The Spread and Total
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-4, 46.5 O/U), courtesy of Bovada.
[Also see: Falcons vs Eagles; Jaguars vs Steelers; Titans vs Patriots]
New Orleans Saints: 11-5 SU (9-8 ATS); 1st NFC South
Minnesota Vikings: 13-3 (11-5 ATS); 1st NFC North
New Orleans Saints:
G Andrus Peat (fibula), out; DT Tony McDaniel (undisclosed), out; T Terron Armstead (thigh), questionable; WR Brandon Coleman (neck), questionable; DE Cameron Jordan (knee), probable; DT Sheldon Rankins (ankle), probable.
C Pat Elflein (shoulder), questionable; CB Terrance Newman (foot), questionable; DE Everson Griffen (foot), probable.
- Sept. 11, 2017 (U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis): Minnesota 29, New Orleans 19
- Sept. 21, 2014 (Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans): New Orleans 20, Minnesota 9
- This will mark the fourth playoff meeting between the two franchises, with the Vikings holding a 2-1 edge, but the Saints taking the most recent matchup in 2010.
Significant ATS Trends
- Along with the Patriots, the Vikings were the NFL’s best bet this season, going 11-5 ATS, including 8-4 when favored.
- Minnesota is 12-4 ATS all-time in U.S. Bank Stadium.
- Under Sean Payton, the Saints are 1-4 SU in road playoff games and 2-3 ATS.
- New Orleans went 1-4 ATS this season as an underdog.
- The total has gone UNDER in four of the last five Vikings games.
- The total has gone OVER in six of the last nine Saints games.
Minnesota and New Orleans began their respective seasons by playing each other in the “Adrian Peterson revenge game.” At the time, no one thought much else of the matchup. But now, four months later, the winner of the rematch will move on to be favored in the NFC Championship next week.
How far we’ve come from September. At the outset of the year, it looked like the Saints defense was going to continue to be this team’s downfall. Instead, they finished the year eighth in defensive DVOA. Leading the league in rushing efficiency as well, this barely resembled the air-it-out New Orleans team we had all come to expect. This season, Drew Brees had his lowest passing yardage total since 2009. Coincidentally, that was the year the Saints won it all. Will a balanced attack pay off again?
The Saints didn’t show much balance last week when they squeaked out a 31-26 win over the Panthers. They managed only 41 rushing yards, but a vintage game from Brees (23 of 33, 379 yards, two TDs) helped them pile up points early and gave the defense a chance to close out the afternoon. This week will be the toughest challenge of the year for Minnesota’s defense because of how many options New Orleans has: Mark Ingram running between the tackles, Alvin Kamara on the edges and in the screen game, Michael Thomas over the middle, Ted Ginn Jr streaking deep. This team can beat you in manifold ways.
The Vikings defense has been remarkable all season, and has a claim to being the league’s best, allowing the fewest points, fewest yards, and ranking second in defensive DVOA. But everyone knew this unit was great back in September. What none of us saw coming was the offense remaining among the league’s best after losing both Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook to injury early in the season. Behind Case Keenum, the receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and one of the more amazing single-season turnarounds by an offensive line, the Vikings finished the year fifth in offensive DVOA, scoring 24 points per game. So unlike the NFC’s top-seeded Eagles, Minnesota won’t be jarred on the off-chance this game turns into a shootout.
Another big advantage Minnesota has in this rematch is health. This season has worn down the Saints’ depth, with 20 players on I.R. after this week’s addition of Tony McDaniels and Andrus Peat. Beyond Bradford and Cook, the Vikings have avoided any major injuries. They’ve been particularly fortunate on defense, where all their Week 1 starters are still active. Playing together for the entire season has only helped that unit’s cohesiveness, as the Vikings allowed just 17 points over their final three games against Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Chicago.
Of course, there’s a big difference between stopping Andy Dalton, Brett Hundley and Mitch Trubisky, and doing the same to Brees. And quarterback is the big area most Saints supporters will point to when picking this game. Brees has 12 career playoff starts under his belt, and a 101.6 passer rating across those contests. Case Keenum has never even backed up a playoff game. The closest he’s been to a big game was probably the 2012 TicketCity Bowl. If experience matters — which last weekend’s Atlanta-Los Angeles game suggests is the case — then the Saints have the edge there.
As for game-changing takeaways, don’t expect many despite two excellent defenses going at it. Both of these offenses ranked bottom-third in the league in giveaways: Minnesota had 14; New Orleans had 18.
The greatness of this year’s Vikings D came from their ability to get off the field on third down. They set a new NFL record, allowing opponents to convert on just 25.2-percent of third downs. While their 19 takeaways didn’t provide many shorts fields, Minnesota’s offense still ranked seventh in the league in starting field position, thanks to a defense that forced so many three-and-outs in opponent’s territory.
I guess what I’m saying is, expect it to be a much tighter game than Minnesota’s 29-19 victory in Week 1.
These Divisional Playoff games will all be fodder in future debates over whether playoff experience — particularly at the quarterback position — matters. Each game pits a QB with at least nine playoff starts against a QB with one or none. But unlike the AFC, where the more experienced quarterbacks also play for the better team, the same doesn’t hold true in the NFC.
Think about this: Brees is almost always the better QB in a given matchup, yet he’s still suffered playoff losses to guys like Chad Pennington, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, and Alex Smith. Football is a random game, and you don’t always have a chance to make the game-winning play. Whether it’s Everson Griffen storming into the backfield for a sack or Latavius Murray powering the ball in the fourth quarter, Minnesota is going to run the Saints out of time.
Pick: Vikings (-4) and UNDER (46.5).