The No. 6-seed Vikings (10-6) will kick off the postseason with a Wild Card matchup against the No. 3-seed Saints (13-3) Sunday in New Orleans. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. (CT).
The game will mark the second time for the teams to meet in the playoffs within just two calendar years, after the Vikings defeated the Saints via the Minneapolis Miracle in the Divisional round on Jan. 14, 2018, and the fifth time in series history.
If the Vikings win, they will move on to play the 49ers; a New Orleans victory would send the Saints to Green Bay to face the Packers.
Here are five Vikings-Saints storylines to watch this week:
1. Familiar faces
The Vikings and Saints have played each other three times since 2017 – and four, if you count this year's preseason game at the Superdome.
"It does seem like a team we play pretty regularly," Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said earlier this week.
And beyond the familiarity between rosters, Payton and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer go way back, as well. The two coached together in Dallas, where Payton served as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach from 2003-05 when Zimmer was defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Mike's son, Adam, who serves as the Vikings linebackers coach, also worked with Payton in New Orleans from 2006-09.
2. 'The Chef' back in the kitchen
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook told Twin Cities media members on Monday that he'll be "ready to go" for the postseason matchup.
Cook was healthy the majority of the season but left the Week 13 game in Seattle with an injury. He played through it in Week 14 but then suffered a new injury in Los Angeles that sidelined him for the Vikings final two regular-season games. Through 14 games, Cook racked up career highs of 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 carries and proved to be the pulse of Minnesota's offense. Getting him back in the fold would be significant for the Vikings.
Alexander Mattison will also hopefully return to action. The rookie running back missed Weeks 16 and 17 with an ankle injury. Before going down, Mattison had been a reliable reserve back for Minnesota; he ranked fifth among rookie running backs with 462 yards on the ground this season.
Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.
3. Saints defenders are dinged up
New Orleans has a talented roster, but a couple of key players won't be on the field Sunday.
Most notably, the Saints added defensive end Marcus Davenport and nose tackle Sheldon Rankins to Injured Reserve in mid-December. Through 13 games, Davenport had 6.0 sacks, 16 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles; Rankins added another 2.0 sacks and helped anchor a stout defensive line. Starting in their place have DE Trey Hendrickson and DT David Onyemata.
In Week 17, the Saints also were without safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams, as well as cornerback Eli Apple.
4. Emphasis on pass defense
The Vikings are facing a future Hall of Famer in Saints QB Drew Brees.
Brees hasn't shown any signs of decline in his 19th NFL season. He currently leads the NFL in completion percentage (74.3) and missed tying his own NFL record set in 2018 by one-tenth of a point. Despite missing five games with a thumb injury earlier this season, his 27 touchdown passes were fifth-most in the league.
The Saints most-dangerous target through the air is undoubtedly Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches this season. Thomas totaled 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. Also quite effective is tight end Jared Cook, who has 705 yards and nine touchdowns on 43 catches.
Brees has thrown just four picks this season, but the Vikings defense has been on a turnover tear as of late. Minnesota has caused 11 turnovers in the past three games, including four interceptions.
Fans also recognize the importance of pass defense in New Orleans, as evidenced by this week's "Filtered by the Fan" poll:
5. Approach with a postseason mindset
The Vikings are coming off back-to-back losses (including Week 17, in which Minnesota mainly played its reserves), but the team doesn't seem concerned about approaching Sunday with the right mindset.
Asked if the Vikings could be hurt by a lack of momentum heading into the playoffs, fullback C.J. Ham said the following:
"Momentum is based on us and our attitude. If you let the game defeat you, then yeah, you're not going to have momentum. But this team doesn't do that; we know that next week, it's one-and-done. So, we have to make our own momentum."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer stressed during his Monday press conference that outside opinions don't matter; what's most important is confidence inside the building. And being the runaway underdog entering Wild Card weekend only heightens the "why not us?" mentality.
"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."