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.
|Retiring veteran Benneteau dumps Goffin out|
|Meunier blasts ´disgraceful´ PSG fans after Neymar boos|
|Pique demands better at Camp Nou after Espanyol ´insults´|
|Djokovic outlasts Monfils in Melbourne heat|
|Wizards get in scuffle in blowout loss to Hornets|
|Schweinsteiger re-signs with Chicago Fire for 2018|
|Rockets´ Ariza, Green suspended|
|Sharapova happy with improvement|
|Muguruza stunned as upsets continue at Australian Open|
|Juve trying everything to sign Can, says Marotta|
|He´s scared of me – Ferrell reveals Federer fears|
|Konta crashes out in shock Aus Open defeat to lucky loser|
|Brady limited in practice due to hand injury|
|Sharapova overcomes Sevastova in Melbourne|
|Rooney convinced me to join Everton – Walcott|
|Simeone: Sevilla deserved their win|
|Conte calls for VAR improvements|
|Neymar not angered by PSG whistles - Silva|
|FA Cup Review: Wigan dump Bournemouth out, nine-man Chelsea scrape through|
|Banvit beat Bayreuth to stay top as Gaziantep end losing streak|
|England won´t block Jones from Lions role|
|Valverde rues Barca profligacy in Espanyol defeat|
|Chelsea 1 Norwich City 1 (aet, 5-3 pens): Hazard and Caballero seal Blues progression|
|No generosity from Neymar as Cavani waits to make PSG history|
|Neymar sets Ligue 1 landmark with staggering individual display|
|Espanyol 1 Barcelona 0: Melendo ends unbeaten run|
|Paris Saint-Germain 8 Dijon 0: Neymar hits four as Cavani levels Ibrahimovic record|
|Atletico fan in ´serious condition´ after being stabbed before Sevilla game|
|Stokes ´can´t wait´ for England return after ECB clearance|
|Kawhi Leonard´s rehab shut down as quad problem lingers|
|Folger out of MotoGP season due to illness|
|Stokes should not take my place - Bairstow|
|Atletico Madrid 1 Sevilla 2: Montella´s men stage dramatic first-leg comeback|
|Steelers will not retain offensive coordinator Todd Haley|
|Lukaku will score 30 goals for Man Utd this season, predicts Yorke|
|Brady named writers´ NFL MVP|
|Du Plessis wants action on slow pitches|
|Johnson back to his best after Augusta accident|
|Liverpool loan Grujic to Cardiff|
|Centurion hero Ngidi aiming high|
|Mbappe: More to come from Neymar & Cavani partnership|
|Messi the greatest ever despite no World Cup win, insists Di Maria|
|Uncapped Larmour named in Ireland´s Six Nations squad|
|Villa determined to earn place in Spain´s World Cup squad|
|Walcott swaps Arsenal for Everton|
|Kohli bristles at selection questions|
|England forward Haskell handed four-week suspension|
|You even learn from Guardiola at home - Otamendi lauds Pep impact|
|Three-week ban for Bastareaud for alleged homophobic slur|
|IOC to consider joint Korean ice hockey team|
|Sri Lanka ODI woes drag on with Zimbabwe defeat|
|Batsmen let India down against South Africa - Kohli|
|Five fun facts as LeBron James chases 30K career points|
|Bastareaud named in France squad ahead of disciplinary hearing|
|Otamendi pens Man City deal to 2022|
|Neymar leads tributes to retiring Ronaldinho|
|Ronaldo must focus on playing - Zidane sidesteps exit talk|
|Dimitrov, Tsonga survive gruelling battles as Nadal cruises through|
|Carey ton sends Strikers back top of BBL|
|Zidane still an idol for James despite ´sad´ Madrid exit|
|Stoger will stay at Dortmund if ´everything fits´|
|Nadal backs move for financial parity but silent on boycott talk|
|Stokes available for England selection, set for NZ return|
|Bordeaux´s Malcom facing disciplinary action over social media video|
|Debutant Ngidi hurries SA to series win as India crumble in Centurion|
|Eddie Jones signs new England contract|
|Ronaldinho retires – The greatest Brazilians to play for Barcelona|
|England setting the benchmark in ODIs, says Warner|
|Federer would be unreal at any sport - Shapovalov|
|Athletic reward Williams with contract until 2025|