At long last, opening week of the NFL regular season has arrive. The off-season moves are booked, draft selections have been solidified, and players survived the pre-season schedule. The New Orleans Saints had no shortage of headlines this off-season, but it’s time to put it all behind and brace for week one in what Mike Francesa would describe as, “The league where they play, for pay”. The New Orleans Saints begin their 2017 season in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, September 11. The Saints and Vikings both enter the season with expectations of improvement on a sub-par season a year ago. If the Saints are to come away with their first opening day victory since 2013, there are a few key battles they need to win.
Week One New Orleans Saints Keys to Victory
1) Drew Brees vs Vikings Defense
Make no mistake about it. The 2016 Vikings, which started the season 5-0 and were a dark horse pick to play in the NFC Championship before the wheels came off, are built on defense. Minnesota ranked sixth in the NFL in 2016 in total team defense. However, in 2016, they didn’t face the top offense in the land in New Orleans. The Vikings return 10 of 11 starters to that defensive unit, including ball hawk Xavier Rhodes, who just received a contract extension this off-season.
The Saints offense has seen some changes this off-season which makes the game somewhat unpredictable. The additions of Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara and Ted Ginn Jr. countered with the loss of Brandin Cooks make it nearly impossible to foresee how this unit will perform. Knowing head coach Sean Payton, however, this unpredictability is just what he loves. The Saints will need to rely on the unique play-calling of Payton and an early lead to put the pressure on the Vikings.
2) The Adrian Peterson Factor
Sean Payton loves to give his players the opportunity to shine against their former teams. A great example would be Tim Hightower playing against his former squad, the Arizona Cardinals, in 2016. Hightower got the goal-line touches and was able to put the ball in the end zone twice against his former squad. Expectations are, Peterson will get a similar opportunity against the Vikings this Monday night.
Peterson, at this point of his Hall of Fame career, seems to fit the “change of pace” role to starter Mark Ingram. Expect Peterson to not only get the goal-line caries, but also be more of a feature late in the game to punish a defense that has had to chase Ingram and Kamara around for three quarters. If Peterson doesn’t find the end zone against his former mates, expect him to be used as a decoy on goal-line play action.
3) Saints Pass Rush vs Vikings Offensive Line
While it’s rare to look to pre-season results from any NFL team for answers, the New Orleans Saints needed to send a message to the league that things have changed in the Big Easy. The Saints showed promise as they displayed atypical closing speed, anticipation and yes, a pass rush.
Cameron Jordan had a great 2016 campaign but saw a reduction in his sack total compared to years past. It seems as though he has some professionals standing beside him on this 2017 defensive line in second-year standout Sheldon Rankins on the inside and an emerging Alex Okafor on the opposite end. The new additions at linebacker will only add to the pass rush and the rebuilt secondary will allow for coverage pressure.
The Vikings offensive line has one of the league’s least mobile quarterbacks standing behind them in Sam Bradford. This lends itself to the Saints pass attack, who will know exactly where to find the Oklahoma product.
The book on Vikings quarterback Bradford is well chronicled. If he is knocked around and under constant pressure, Bradford will struggle. If the Saints can abuse the Vikings offensive line and force Bradford into some early mistakes, it will take the ball out of rookie running back Dalvin Cook‘s hands and force the Vikings rattled quarterback to press.