The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings squared off all the way back in Week 1 of the NFL regular season. It didn’t go well for New Orleans. Just over four months later, the two teams will meet again in the same place for this Divisional Round matchup of the NFL playoffs. The 4:40 p.m. ET kickoff makes this the last game of the Divisional Round. The Vikings are favored by four points at Bookmaker Sportsbook with a total of 45 as they look to move one step closer to being the first true home team for the Super Bowl in NFL history. The San Francisco 49ers played at Stanford Stadium for Super Bowl XIX and the Los Angeles Rams played Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl, so they were in their home markets, but not in their regular home stadiums.
The Saints enter this one with a 12-5 straight up record and a 9-8 ATS mark. New Orleans lost to Tampa Bay to finish up the regular season and squeaked past Carolina by a 31-26 score as a 6.5-point favorite during the Wild Card Weekend. New Orleans, widely considered to be an offensive team, is just 9-8 to the over this year, so oddsmakers have had a good pulse on the totals for the Saints.
The Vikings enjoyed a week off to allow their players to heal some bumps and bruises. Minnesota wrapped up the regular season at 13-3 with a 12-4 record against the spread. The bye week is often a concern for teams because they get used to the rhythms of playing every week, but extra prep time for a terrific head coach like Mike Zimmer may not be the worst thing in the world. The Vikings had some offensive line injuries that needed some time and that is a luxury of winning the division with a top-two record.
The complacency shown by New Orleans in the second half against the Carolina Panthers really obscured what was a dominant performance for the Saints. The Saints racked up 7.3 yards per play, as Drew Brees got the chance to shine and the Panthers had no answers for the 38-year-old and his cast of backs and receivers. Interestingly, the Saints didn’t have much success running the rock, with just 1.9 yards per carry, but Brees threw for 376 yards on 23 completions. Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. both cracked the century mark. It was interesting to see the Saints, who had 4.7 yards per carry as a team, go old school and rely on Brees and the wide receivers. With 16.3 yards per reception, it didn’t take an advanced degree from an Ivy to figure it out, but give credit to Pete Carmichael for putting the game in his best player’s hands. The Saints had 344 yards on Minnesota and were still struggling to figure out their running game when these two teams played, so it will be interesting to see how these teams have changed over the last four months in a head-to-head setting. Something worth noting is that the Saints only had eight third-down attempts because they were so potent throwing on early downs. You can bet that a savvy defensive mind like Zimmer took notice.
The Saints allowed 5.8 yards per play to the Panthers, but they were nursing a lead and the Panthers were passing a lot. Cam Newton had 40 pass attempts and Derek Anderson added one more, as the Panthers only ran the ball 26 times. They had success with the run, but had to abandon it because the clock was ticking. The passing game had 14.5 yards per catch, so the Panthers had big plays when Cam completed his throws, but he didn’t complete enough of them. Greg Olsen proved to be a tough matchup, so maybe the Vikings highlight Kyle Rudolph a little bit more, but Minnesota won’t have a Christian McCaffrey to put out in space. Not with Dalvin Cook hurt. The Saints should stack up a little bit better this time around after allowing 470 yards in the first meeting. New Orleans allowed 5.4 yards per play during the regular season, which was the third-highest mark allowed by playoff teams, and didn’t really impress on the stat sheet against the Panthers, but context matters.
The best asset about the Vikings offense is that Minnesota didn’t turn the ball over. The Vikings only had 14 turnovers thanks to a Pat Shurmur scheme that encourages a lot of easy throws into open space. Case Keenum was outstanding in a traditional sense with a 67.6 percent completion rate and a 22/7 TD/INT ratio, but he was also highly thought of by the advanced metrics and led the NFL in offensive DVOA. The running game took a big hit when Dalvin Cook went out, as neither Latavius Murray nor Jerick McKinnon surpassed four yards per carry, but guys like Pat Elflein, Riley Reiff, and Mike Remmers had some injury issues throughout the second half of the year. Those guys should be as healthy as they have been in weeks and New Orleans can be beaten at the line of scrimmage. The Saints allowed 4.4 yards per carry, but teams couldn’t run the rock much because they were trying to catch up. If the Vikings can dictate the game and run the ball effectively, it should limit the Saints’ possessions and set the efficient Vikings up for more success.
The Vikings were tied with the Jaguars for the fewest yards per play allowed in the NFL this season. How about this? The Vikings had 14 fewer takeaways than the Jaguars and still allowed 16 fewer points while allowing the same 4.6 yards per play. This is a very special defense that Mike Zimmer and George Edwards have fashioned. Edwards took some head coaching interviews over the bye week, but you can bet that the Vikings will be ready defensively for everything that the Saints can throw at them. With the lack of turnovers, the Vikings ranked third in percentage of opponents’ possessions ending with points, which was behind Jacksonville and Philadelphia, but Minnesota’s defense was truly one of the elites this season. The Vikings did it without generating a whole lot of pressure, with only 37 sacks, so that would be the concern here against a Drew Brees-led offense. If he has time to throw, he has plenty of weapons. In the first meeting, Alvin Kamara only had seven carries and four catches. Adrian Peterson tied Mark Ingram with six carries. Ingram had five receptions. The situation with the running backs hadn’t come together yet, so that is a new wrinkle for the Vikings to defend.
Free NFL Picks: New Orleans Saints +4
There looks to be some value on the Saints in this spot. There probably isn’t a more improved team in the NFL from Week 1 to the Divisional Round Weekend than the Saints, who streamlined their offense and fixed what ailed their defense. Back in Week 1, Minnesota was a three-point favorite, so maybe there has been a mild adjustment to the line. The Saints had to survive a late Carolina rally, but they were clearly the better team for most of that game before playing not to lose. That generated a little bit of value on them for this week.