The second-to-last post for this 11-part series, previewing each and every game for the NFL playoffs. To see any of the previous nine, click on the appropriate link below:
This game will likely prove to be the most intense game so far this post season. These were the two highest scoring offenses during the regular season and both have stellar defenses. However I think one of the biggest factors in this week’s game is how well the Vikings can handle going into the Superdome and coping with the loud crowd that comes with it. All four of the Vikings losses have came when they were on the road this year. Away from home they are 4-4 and New Orleans is one of the hardest places to play as a visiting team.
This means that Adrian Peterson has to bounce back from the slump (in his last eight games, he’s only averaging 3.3 yards per carry after averaging 5.1 in the first nine games) he’s been in lately and have a big game. The Saints allowed an average of 4.5 yards per rushing attempt during the regular season, which was one of the worst averages in the league. This is a great opportunity for Peterson to find his All Day rhythm again. Run plays are the easiest to execute when you’re facing a lot of crowd noise, and if Peterson can break off a big one, then that will help quiet the crowd all together. This will also help set up the passing game as well as keep Saints defensive end, Will Smith, on his heals. If he’s worried about getting too far up field that he ends up behind a running play then he won’t be as fierce getting after quarterback, Brett Favre. Vikings left tackle, Bryant McKinnie, will have his hands full with Smith as is, so anything the Vikings can do to help him out is a necessity.
When it comes to the passing game, Favre needs to be sure to keep turnovers to a minimum, which he has done exceptionally well this year. The Saints are a very opportunistic defense and will be looking to get the ball in their hands, especially now that their secondary is fully healthy again. The Vikings have a lot of receiving weapons, but so do the Cardinals and Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Darren Sharper and the rest of the Saints defensive backs did a great job against them last week. If Favre can make them pay instead of get paid when the Saints gamble on defense then that will help the Vikings chances immensely.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings need to stop the run. I know the Saints are a passing team but Reggie Bush had a breakout game last week and as a team the Saints rushed for 171 yards in that game. Pierre Thomas is a little nicked up but he will still be productive. The Saints averaged 4.5 yards per attempt during the regular season and if the game last week from Bush wasn’t just a flash in the pan then Minnesota’s sixth ranked rush defense will need to bring their A-game. Speaking of Reggie Bush, we should see some good special teams returns in this game with Bush returning for the Saints and Percy Harvin returning for the Vikings. The Vikings have a better coverage team however, so special teams is definitely an area that I give Minnesota the advantage.
What’s really dangerous for the Vikings though is their secondary. The Saints had one of the top passing attacks in the league this year and they are very creative in their packages, formations and the personnel that they put on the field to create mismatches against the opposing secondary. Antoine Winfield is a good coverage man for the Vikings but he’s best at playing physical at the line to throw off the receivers and mess up the timing of the play, but Marques Colston is the Saints top receiver and is about 6’4 – 225, which is going to be hard for Winfield (5’9 – 180) to win any power battles against. Colston also lines up in the slot a lot and is especially dangerous across the middle as well as down near the goal line. However, even if Winfield is able to hold Colston to a sub-par day, the Saints also have Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson and none of the remaining members of the Vikings secondary can lineup well against either of those two. The Saints also have a great receiving tight end in Jeremy Shockey and the Vikings defense has struggled throughout the course of the season to stop tight ends in the passing game. Jasper Brinkley, the Vikings middle linebacker that usually ends up covering the tight ends, is extremely suspect in this phase of the game. Drew Brees might end up having a field day.
However, the Saints biggest struggle on offense will be stopping Vikings stud pass-rusher, Jared Allen. This is because the Saints left tackle, Jermon Bushrod is by far their biggest weakness. This is a HUGE mismatch. Allen is one of the best in the league at getting to the quarterback and Bushrod is one of the worst starting left tackles in the NFL. Allen will need to wreck havoc in the backfield tomorrow, to make sure the Saints don’t have enough time for their plays to develop. The Saints will counter this by sending their run plays directly at Allen which should keep him on his heels a little bit, but I still see him having a big game. The Vikings led the NFL in sacks this season, and that defensive line dominated the Cowboys last week, causing six sacks and three turnovers. The Saints didn’t allow many sacks this year, but the Cowboys had success getting to Brees in week 15, and the Vikings will try to mimic that.
I expect to see a lot of great plays in all three phases of the game for both teams. I see both Favre and Brees having over 250 yards and two touchdowns to go with it, though I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them both picked off once. The Vikings should get over 100 yards out of their ground game, while the Saints rushing attack might struggle a bit more than that, getting around 80 (maybe 90) yards. Both quarterbacks will get sacked multiple times as well. This is going to be a hard fought game but…
Saints win it 30 to 28
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