With the NFC up for grabs, two of the recent favorites to win the conference championship will meet on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, as the Minnesota Vikings host the New Orleans Saints for a chance to advance in the playoffs (4:40 PM ET).
Both Minnesota and New Orleans are playing some of their best football right now and look like teams that could go all the way to the Super Bowl. To see them have to meet in the divisional round is almost a shame, however it does ensure that this Sunday’s contest should be a memorable one.
Minnesota vs New Orleans II: A Lot Has Changed Since Week One
The Saints and Vikings first met on the 2017-18 slate in week one of the season. It’s hard to believe that this game was even part of this season due to all of the personnel changes both teams have undergone. Starting for the victorious Vikings was Sam Bradford, who was masterful. The starting QB finished the game with a 143 passer rating, 346 passing yards and three touchdowns. He missed just five of his 32 attempted passes. On the ground, Minnesota was led by rookie Dalvin Cook, who dazzled in his debut to the tune of 127 yards on 22 carries.
As it would turn out, this would be the only game Bradford would start as a knee injury sustained in week one would keep him out all season. Cook as well wasn’t around for much of the year as he was injured in a week five win over the Chicago Bears. Without Bradford, the Vikings were not the same team that beat the Saints and many questioned their playoff chances as a result. Veteran backup Case Keenum played poorly in his first start, throwing for just 167 yards and a 54.1 completion percentage. The Vikings lost that game, as well as their week four meeting with divisional rival Detroit Lions.
Keenum and the Vikings treaded water over those few weeks, just trying to do enough offensively so that their defense could take care of the rest. It worked, because starting with the victory over the Bears, the Vikings went on an eight-game winning streak and finished the year having won 11 of 12. Without Cook and Bradford, the Vikings managed a 13-3 record, tied for best in the league.
For the Saints, they too went through a major transition following their early season losses. New Orleans opened 0-2 thanks to a schedule that did them no favors and saw them face two of the league’s 13-3 teams back-to-back. New Orleans looked overmatched in both contests but in week three, the Saints beat their divisional rival, the Carolina Panthers, for what would be the first of three times in the 2017-18 season, starting an eight-game winning streak of their own. During this time, the biggest difference for the Saints was the emergence of rookie standout Alvin Kamara, who was one of the league’s best all-purpose running backs this season.
With Kamara coming into his own, as was mentioned in our preview of the Saints/Panthers wildcard game last weekend, New Orleans was the only team in the NFL to have two running backs listed in the top-25 of total rushing yards. The other back, is depth chart No.1, Mark Ingram, who finished fifth among all rushers with 1,124 yards. His 12 rushing touchdowns was second most among all running backs as well.
While this could be a product of the staunch Minnesota defense that New Orleans’ rushers faced in week one, Ingram and Kamara combined for just 35 yards on 13 carries. Ingram had just 17 yards, his worst output of the year. The Saints were still starting Adrian Peterson at the time so that definitely cut into Ingram and Kamara’s production, but that wasn’t the only reason why New Orleans couldn’t get a ground game going.
Not Everything Has Changed
A lot has indeed changed between these teams since the first week of the season but one thing that hasn’t is the fact that Minnesota was then and still is one of the best defenses all-around in the NFL.
The Vikings held the Saints to a pitiful 60 rushing yards on 21 carries in their first meeting. This was part of a trend that saw Minnesota finish as the league’s second best rushing defense, allowing an average of just 83.6 yards per game. Drew Brees still managed to get his, throwing for 291 yards and a touchdown, which is made even more impressive when you see that the Vikings are also second in passing defense, allowing on average just 192.4 yards per game.
Put these two together and you have the NFL’s top defense, allowing just 275.9 total yards and 15.8 points per game.
It’s not all bad news if you are a Saints fan however. New Orleans boasts the NFL’s second best overall offense, with an average of 391.2 yards per game. The team ranks fifth in both passing offense with an average of 261.8 yards and rushing offense with an average of 129.4 yards per game. Additionally, the Saints are fourth in points per game, averaging 28.
Like the AFC divisional game being played Sunday, this is a contest of a top-ranked offense vs a top-ranked defense. Fortunately for the Vikings, as history has shown, the defense tends to come out on top more often than not. Guess that’s why they say defense wins championships.
Our Preview’s New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Picks & Betting Predictions
Both the Saints and Vikings are different teams from the ones who met in the first week of the season. However, certain trends in that game that lasted throughout the season can help us determine which team is likely to walk away with the victory on Sunday. That should help decide this preview’s New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings predictions and betting picks.
The Vikings are a defensive dominator at home, allowing opponents just 12.5 points per game. In the final three regular season games, Minnesota was even better, allowing teams just an average of 5.7 points per game. That’s not even a touchdown’s worth, which is truly incredible. But for fans of the Vikings, this is nothing new. The team is 25-10 at home in their last 35 games.
Following another trend is Brees’ numbers in road playoff games. Brees is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history and is a former Super Bowl winner, but in his career, he is just 1-4 with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, when playing in a postseason road game.
- Going with what we know, it looks like the Vikings are poised to continue their improbable journey to being the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl their home stadium is hosting. So our first betting prediction is to take Minnesota to cover the spread favored to them. Most of the top rated sports betting sites for USA players have the home team as five or five and a half point favorites. Our choice is to bet on Minnesota -4pts @ -125 with Bovada. Yes, the odds are worse with that option but it is worth it to have that extra point and a half on our side.
- For the reasons already stated in this preview, our pick on the total points in this crucial NFL game is to go under 46.5pts @ best odds of -105 with BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.