A preview of the NFC divisional playoff matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings
When: Sunday, 3:40 p.m. CT (FOX)
Where: Minneapolis' U.S. Bank Stadium
Injuries: The Vikings' O-line was beat up late in the season, and C Pat Elflein missed two of the last four games. But he's back at practice and likely to return. Also practicing again is Minnesota QB Sam Bradford, who missed most of the season with a knee injury. Saints G Andrus Peat was carted off the field Sunday with a serious shin injury.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
1. *Rematch: The Vikings handled the Saints 29-19 on the first Monday night of the season. Disregard that result almost entirely. Bradford and RB Dalvin Cook formed Minnesota's starting backfield at the time. Meanwhile, RB Adrian Peterson was still a member of the Saints, his presence hindering what would eventually become the dynamic duo that is Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram following Peterson's trade. New Orleans' defense also got burned for 470 yards (and 555 the following week), offering little indication it would eventually settle in as one of the league's better units with rookie DBs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams playing huge roles behind defensive player of the year candidate Cam Jordan.
2. Who dat? Fellow Pro Bowlers Kamara and Ingram, the first pair of running backs to each exceed 1,500 yards from scrimmage for the same team in the same season, were effectively held in check Sunday by the Panthers, who limited them to a collective 68 yards. Carolina's defense is good. Minnesota's D, which allowed both the fewest yards and points in the league this season, is special. And the loss of Peat makes life easier for the Vikings while simultaneously hurting the Saints.
Granted, selling out to stop Kamara and Ingram is tantamount to daring QB Drew Brees to beat you, which is exactly what he did to the Panthers (376 yards, 2 TDs). But Brees won't be in the friendly confines of the Superdome this time, and No. 1 WR Michael Thomas will likely have a much harder time being productive against all-pro CB Xavier Rhodes.
3. Purple reign: Another matchup to monitor is the pairing of Lattimore and fellow Saints CB Ken Crawley against Vikings WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who combined for 155 catches, 2,125 yards and 12 TDs this season. (No other Minnesota wideout had more than 20 grabs.)
Vikes QB Case Keenum has had a breakout campaign, perhaps even one that will allow him to cash in during free agency if he's convinced enough teams that he might be a poor man's Brees. But if the Saints can contain Thielen and Diggs, they'll probably be more than content to let Keenum try and beat them by going to TE Kyle Rudolph, RB Jerick McKinnon and/or WR Laquon Treadwell as his secondary reads.
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