EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Saints who will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday aren't the same team that Minnesota hosted in Week 1.
But then again, the Vikings aren't the same team, either.
When the two squads square off for the Divisional playoff game, 125 days will have passed since they last met.
"They're a lot different now than they were then, obviously. I think we are, as well," Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. "They use a lot of quick counts. I think they run the ball a lot more effectively now. That will be a point of emphasis, and I think [Drew Brees is] throwing at a high completion rate."
In the season opener on Sept. 11, the Vikings walked away with a 29-19 win over the Saints.
Lineups for both teams, however, looked incredibly different than they do now.
New Orleans started Adrian Peterson at running back and rotated in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram behind the former Viking. Peterson and Kamara were held to 18 yards apiece by Minnesota's defense, while Ingram recorded just 17.
Since that time, Peterson was traded to the Cardinals, and Kamara and Ingram have become significant offensive threats, both on the ground and through the air. The running back duo became the first in NFL history to each surpass 1,500 total yards from the line of scrimmage.
Xavier Rhodes said there's a "total difference" between the team the Vikings beat in September and the one they're game-planning for now.
"They were trying to establish the run with the backs they had," Rhodes said. "Now they just … found their swagger. We just need to stop those guys and not give them momentum."
Added Eric Kendricks: "I'm expecting a different team than we played in Week 1, and I'm going to watch the film and study up."
Defensively, the Saints young defensive backs have jelled much better throughout the season and are playing at a higher level. Defensive end Cameron Jordan remains a force to be reckoned with. He had a sack, a pass defensed and four tackles (league stats) against the Vikings. Jordan totaled 13 sacks, 11 passes defensed, 62 tackles and a pick-six in 2017.
"You see the way [Marshon Lattimore] is playing. He's been playing lights-out," Jarius 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. The difference is, earlier in the year they were, not confused, but just working with new guys, and [now] the secondary has settled in. I think they'll play well."
While the Saints have changed and improved, the Vikings also have a new look.
On Sept. 11, Sam Bradford started for the Vikings at quarterback and had a career game, finishing 27-of-32 passing for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 143.0. The *Monday Night Football *game also marked the debut of Dalvin Cook, who hit the ground running. The rookie rushed 22 times for 127 yards and added three catches.
Little did the Vikings know, Week 1 would be one of two started by Bradford on the season, and Cook was added to Injured Reserve after tearing his ACL in Week 4 against the Lions.
Minnesota has weathered the storm, however, and come out stronger.
Case Keenum stepped up and has impressed all season, helping lead the Vikings to a 13-3 season that clinched not only the NFC North but also the first-round bye in the playoffs.
Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have shouldered the load in Cook's absence and have combined for 1,936 total yards from scrimmage (1,412 rushing).
"We've got some guys that really weren't playing the first time – myself, Latavius, Case," McKinnon said. "It's good to be against that same team because we all know what we're doing scheme-wise, just different pieces. Sunday is going to be about who executes better, who makes the least mistakes, and who scores the most points."
Numerous things haven't changed much in the course of four months.
The average price of gas dropped 12 cents.
Minnesota still has 11,842 lakes – although they're now dotted by ice shanties rather than fishing boats.
Only one more *Star Wars *film has been added.
And U.S. Bank Stadium is still one of the loudest stadiums in the league.
But as the Vikings prepare for the Saints? It's a whole new ball game.
"I'm got to watch some more tape and dig deeper into what they're doing," Barr said Monday. "I think they're going to be a lot different and a lot better – but I think we'll be a lot different and better than we were Sept. 11."