The NFL playoffs are now in full swing with the Divisional Round coming up this weekend. The Minnesota Vikings will be pitted up against the New Orleans Saints Sunday in Minnesota. This is the second time the teams have played this season, with the Vikings taking the win on Monday Night Football in week one.
How the Minnesota Vikings Can Win in the Divisional Round
Both teams have changed dramatically since their first matchup.
The Vikings lost their day one starters at quarterback and running back in Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook. Case Keenum came in and led the Vikings to a first-round bye with surprisingly elite performance. The running back duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon stepped in and kept the Vikings running game consistent in Cook’s absence. The main consistency in Minnesota was the defense. Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes took home first team All-Pro honors, while Everson Griffen also gained recognition on the second team. The defense as a whole was top ten in nearly all major categories.
The Saints moved on from Adrian Peterson and in turn improved their backfield dramatically. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram went on to be a record setting pair in the backfield for the Saints. Both running backs made the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Together, the teammates amassed 3,000 all-purpose yards, a feat that has never been done before. Cameron Jordan also solidified himself as one of the top defensive talents in the league this season. He has shown the ability to alter the game on a play-to-play basis. He will be sure to make things tricky for the Vikings offense.
The biggest deciding factor in this game will be the Vikings ability to contain Kamara in both the running and passing games. The first time these two teams played, the defense did very well against the run. The Vikings run defense has been elite all season long, and will likely continue this success Sunday. Anthony Barr has shown great ability to stop plays going to the outside this year, with elite closing speed to the ball. Trae Waynes has also shown himself to be a top run-stopping talent at the cornerback position this season. Head coach Mike Zimmer will be sure to key on Kamara to limit his opportunities. Look for multiple players, including Waynes and Barr, to lock onto Kamara to limit his production.
If the Vikings can successfully stifle the Saints backfield, New Orleans will be forced to rely on the arm of Drew Brees. Obviously, that is still quite the threat, as Brees has been elite for a decade. Rhodes is sure to be covering number one threat Michael Thomas most of the game. Coverage by Rhodes nearly guarantees limited production, as Rhodes has shut down All-Pro receivers consistently. This leaves Brees with Ted Ginn, Jr as his only other consistent receiving threat that should see heavy coverage. The other receiving threats on the roster shouldn’t be much trouble for the Minnesota defense to blanket. The main focus will be limiting Thomas, Ginn, and Kamara as Brees favorite targets.
This will likely be a very close game that could go either way. If Zimmer’s defense can limit the Saints playmakers, the Vikings should walk away victorious.