New Orleans Saints (12-5-0 SU, 9-8-0 ATS, 10-7-0 O/U) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3-0 ATS, 11-5-0 ATS, 7-9-0 O/U)
When and Where: Sunday, Jan. 14, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., 4:40 p.m. EST.
Line: Minnesota -4
The Minnesota Vikings had a very different offense in their season-opening home win over the New Orleans Saints. The rematch in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs will require their defense to rise to the occasion in order to reach the conference title game for the first time in eight years.
Saints seeking first NFC title game appearance since winning Super Bowl in 2009
New Orleans (11-5) never trailed last Sunday but needed a late defensive stand to preserve a 31-26 win over Carolina at home in the wild-card round.
Drew Brees threw two first-half touchdown passes and finished 23 of 33 for 376 yards and was picked off once as he improved to 5-0 at home in the postseason with the Saints. The road, however, has not been kind to the future Hall of Fame quarterback as he’s gone 1-4 outside New Orleans in the postseason despite 1,779 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions.
This, however, will be the first road playoff game Brees plays indoors on the road in his lengthy career.
The running game that helped take some of the burden off Brees in the regular season failed to materialize against the Panthers as Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for just 45 yards on 19 carries. The pair also did not make much of an impact receiving the ball out of the backfield as each had only one catch.
Michael Thomas, though, did deliver with eight receptions for 131 yards while Ted Ginn Jr. burned his former team with an 80-yard scoring reception to open the scoring and finished with four catches for 115 yards.
Tight end Josh Hill had only 16 catches in the regular season, but he delivered with three receptions for 49 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
The Saints allowed 413 yards but did sack Cam Newton four times, with safety Vonn Bell recording one on 4th-and-23 at the New Orleans 34 to seal the victory. He finished with a team-high seven tackles, but the Saints defense had trouble getting off the field as the Panthers converted 8 of 17 on third down.
New Orleans ranked 27th in the league in opponents converting third downs at 41.0 percent, and that number climbed to 45.1 percent on the road (46 for 102).
Vikes ride Keenum and Murray to best record since 1998
Minnesota (13-3) opened its season with a 29-19 victory over New Orleans as Sam Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns while running back Dalvin Cook had 127 yards on 22 carries in his NFL debut.
Bradford suffered a knee injury the following week that would sideline him the rest of the season, while Cook was lost for the rest of the campaign with a torn ACL suffered in week four.
Case Keenum, who started the season as a backup after signing a one-year deal in March, took over at quarterback and had the best year of his career with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdown passes while completing 67.6 percent of his passes.
Latavious Murray, who also joined the Vikings via free agency from Oakland prior to the season, stepped into the starting running back spot and finished with 842 rushing yards. Minnesota finished 11th in total offense at 356.9 yards per game and seventh in rushing at 122.3 per contest.
The Vikings have a standout receiver in Adam Thielen as the fourth-year pro enjoyed a breakout season with 91 catches for 1,276 yards. Stefon Diggs added 64 receptions for 849 yards and his eight touchdown catches matched Kyle Rudolph for the team lead as the tight end hauled in 57 passes for 532 yards.
But the Vikings defense answered the challenge as it allowed an NFL-low 252 points and closed the season on a three-game winning streak yielding only 17 points.
Defensive end Everson Griffen was a handful all season, recording team highs of 13 sacks and 25 quarterback hits. Fellow end Danielle Hunter added seven sacks as Minnesota led the league in fewest yards allowed at 275.9 per game while placing second in both rushing (83.6) and passing (192.3).
The Vikings defense was far and away the best team in the NFL on third down, limiting opponent to a 25.2 percent conversion rate. That is the best mark dating to the 1995 season. About the only thing Minnesota’s defense did not do was force a lot of turnovers as it finished tied for 23rd with 19 takeaways.
The Saints are:
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall.
- 2-5 ATS in their last seven games vs. NFC opponents.
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games as underdogs.
The Vikings are:
- 7-2 ATS in their last nine games as home favorites between 3.5 and 10.0 points.
- 11-1 ATS in their last 12 games vs. opponents with a winning road record.
- 5-1 ATS in their last six playoff home games.
Including the playoffs, the Vikings had lost four straight to the Saints before breaking through this season. They had also won the first two playoff games between the teams before New Orleans beat Minnesota 31-28 in the NFC title game after the 2009 season en rout to its lone Super Bowl title in franchise history.