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Final Thoughts: Vikings Try to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive on Christmas Day

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are a longshot to make the playoffs with two weeks to go.

But Minnesota still has some hope, as it needs five games to go its way in order to make it to the postseason: The Vikings need to win out and have the Cardinals lose out, and also have the Bears lose one of their final two games.

That's a lot to ask, but with Minnesota opening the league's Week 16 slate with today's game in New Orleans on Christmas Day, the Vikings can do their part to keep their playoff hope alive.

In other words, the Vikings sole focus should be on getting a win Friday, and not what happens with other teams this weekend.

"I think the mentality stays the same [of] trying to go 1-0 each week," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "Trying to put your best foot forward, play your best football, continue to put good things on tape.

"I think that really is the mindset Week 1 through 17 for all 16 games, and this week will be no different, especially playing on Christmas Day on a national stage," Cousins added. "We've got a lot to get excited about."

The Vikings are 6-8, while the Saints are 10-4. New Orleans can clinch the NFC South (and a home playoff game) with a win Friday.

Yet even though the postseason chances are slim for the Vikings, safety Harrison Smith expects his team to be ready to go in the Big Easy.

"It's not difficult; that's what this whole thing is about," Smith said about staying locked in. "You only get so many game days, so don't take them for granted. I think that's something that old guys, young guys, whatever, have to understand about this game.

"Every time the tape is turned on, that's you out there, that's us out there. That's the only way people can judge you in this line of work," Smith added. "Doesn't matter what the situation is. Put your best stuff on tape, play your hardest … that stuff should be very understood at this level."

Here are three areas to watch in Friday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:

Key on Kamara | By @Eric\_L\_Smith

The Saints will be without All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas in Week 16, but that doesn't mean New Orleans will be lacking playmakers on offense.

A key for the Vikings will be containing running back Alvin Kamara, who is the Saints leader on the ground with 777 rushing yards and 10 scores. Minnesota has allowed 95-plus rushing yards in every game but one in 2020, and the Vikings are coming off a season-high 199 rushing yards allowed to the Bears.

"Yeah, we didn't play very well against the run. We didn't tackle very well," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of the Week 15 effort. "Kamara's obviously a great back. He's got really, really good feet like Dalvin [Cook]. He's hard to tackle, like Dalvin is.

"They use him in more variety of ways," Zimmer added. "We're just going to have to do a better job in some of the cutback and power runs than we did last week."

But Kamara, one of the most versatile players in the league, also leads New Orleans with 80 receptions for 739 yards, and is second on the team with five scores through the air. To put that in perspective, Kamara has seven more catches than Justin Jefferson.

And with Thomas out, the Saints have lined up Kamara out wide to stretch opposing defenses.

Kamara ranks third in the NFL in combined yards with 1,560, which includes 44 kickoff return yards.

The Vikings are depleted at linebacker, as Eric Kendricks and Troy Dye were ruled out on Thursday, and Todd Davis is questionable.

That will make the challenge of containing Kamara even tougher.

"He's an extremely quick, athletic running back that has great feet. His running style is a lot like Dalvin," said Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson. "He can make you miss, he can run you over, too, and then he does a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield.

"They can line him up like a wide receiver, he can run routes like a wide receiver," Patterson added, "so he's very difficult to defend."

Saints pass rush features familiar (& fresh) faces | by @LindseyMNSports

Cousins is accustomed to feeling the heat after the past four games. The quarterback has been sacked 15 times over those contests and been hit 46 total times, according to NFL stats. In the past two games against the Bucs and Bears, he's been sacked nine times.

The Vikings anticipate a Saints pass rush they're familiar with. Minnesota is well-acquainted with Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, the son of Vikings Legend Steve Jordan, but limited him to just one sack of Cousins in the Wild Card playoff game this past January.

At 31 years old, Jordan has just 6.5 sacks this season (his lowest since 2011) but has still proven to be plenty effective for the Saints defense.

In addition to Jordan, the Vikings will also see a newer face on the Saints defensive line: 2017 third-round draft pick Trey Hendrickson. He's been in New Orleans for four seasons but had started just three games before stepping into a full-time starting role this season. And he's made the most of it. Over 14 games, Hendrickson is leading the Saints with 12.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NFL, and also has a pass defensed and forced fumble.

"They've done a great job with getting pressure, finding ways to get sacks, creating turnovers. They have a lot of players who have played a long time who have earned their stripes in this league," Cousins told Twin Cities media members on Tuesday. "Several of those players have played together in this scheme for a while now. I think all of that lends itself well to them being a great defense. They're a big part of their team's success, and it'll be a big challenge for us."

The Vikings offensive line has recently struggled in pass protection, and the unit will need to be at its best today.

Zimmers-vs.-Payton Offers Fierce Competition Between Friends | By @pcraigers

Many might be grappling today with not being able to gather with family in the traditional sense of the annual holiday.

One thing tougher might be facing honorary members of your family in a game with stakes so high, and the one thing harder than that might be being Bill Parcells for roughly three hours on Friday.

Zimmer and Saints Head Coach Sean Payton worked together for three seasons in Dallas for the Hall of Fame coach who remains an incredibly valued mentor to each man.

Zimmer has openly discussed numerous takeaways from his talks with Parcells, from the somber talk the day that Teddy Bridgewater dislocated his knee in a 2016 practice to Parcells being a fan of Minnesota's use of white-on-white uniforms in a win at Chicago on Monday Night Football in Week 10.

"The advice is therapeutic," Payton said. "There's a lot of different things that I think he provides the two of us, and I think he just hates the games where we play against each other."

Zimmer earlier this week noted that his daughters babysat for Payton way back in Dallas.

Payton was hired in New Orleans in 2006, the same year that Drew Brees became the Saints starting quarterback. Brees has led the NFL in completion percentage six previous seasons and in passing yards seven times.

"Sean does such a great job with mixing the personnel groups and the plays and the same looks off the same plays, which adds to Drew," Zimmer said. "I think those two have a really good, I don't know if it's a marriage, but they work really well together."

Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer worked on Payton's staff from 2006-09 before heading to Kansas City (2010-12), Cincinnati (2013) and Minnesota.

"There's a lot of things I took away. Sean's an extremely good coach, extremely smart. I like the way he's really organized, the way he does things within the organization," Adam Zimmer said. "That's where I got my feet wet in the NFL. Other than hanging out with my dad, this was my first real experience learning the ins and outs of a NFL day-to-day operation. I'm really thankful for those days. A lot of the staff is still there that I worked with. It was a great four years, and it really spring-boarded me into my career."

Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.

Notable Number: 1,833

Kamara may rank third in total yards, but Cook leads the NFL in that category with 1,833 yards, a career-high for the fourth-year running back.

Cook has rushed for 1,484 yards (second in the league) and also has 349 receiving yards.

Cook's total of 1,833 scrimmage yards ranks fourth in Vikings history. Here are the top three seasons, all of which have come by a running back.

1. 2,314 yards: Adrian Peterson in 2012

2. 1,885 yards: Adrian Peterson in 2008

3. 1,869 yards: Robert Smith in 2000

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