Demario Davis. What impact has he had on that unit, and how has he established himself as a playmaker in his second season in New Orleans?
JD: The best thing to know about Davis is that last season, in his first with the team, his teammates elected him to be a defensive captain. That says a lot about who he is off the field. On it, he's a vocal, every-down linebacker who doesn't have many weaknesses. [Head Coach] Sean Payton says Davis doesn't allow "leaky" yards; basically, guys don't ordinarily fall forward when he hits them. He makes the tough, physical plays inside the tackles, and he pursues sideline to sideline. He's good in coverage, and when he blitzes, if a running back has the responsibility of stoning him, he usually wins that collision. He affects the game every way a great defender should.
I'm guessing we'll see between 300 and 500 replays of Stefon Diggs and The Minneapolis Miracle leading up to Sunday's game. Obviously, it was unforgettable on all sides, but what have Saints players and coaches said about that moment this week? Are they using it as motivation? Or is it in the past for this team?
JD: I think it's about 95 percent out of their system. I'd never say 100 percent, because it's impossible to not reflect on it because of the magnitude and because it's a reference point this week that can't be avoided. I believe the Saints absolutely used it as offseason fuel in 2018. But when they address it nowadays, there's no edginess or sense of a revenge factor. Last year, in what could have been a "hangover" season from that play, the Saints went 13-3 and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This year, another potential "hangover" season because of the no-call against the Rams in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints went 13-3 and were a defensive stop away from being 14-2 and earning the No. 1 seed again. This team has been resilient, and it has done a great job of not just saying it won't allow a carryover, but actually playing that way.
And finally, pick a Vikings player on each side of the ball you are most looking forward to watching Sunday afternoon.
JD: I'm going to cheat on defense and name two: ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. When two players combine for 22.5 sacks, it jumps off the page a bit. And, as I said before, when the Saints have struggled offensively it mainly has been because opponents were able to win up front and apply pressure. On paper, the matchup between those ends and the Saints offensive tackles is marquee. Offensively, I'll go with running back Dalvin Cook because when he wasn't available in the final two regular-season games, Minnesota's offense wasn't the same. If the Vikings hope for offensive balance, Cook probably will be the one supplying the punch on the ground, and his is the production that the Saints want to limit in order to make the Vikings one-dimensional.