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The Skinny Post: Vikings, Saints Meet in Battle of 1st-Place Teams on SNF

EAGAN, Minn. — It's a matchup we've all been waiting for.

The Vikings and Saints will meet for the third time in less than 14 months on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in a rematch of the 2017 season opener and their Divisional Round playoff game from January.

Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. (CT) on Sunday Night Football.

Both teams are riding sizable win streaks.

The Vikings have won three straight games and sit in first place in the NFC North with a 4-2-1 record. Minnesota picked up a 37-17 road win on Sunday against the Jets.

New Orleans has won five consecutive contests and is alone in first place in the NFC South with a 5-1 mark. The Saints squeaked out a 24-23 win at Baltimore this past weekend.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Thriving on 3rd downs | By @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings defense has been red-hot on third downs over the past month, stopping opponents on 33 of the past 38 tries on that down.

Minnesota held the Rams to one of six conversions, limited the Eagles to two successes in nine tries, blanked the Cardinals on all 10 opportunities and stifled the Jets to two conversions on 13 attempts.

That scorching stretch has moved the Vikings atop the league leaderboard with a third-down rate of 23.4 percent, which is better than second-ranked Baltimore by 5.5 percentage points.

But the Vikings will have quite the test Sunday against Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense.

The unit ranks 11th in the NFL with a success rate of 42.3 percent on third downs, but the future Hall of Famer can make any throw and is a threat to move the chains on any play. The Saints were 6-for-14 on third downs (42.9 percent) at Baltimore.

If the Vikings can keep up their recent success on third downs, they'll be able to get Brees off the field and give Minnesota's offense more time with the pigskin.

That could continue the recipe for success that has helped the Vikings rack up three straight wins.

Importance of establishing a run game | By @LindseyMNSports

After struggling to get its ground game going in the first quarter of the season, Minnesota has rushed for 77 yards at Philadelphia, 195 and two touchdowns against Arizona, and 88 yards and another score at New York.

The Vikings rushed 23, 35 and 24 times in the contests, respectively.

Minnesota will have its run game tested this weekend when it faces New Orleans' No. 1 run defense. The Saints haven't lost a game since Week 1, when they allowed the Buccaneers to rush for 112 yards. Over the past four weeks, opponents have averaged 57.25 rushing yards per game against New Orleans.

One of Minnesota's main goals will be to keep the ball out of Brees' hands, and establishing an effective game will help the Vikings do that. Effective runs that end in bounds can help a team control the clock and flow of the game.

"We want to get our running game going," said Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo. "We have a challenge on Sunday night that we hopefully we can meet."

DeFilippo said it's important to "put the ball in play and now take another 45 seconds off the clock" to control the clock and win the time-of-possession battle.

Containing dual threat of Alvin Kamara could be key | By @pcraigers

Kamara is a dual-threat running back in every sense of the phrase, capable of explosive gains on the ground and through the air.

The second-year pro enters Sunday's game with 363 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 79 carries in 2018. He also has 40 receptions for 362 yards and another score through the air.

Listed at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Kamara is able to run between the tackles but also capable of making teams pay when teams fail to contain him at the edge.

Kamara is capable of running different types of routes and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass that gave the Saints a 21-20 lead with 3:01 remaining in the Divisional Round playoff game last January.

He is one of several players that the Saints like to line up at different spots of the field.

"It's a big challenge, but they do it with lots of guys, with [Taysom] Hill. They move all of their players around a lot. Sometimes they'll have [Mark] Ingram outside, but [Kamara is] obviously a special player, a great runner, catches the ball well, a good receiver, is good in protection. All of those things will make it difficult, so you've got to be on point."

Substantial Stats

— The Vikings are tied for ninth in the league with a plus-3 turnover differential after getting four takeaways in Sunday's win. New Orleans is tied for 18th with a minus-1 turnover ratio.

— The Vikings are 15-4 all-time at U.S. Bank Stadium, including the playoffs. A pair of wins against the Saints [the 2017 season opener and a January playoff game] are included in the total.

— Vikings safety Harrison Smith has 19 career interceptions in Purple, which is tied with Karl Kassulke and Audrey McMillian for 10th in franchise history.

—Brees is the NFL's all-time passing leader with 72,315 yards. The future Hall of Famer also has 501 career touchdown passes, which ranks fourth all-time.

Quotable

"We were actually talking about it [Wednesday] and how much that play has been played this week. It's a completely different season, and I know it's the same two teams and all that, but it's a new season, and we have to focus on playing well this week. You can't think about that play. Actually, we can go look at that game and all of the negative things we did to actually put ourselves in that situation to almost lose that ball game. Obviously it was a play you're never going to forget, but at the same time, we have a lot to focus on this week."

— Thielen on the "Minneapolis Miracle"

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