It doesn’t take much of an imagination to come up with reasons why the New Orleans Saints will lose Sunday at Minnesota.
Just look at the numbers.
The Saints have put 21 players on injured reserve this season, compared to 10 for Minnesota.
he Vikings’ defense is No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and third-down defense. Minnesota’s defense has only allowed seven touchdowns all season at home, and three of those were in mop-up time.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 21-11 with 15 double-digit wins and the Saints are only 3-13 all-time at the Vikings.
That list goes on and on. If this game was played on paper, it almost wouldn’t be worth playing.
The tougher chore is to brainstorm avenues that could lead to a Saints victory Sunday.
I’ve come up with five things the Saints could and/or should do to produce a favorable outcome for their Black-and-Gold fans.
The Vikings have only lost three games all season. In all three, Minnesota lost the turnover battle by a combined bottom line of minus-six.
In 11 of the remaining 13 games, the Vikings were even or ahead in the turnover battle, twice winning despite a minus-1 in the turnovers category.
The Saints have actually been pretty good at getting takeaways this season, tied for ninth with 25. Minnesota, on the other hand, was 23rd in takeaways at a plus-19. The problem is only the Chiefs and Patriots have turned it over fewer times this season than the Vikings offense has.
Playoff pressure, though, can do some tricky things. If the Saints can get a sack-fumble return or an interception return for a score, that’s easily the best way for New Orleans to pull off the upset.
In other words, remember the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season. Minnesota dominated the game — 31-15 first downs, 475-257 in total yards — but finished minus-4 in turnovers and lost in overtime.
2. Special teams
It’s refreshing to think that special teams play could actually work in the Saints’ favor.
After sabotaging what should have been a playoff season a year ago, how ironic would it be for the kicking game to bail out the Saints in their biggest challenge this season?
Late in the regular season, Sean Payton decided to insert Alvin Kamara as a kickoff returner. It produced one touchdown. Considering how hard it figures to be to get first downs against Minnesota’s defense, perhaps it’s also time to utilize Kamara as the team’s punt returner as well.
Give that guy the ball in open spaces as many times as you can. He might be able to steal a touchdown.
Then there’s the kickers. Kai Forbath started out red hot but has missed four kicks since mid-November. Wil Lutz, meanwhile, has only missed one kick over the last two months.
3. Big plays
Playing at Minnesota doesn’t appear to be the recipe for consistently driving the ball offensively, so the Saints will need to hit on some big plays if possible.
The good news is New Orleans is No. 1 in the NFL in producing pass plays covering 20 or more yards with 72 and No. 8 with pass plays of 40 or more yards with 11. The Saints are also second in the league with 17 running plays of 20 or more yards and first with five running plays over 40 yards
The bad news is Minnesota’s defense is No. 1 in NFL in allowing pass plays over 20 yards and No. 5 in pass plays over 40 yards. Against the run, Minnesota in No. 2 in running plays over 20 and No. 2 in running plays over 40, ironically both of those came at Carolina.
4. Sneak attack
As good as Minnesota looks on paper and as pedestrian as the Saints offense has looked at times this season, especially on third down, this strategy might be a bit of a stretch.
But if you look at Minnesota’s schedule, there weren’t a lot of great passing teams on it. Pittsburgh had success throwing it in week two, the Redskins put up 30 points while throwing for more than 300 yards and Detroit had some success throwing it on Thanksgiving Day.
As limited as the Saints’ passing game has been this season, perhaps the Vikings wouldn’t be prepared for a sneak attack. In 2011, the Saints’ passing game was arguably the best in NFL history.
This year’s unit isn’t close to that level, but the play-caller and quarterback are the same. The Saints have run a no-huddle outside of a two-minute offense since that 2011 season.
Perhaps it’s time. Perhaps for one day, this offense could try to be close to the 2011 attack.
Short of that, throwing the ball more to the tight ends and to Willie Snead might be enough of a curve ball to catch the Vikings off guard.
The bottom line is what its been doing all season long won’t likely be enough against this defense in that building.
At first glance, that may not be a good subject line for the Saints considering how poorly New Orleans has performed over the years in the land of Bud Grant.
But remember, no team hosting the Super Bowl has never made it past this round before.
Maybe there’s something to that.
The other conspiracy theory is the last thing the NFL wants is Nick Foles vs. Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game.
For Saints fans, it’s whatever it takes.
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