This game is the matchup the fans were hoping for late in the year when they were competing for the #1 seed. Both teams easily dispatched their foes last week as they took advantage of key injuries. Arizona was running man to man prior to CB Rodgers-Cromartie injury (knee) then Brees (247 yds 72% 3-0) dismantled an undermanned zone defense. Minnesota’s defense swarmed the Dallas OL after LT Adams (calf strain) left. Then Dallas shifted protection to the left so the Vikings went after RT Columbo. Romo was held to 63 yds (56%) with a 0-1 ratio in the 2H & Dallas only crossed midfield on their initial drive of the 2H.
In ‘08 Minnesota finished 17th in total off, 25th in pass, 12th in pts & was -6 TO’s. This year behind a 40 year old QB they finished 5th in total off, 8th in pass, 2nd in pts & were +6 in TO’s. Minnesota knew they were a veteran QB away from being a serious contender for the Super Bowl. When Favre decided to come out of retirement again they made the highly publicized, but right, move to get him. Favre set a team record with 10 games of 100+ QBR while personally passing for his most TD’s in a season since 1997, had the fewest int (7) & his best comp % (68.4) in his career. Peterson took some heat for a decline in rushing production (-377 yds from last year) as Minnesota went from 5th to 12th in rushing. This was partially due to the OL but Minnesota also had 110 more pass att’s this year & he more than doubled his receptions vs last year (21 to 43) which made his overall production +311 yds. Rice benefitted the most out of the addition of Favre with 68 more receptions & 1,171 more yards than ‘08 as he stayed healthy all year. He tied an NFL Playoff record with 3 TD receptions vs Dallas. Harvin finished 2nd to New York Giants’ Nicks in receiving yards by a rookie & was named Offensive ROY with a 27.5 KR avg & 2 spec teams TD’s. Their OL isn’t as good as its reputation due to a 1st year Center & rookie RT but their 34 sacks (15th) is more a factor of Favre taking a sack rather than risk a turnover. The Vikings #6 D starts & ends with the DL. Allen finished 2nd in sacks as the “Williams Wall” absorbed most of the double teams & allowed him to beat OT’s 1 on 1 for most of the year. Minnesota’s biggest injury of the year was the loss of MLB Henderson (broken leg) & while rookie Brinkley is good vs the run he is a weak link in coverage. CB Winfield has played most of the 2H of the year with a foot injury & while they have a 26-11 ratio overall they only given up 209 ypg (65%) with a 9-6 ratio at home. Minnesota has our #10 special teams thanks to solid return units (#11 PR/KR) but their KR defense can be exploited (22.6).
While leading the #1 offense this year Brees finished 1st in comp % (70.6), QBR (109.6), TD passes (34) & tied Rodgers & Romo for 2nd with 39 pass plays of 25 or more yards. Brees also spreads the ball around (7 players with 35 or more receptions this year) which diffuses the defense’s ability to lock onto a single player. Colston is the only player who’s had 1,000 yds receiving with Brees at the helm but he’s done it 3 of the last 4 years. Henderson is the possession WR but the offense really started clicking with a healthy Shockey who opened up the middle of the field. Meachem was GM Loomis’ preseason breakout player & he didn’t disappoint as his 16.0 ypc was 9th in the NFL. The Saints best previous finish in rushing was 11th in 2003 & this year they came in 6th. The combo of Thomas, Bell & Bush worked despite injuries as Payton rolls with whichever RB he feels will exploit the opposing team. Combined the trio would be 2nd only to Chris Johnson in rushing this year. New Orleans’ OL is a bit overrated with Brees being sacked 20 times (4th, 1 every 27.2 pass attempts) due to his lightning quick release. Miami & Dallas were the only teams with deep & physical secondaries who were able to jam New Orleans receptions & throw off the timing enough for the edge rushers to get to Brees (9 sacks). Gregg Williams led the Saints to the #9 D after the 1st 5 weeks but injuries caught up to them & they finished the year 25th allowing 384 ypg & 23 ppg over the final 11 weeks. The Saints have played much of the season without its starting CB’s Greer & Porter with Jenkins having growing pains as a nickel CB. Sharper tied for the NFL lead with 9 int & MLB Vilma proved that he is a cornerstone player here. New Orleans did lose DE Grant (triceps) vs Carolina but will have DT Ellis here & with him in the lineup New Orleans only allowed 103 ypg (4.2) rushing. New Orleans has my #30 special teams due to 4.6 PR avg (31st) & the KR coverage unit giving up 24.5 (29th).
Minnesota has “struggled on the road” this year only going 4-4 which normally is a pretty decent record in the NFL. The problem is that 3 of the losses came in December & the Vikings had already earned the media spotlight due to their success. Minnesota does have some injury concerns here with DE Ray Edwards sprained knee being at the top of my list. Edwards had a monster game vs Dallas with 13 plays behind the line of scrimmage & a forced fumble. Minnesota will still have their team speed on defense here but lose the snap count advantage & make no mistake the Superdome will be historically loud here. Favre has plenty of experience with the silent count & it wouldn’t be a surprise if Peterson gets his 1st 100 yard game in 8 tries as Minnesota sets the pace here. I expect New Orleans WR Meachem & TE Shockey will play here & the Saints have the weapons to make this a shootout. The key here will be Minnesota imposing its physical style of play on the Saints OL & jamming the WR’s at the line to disrupt the timing. Brees is an excellent rhythm QB but I’ve noticed that if he gets knocked off it for 2 or 3 series he starts to press & struggles to get it back. I really respect what New Orleans has done & this will be a very tough venue to play in but in the end I believe Minnesota’s defense wins the game up front.