EAGAN, Minn. – Nobody loves being the underdog more than Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
And the man who was passed over for multiple head coaching jobs before finally landing one at age 57 with the Vikings is clearly embracing that role this week.
"I don't think anybody believes that we can win this game, so we go in there and we slug it out," Zimmer said. "All I really care about is that 53 guys believe."
Zimmer's Vikings are the sixth and final seed in the NFC and will head to New Orleans to face the Saints on Sunday in the Wild Card round. Kickoff is at 12:05 p.m. (CT).
Minnesota is 10-6 while New Orleans is 13-3 and the NFC South champions.
In six seasons with the Vikings, Zimmer has built a culture based on work ethic, discipline and toughness.
In a week where many experts will likely pick the Vikings to lose, Zimmer said Monday that he'll have his team ready to go.
And if Zimmer needed extra motivation, the NFL released a playoff hype video Sunday night to supposedly showcase the dozen teams that made it to the postseason.
Minnesota and Philadelphia were not represented in the minute-long piece. Zimmer made sure to note that in his press conference.
"We're 8-point underdogs. We're going on the road," Zimmer said. "They just had an NFL video of all the playoff teams … except us. We'll just go from there."
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Monday:
1. Whatever it takes
When you're one of only 12 teams left, the stakes get higher. And they only intensify as the playoff rounds move along.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen talked in the Vikings locker room Monday about how the team already has a sense of urgency heading into a week of preparation and practice.
The Pro Bowl wide receiver said that everyone has to be sharp during a playoff week, and that the small details matter more than ever.
Zimmer said he wants his players to be locked in all week, while also being creatures of habit and sticking to their routines.
Come Sunday, Zimmer said, the game will likely boil down to a few plays here or there.
"Well, it's important that when you get in games like this, number one, you have to be able to execute," Zimmer said. "Do it like he said, do what you've been doing all along.
"But mistakes are magnified now, every little thing becomes a lot more magnified because of the consequences of winning and losing," Zimmer added. "So, everybody has to do a little bit extra in preparation so that we don't make those mistakes. We line up, play hard and play fast."
2. Going back to sleep
Most of the country was enthralled by the 256th and final game of the 2019 regular season between the 49ers and Seahawks on Sunday Night Football .
San Francisco earned a 26-21 win in a wild finish during which Seattle was stopped inches short of the go-ahead touchdown with just seconds left.
The Vikings surely had an interest in the game, as the San Francisco win set up Minnesota's Wild Card game against New Orleans. If the Seahawks had won, the Vikings would have been heading to Seattle this weekend.
Zimmer, however, wasn't among those glued to his TV.
"No, I was asleep," Zimmer said. "Woke up in the middle of the night, got a text that we're playing New Orleans on Sunday."
And what was his reaction?
"Cool," Zimmer quipped. "Then I went back to sleep."
Zimmer is 2-1 in his career against the Saints, including 1-0 in the playoffs.
3. The challenge of Cam
There were only five defensive players who notched at least 14.5 sacks during the 2019 season, and a pair of them will be in action Sunday afternoon.
One of them, of course, is Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. The former third-round pick matched his career high with 14.5 sacks, and that essentially came in 15 games as he played just one defensive snap in Week 17.
But the other is Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who set a career-high with 15.5 sacks in 2019. The son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, Cam Jordan has reached double-digit sack numbers in five of the past seven seasons.
"He's a very violent rusher. Plays extremely hard, tough guy," Zimmer said. "He uses his hands well. He's a good matchup."
4. Dialed in on the defense
The last time the Vikings and Saints met in the postseason two years ago, Minnesota boasted the NFL's No. 1 defense in terms of both points (15.8) and yards (275.9) allowed per game.
That isn't the case this time around, as the Vikings finished 14th in the league by allowing 341.6 total yards per game, and tied for fifth with 18.9 points allowed per game.
But Zimmer expects his team to play well against a high-powered Saints offense that averaged 28.6 points per game, which tied for third in the league. New Orleans hit the 34-point mark in six of its final seven games, averaging 36.3 points per game in those contests.
"They're pretty resilient," Zimmer said of what he's learned about his unit. "Throughout the course of the season, there's always some ups and downs throughout, injuries and different things.
"These guys are good competitors," Zimmer added. "They're tough guys and smart, and I expect them to go out and play well."
The Vikings are expected to start eight of the 11 players they started in the Divisional round game against the Saints in January of 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium. That group includes Hunter, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.
Shamar Stephen, Mackensie Alexander and Anthony Harris — each of whom played in that game — are the other three expected starters.