The New Orleans Saints are about to play their 18th playoff game in franchise history against the Minnesota Vikings; an opponent they've faced in the postseason more than any other.
The Saints and Vikings have a complicated and interesting history. The 2009 NFC Championship Game was an instant classic that is still so emotionally taxing I've STILL never watched a replay of the entire game. It's been nearly a decade, and if I'm honest, Minnesota was the better team that day, but Adrian Peterson fumbled 986 times, Vikings coach Brad Childress botched the end of the game, and two Tracy Porter magic moments later the Saints had a Lombardi Trophy.
Here's the thing though, Vikings fans aren't over the loss, not that I blame them, I still during random moments in my life will curse the very existence of Vernon Davis. How could you not cover that guy in 2011 Gregg Williams? How?
Where was I? Oh yeah, Viking fans carrying a grudge over the 2009 NFC Title.
They blame the refs (Pierre Thomas didn't convert fourth down in overtime) or the Saints playing dirty (Childress basically got Bounty Gate rolling by complaining about all the Saints brutal hits on Brett Favre). They should probably just blame Favre for Brett Favreing that game up.
In the last 20 years, two of the great NFC Championship games are excruciating Vikings losses. 15-1 Minnesota lost in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons in 1998 when their perfect field goal kicker missed a chip shot kick. I just recapped the fun of 2009, so you can understand Vikings fans having deep playoff scars. They don't know any recent playoff success, and deep down they probably believe they are Charlie Brown, the football is a championship, and Lucy is the opposing team. No matter how much they believe THIS IS THE YEAR, their heart inside them waits to be broken.
The Saints-Vikings rivalry isn't just about 2009 though.
Before the 2009 NFC Title Game the Minnesota Vikings were the big bad wolf to Saints fans that grew up watching Jim Mora and the Dome Patrol. Between 1986 and 1990 the Vikings beat the Saints four straight times by a combined score of 154-33, if you were wondering, that's an average score of 39-8. One of those massacres included a 44-10 beat down in the Saints first ever playoff game.
Joe Montana and 49ers might have always beaten the Saints, but the Vikings, until 1991, humiliated them. The 26-0 win against Minnesota during the Saints 7-0 start in 1991 felt like an exorcism more than a win. I was there in person and holding Herschel Walker to 15 yards on 10 carries felt like the biggest win of the Jim Mora era. The Saints had finally slapped their longtime tormentor in the face.
The Saints also lost to the Vikings in the 2000 playoffs 34-16. You probably just flushed that game down the memory hole and pretended the 2000 season ended when Hakim dropped the ball. I did it too. Fun fact about that game; Saints running back Chad Morton set a then NFL playoff single-game record with 13 catches. Also some guy named Dave Stachelski caught the Saints first touchdown versus the Vikings. Until just now, you didn't even know Dave Stachelski existed.
The Minnesota Vikings also for all intents and purposes burned Jim Haslett's Saints head coaching career to the ground in 2002 with a wild 32-31 win. The Saints entered the game 9-4, in first place in the NFC South, and only needed one more win for a second playoff spot in three years. After Daunte Culpepper scored on a two-point conversion with five seconds left, the Saints left a broken team about to commence the biggest December collapse in their history. Did I mention on the two-point conversion Culpepper dropped the snap, took what seemed like 45 minutes to pick it up, and scored anyway? Yeah that happened. The Saints would finish 2002 9-7 and miss the playoffs by a half game. The Saints under Jim Haslett would never again be in first place so late in a season again.
You probably forgot how much you hated the Vikings, didn't you? Sure in 2017 Vikings fans hate, fear, and want revenge on the Saints because they delivered one of Minnesota fans most painful memories, but before 2009 it was the exact opposite.
For teams that don't play that often, this series has a lot of history and scars on both fan bases psyches.
Saints Mood and Meditation Music: Billy Joel – Pressure
Eventually I always swing back to my Billy Joel playlists. By the way, if you get a chance see him live, the man has still got it and his show is tight, fun, and worth the price.
The playoffs are about pressure and this probably feels like a cliché choice, but the pressure is ALL on the Vikings. Saints can lose 42-10 and sure we'll be mad for about 15 minutes, but then we'll remember 0-2, how the Drew Bress/Sean Payton era seemed finished, and then think about Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, the Washington and Atlanta wins, and beating Carolina three times and declare the 2017 Saints fun, successful and start counting the days until next September.
The Vikings lose and their entire season is shot to hell. It will be remembered not for 13-3, but ANOTHER playoff collapse. Pressure is weighing on them and their fans, but I'm light as a feather and you should be too.
Last Week: 2-2
Minnesota (-2.5) vs New Orleans: My instincts tell me this is a horrible spot for the Saints. They just had to empty the tank in physical fight against a bitter rival, took on more injuries, and now have to face a rested Vikings team.
Not to mention Minnesota is fantastic on third down (first on defense, third on offense) while the Saints have struggled all year. Although, the Saints did cure their third down problems on offense by only having eight of them against Carolina. The Saints defense allowed the Carolina Panthers to convert 47 percent on third down which is bad but at least is better than the 72 percent Tampa did the week before.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd noise seemed to hurt the Saints defense as much as it did the Panthers offense. The Saints secondary seemed to have a hard time communicating, so going on the road might not be the worst thing, at least that's what I'm telling myself.
The key to this game is the Saints need to survive the emotion and electricity of the crowd early. A quick lead would be great, but most important is to not let Vikings quarterback Case Keenum start well. After the first quarter we want the announcers, Vikings fans, and maybe even players thinking, “Is Case Keenum's first playoff start too big a moment for him?”
I'm not a big believer in momentum but I totally believe players get tight and will crack under pressure. Playoffs are just different. In any other game would you have been worried about the Saints going three and out twice to start like they did against Carolina? Right before Brees hit Ted Ginn Jr. for the 80yard touchdown I was panic texting and tweeting. Every drive feels huge. Brees shrugged off a bad start and proceeded to deliver a masterpiece. The Saints would do well to find out how Keenum reacts to starting 2 of 5 for 12 yards.
I want to pick the Saints but I don't see the offensive line holding up on the road and the defense is beat up and not playing well. It will be a lot like the season opener in Minnesota, by the third quarter the Vikings will be in firm control of things.
Philadelphia (+2.5) vs. Atlanta: I'm rooting for Philly. I'm mentally not capable of rooting for Atlanta unless it involves a Saints playoff spot during the regular season. I'm in the minority on this. I understand a Falcons win could mean a home game for the Saints in the NFC Title, but once this game starts my heart is going to cheer Falcons failure.
New England (-13.5) vs Tennessee: It is completely unfair the Patriots get the rare double bye week.
Pittsburgh (-7.5) vs Jacksonville: Blake Bortles threw for 87 yards in the Jaguars win against Buffalo. Drew Brees might have that in a good first quarter against Minnesota.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.