To call Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings a rematch is a bit misleading.
The teams facing off this weekend are quite different from the squads that took to the field on September 11 in what was a 29-19 Vikings win.
Leading that Vikings win were quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Both have since been lost for the remainder of the campaign with injuries.
Case Keenum took over for Bradford and has been remarkable in leading the Vikings (13-3) to an NFC North title. The Vikings have used Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to fill in for Cook, who had 127 rushing yards in last time out.
The Saints (12-5) had former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as their starter, but he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals after four games. That opened the door for rookie Alvin Kamara, who is a favorite to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Just because the Vikings won handily in Week 1, it does not mean Sunday’s playoff game will have a similar result.
CAN THE SAINTS RUN THE BALL?
The Vikings, who had the NFL’s best defense and ranked second in rush defense, held the Saints to 60 rushing yards in Week 1 as Peterson had only 18 yards on six carries. Kamara rushed the ball seven times and Mark Ingram had six attempts for 17 yards. The Saints had a hard time establishing the run early on, limited to 81 yards in a Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots.
But the Saints finished the regular season with the NFL’s fifth-ranked rush offense after over 129 yards per game. Ingram and Kamara were selected to the Pro Bowl after they tallied more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Ingram led the team in rushing with 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns while Kamara added 728 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Both were shut down by the Carolina Panthers last week as Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 376 yards and two scores. The Saints can win — and have done so — with Brees carrying the team, but they will have a much better shot at pulling off the upset if they can get Ingram and Kamara going.
WHO WILL WIN THE BATTLE ON THIRD DOWN?
The Vikings ranked either first or second in most team defensive stats, including on third down. Minnesota allowed opposing offenses to convert just 25.3 per cent of penultimate downs, the best in the NFL.
The #Vikings allowed teams to convert just 25.3% of their third downs this season, the best rate of any defense in the NFL. And it doesn’t stop there… h/t @OptaJerry #NOvsMIN pic.twitter.com/043FXyeWLS— Omnisport US News (@OmnisportUS) January 11, 2018
Despite having the NFL’s second-ranked offense, the Saints were surprisingly pedestrian on third down — converting just 38 per cent of the time to sit 19th in the league.
Minnesota’s offense, conversely, was third-best at 44 per cent. The Saints' defense was tied for sixth-worst in allowing teams to convert 41 per cent of their third-down chances. That tied them with the Oakland Raiders (6-10), the Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) and the Cleveland Browns (0-16).
WILL THE STAGE BE TOO BIG FOR KEENUM?
Keenum is in his fifth NFL season, but 2017 was the first year in which he started more than nine games. Sunday will be his first playoff game.
The former Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams quarterback stepped in beautifully for Bradford and set career highs with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdown passes. He threw just seven interceptions and was in the MVP conversation.
As good as he was during the regular season, the playoffs can be a different story. Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has to devise a game plan that can instill Keenum’s confidence early to keep the 29-year-old quarterback calm.
|Bairstow: Unfair to compare England Test and ODI teams|
|Criticism is a weapon of the weak – Dani Alves defends Neymar|
|Thomas drops shot as McIlroy endures testing morning|
|Hazard is Chelsea´s best player and we need him – Fabregas|
|Mercedes & Bottas agree multi-year deal|
|Neymar backs ´genius´ Ronaldo to make Serie A great again|
|Sanchez to face San Jose Earthquakes as Mourinho grows desperate in attack|
|Ibrahimovic to watch England at Wembley – Zlatan will honour Beckham bet|
|Cubs use five-run fifth inning to trump Cardinals|
|Manchester United 1 America 1: Mata salvages draw for Red Devils|
|Steelers´ Super Bowl window getting smaller - Brown|
|Neymar cares about PSG and will stay amid Real Madrid speculation|
|NFL, NFLPA at ´standstill agreement´ over anthem policy|
|Guardiola: It would´ve been a mistake for Jorginho to join City|
|Angels star Ohtani cleared to resume pitching|
|´I don´t give a f***´ – Cousins hits back at critics after Warriors move|
|Merritt leads Barbasol Championship|
|Ruud awakening for Ferrer in Bastad|
|Nibali withdraws from Tour de France with back fracture|
|Fabinho: I´ll try to convince Mbappe to join Liverpool|
|Beating Messi boosted France´s World Cup belief – Lloris|
|Carnoustie saving the worst until last|
|McIlroy´s youthful exuberance could be a bad sign for Carnoustie contenders|
|Saints triumph at second-placed Wigan|
|Anfield atmosphere sweetened Alisson on Liverpool|
|Bouchard reaches Gstaad quarter-finals|
|´What are you waiting for?´ - Alisson reveals Salah text messages|
|´Full package´ Alisson could not be missed - Klopp|
|Alisson to Liverpool: Brazil star becomes most expensive goalkeeper in history|
|Alisson to Liverpool: Brazilian´s stats blitz Mignolet, Karius|
|Liverpool sign Alisson in world-record deal|
|The Open 2018 diary: Spieth´s got ball skills as Finau proves the scratch golfer|
|Woods: Score doesn´t reflect how well I played|
|Can we go to Paris now? - Thomas in a hurry after conquering Alpe d´Huez|
|Thomas: I could have finished stronger|
|Kisner shines at baked Carnoustie as McIlroy, Rahm and Thomas loom|
|Sarri´s mentality made me a better footballer - Jorginho|
|Tax rates played a role in Ronaldo joining Juventus, says LaLiga president|
|Aggressive McIlroy doing it his way, not the fairway|
|I let him have it - Spinazzola ribs Ronaldo over Juve shirt number|
|Thomas makes it back-to-back wins|
|Ramos may remain for Spain but Luis Enrique promising surprises|
|Cazorla still playing through pain after Villarreal appearance|
|Vegas to Carnoustie - a hellish trip for Jhonattan|
|NFL training camp 2018: Five under-the-radar rookies to watch|
|Woods off to a flyer as Thomas charges|
|Sanchez given green light to join Man Utd tour|
|Greipel, Groenewegen and Gaviria latest sprinters to abandon Tour de France|
|Luis Enrique hopeful over Pique as he plots a Spanish evolution|
|I had a brain fart - Spieth disappointed with missed opportunity|
|I´ve sacrificed too much to quit, says injury-plagued Rossi|
|Klopp rejects Henderson´s plea to return early to Liverpool training|
|Open champion Spieth loses ground in scrappy finish|
|Alexis Sanchez hints visa issue sorted as United States trip beckons|
|Kovac an admirer of Pavard, expects James to stay|
|Dzeko happy at Roma and eyeing silverware|
|Eels win basement battle with Bulldogs|
|Kluivert to follow Totti´s example after taking ´big step´ with Roma|
|Kisner hopes to return Claret Jug favour to Spieth|
|FIBA bans 13 players & two coaches over Philippines-Australia brawl|
|Spieth and Rahm in the mix as Kisner sets the target|
|Monchi insists Roma remain ambitious as Liverpool close in on Alisson|
|Cavendish thanks ´race that shaped career & heart´ after cruel Tour exit|
|No Trent Bridge Ashes Test as England confirm schedule|
|Ajax tell Barcelona not even ´insane´ money will buy De Ligt, De Jong|
|Hamilton agrees two-year Mercedes extension|
|Uran withdraws from Tour after failing to shake off injuries|
|Spieth tees off Open defence|
|Zidane has shown no will to coach France, insists FFF president|
|Risking the curse - Steelers star Brown lands on Madden 19 cover|