The AFC’s portion of the playoffs is underway and, starting today, the NFC action begins as well. Game one pits the NFC South winning (13-3) New Orleans Saints against a team they know all too well in the playoffs, the (10-6) Minnesota Vikings (1.05pm ET Sunday on FOX).
It wouldn’t be a Saints/Vikings postseason matchup without referencing the Minneapolis Miracle, which was a moment of pure unadulterated jubilation for Minnesota and unequivocal, shocking heartbreak for New Orleans. The year was 2018, the date January 14th. The setting was the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. The winner would be assured a trip to the NFC Championship and the loser would be sent home.
After trailing 17-0 at the end of the first half, the Saints spurred on by Drew Brees’ offense, roared back to give New Orleans a 24-23 lead with just 25 seconds remaining in the game. The Vikings, with no time outs, not in field goal position, and the clock not on their side, saw things come down to the final play. As time expired, Minnesota QB Case Keenum threw a 27-yard pass to all-pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The pass alone wouldn’t have led to the game-winning touchdown, but Diggs’ yards after the catch did as he evaded Saints’ safety Marcus Williams and ran an additional 34 yards into the end zone. It was the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a touchdown as the clock expired.
Much has changed since then. Keenum is no longer the QB in Minnesota, replaced by Kirk Cousins, who after being in the NFL for several years is still looking for a marquee, statement victory. Teddy Bridgewater, who had been on Minnesota’s bench at the time, is now the backup to Brees in New Orleans where his time as the starter this year provided somewhat miraculous results in their own right. Some things have also stayed the same as both Marcus Williams, riding a season where he ranked in the top 15 of both interceptions and pass deflections, and Stefon Diggs, despite spending time on the IR, finished in the top 25 in yards, touchdowns and average yards per catch.
This is a new year and for the Saints, a new opportunity following two years of postseason heartbreak. They’ll get a chance to do it at home this year, where they’ve had tremendous playoff success of late. Could that make the difference? It might. At the very least, it means there won’t be a Minneapolis Miracle II.
Can Kirk Cousins Finally Get a Statement Win?
All eyes today will be on the man who the Vikings paid handsomely to be their franchise leader, Kirk Cousins. In 2015, Cousins made his lone playoff start to date, leading the Washington Redskins to the NFC East title and their first postseason appearance in several years. The East champs were entirely overmatched, falling to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 35-18, despite the Redskins opening the game up with an 11-0 lead. Cousins didn’t play poorly, completing 63 percent of his passes for over 300 yards and a QB rating of 91.7, but he was sacked six times and fumbled three times, losing one of them.
While it wouldn’t be fair to put all of this loss on Cousins’ shoulders, it was another loss against a top team, something that has proven to be a concerning and recurring pattern for the QB. As of September 30th of this season, the numbers were crunched showing Cousins, in his career, had a record of just 5-27 against teams with a winning record. He is still winless in nine tries on Monday Night Football and is 0-10-1 with the Vikings when entering games trailing in the fourth quarter. Point being, Cousins has gotten the reputation, whether rightfully so or not, of not being able to deliver in the big moments. There is none bigger than the NFL postseason and this will be Cousins’ chance to show he’s not just a guy who puts up good stats but the guy who can win the big games as well.
Fortunately for Cousins, he’ll have the full complement of his weapons on offense to aid him in his quest for a playoff win as the Vikings are getting Dalvin Cook back from injury. Cook missed the past two weeks and non-coincidentally, Minnesota lost both games. The team was unable to really get their offense in rhythm without Cook, who ranked fourth in the NFL in touchdowns with 13 and 10th in rushing yards with 1,135. Then there’s the dominant duo of Diggs and Adam Thielen. While not as prolific a passing offense as last year, these two still have all the ability to turn it on and that makes them very dangerous deep threats. Diggs especially, as he has five 100+ yard receiving games on the season.
The Michael Thomas Effect
In 2019, the 26-year-old Michael Thomas did something no one in NFL history has ever done. In his fourth year with the Saints, Thomas caught 149 passes, an NFL record. He also had over 1,700 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. In his entire career, Thomas has only gotten better each year, up to the point where he had the best season of all pass catchers not just this year, but all time.
It should also be noted that Thomas was targeted 185 times, catching 149 of those balls. That’s an 81 percent catch rate, which is absolutely exceptional given all of the variables at play. No matter who he’s playing against, Thomas has gotten his load all season long and one shouldn’t expect that to change. Especially not when both Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes, two of Minnesota’s top defenders in the secondary, are injured and will miss today’s game. That leaves Xavier Rhodes, who has had his struggles this year, with the toughest task in football, covering Thomas in one-on-one situations.
Our Betting Preview’s Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints Predictions & Picks NFL Playoff Conclusion
Minnesota boasts a tough defensive front that will look to get after Brees and limit the damage of Alvin Kamara and the running game, but in the end, it will be the Saints’ third best offense that marches into the NFL Divisional Round. So here are our Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints predictions:
- The first of the picks for this preview is for New Orleans to win and cover the eight-point spread favored to them by those sportsbooks that cater for the States. Bet the Saints -8pts @ -105 with 5Dimes, Bookmaker or Intertops.
- Expect the score to exceed 50 total points. Go over 50pts @ -110 with Intertops or 5Dimes.
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.