NFC Wild Card Matchup:
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Sunday, January 5, 10:05 AM PST (Fox)
This one will be Drew Brees & company’s opportunity to quiet the demons from the Minneapolis Miracle. Not many people think that the Vikings have much of a chance to take down the Saints in the early NFC Wild Card matchup on Sunday. If you want to know how I think this will play out, check out our Wild Card Round predictions article.
How the Minnesota Vikings Win
Important Player: Adam Thielen
Adam Thielen went down in week seven with a hamstring injury. He tried—unsuccessfully—to return from the injury in week nine. The injury’s hamstrung him (pun intended) for the season’s remaining games. He returned in week fifteen and rested in week seventeen. Before the Adam Thielen injury, the Vikings were 5-2. After, they were 5-4. It’s fairly obvious that he’s a huge boost to their passing game. His full health is extremely important, and the key to the Vikings turning an upset.
Important Position Group: Running Backs
We don’t know if Dalvin Cook is healthy. Dalvin Cook should be healthy. The Vikes starting running back missed the last two games nursing a shoulder injury. Before sitting out, he played on a 1,890-yard, 15-touchdown pace in the season’s first fifteen games. He’s a major difference-maker, and one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. Behind him, Alexander Mattison returns from an ankle injury in this one, as well. Mattison had only 100 carries and 12 targets as a change-of-pace back behind Cook, but he averaged 4.62 yards per carry, and 15% of his carries went for ten-or-more yards. Behind them, Mike Boone. Like Adam Thielen, the running back room is key for pulling another miracle against the Saints.
Important Statistic: Minnesota Vikings’ sacks
This is a strength-on-strength battle for the Vikes and the Saints this Sunday. The Vikings had the fifth-most sacks in the league this season (48). Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were both top-ten in QB pressures, meaning that even if Drew Brees doesn’t end up on his back, the duo will give him fits. Or will they? Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Brees stayed cleaner than nearly every other QB in the NFL this season. The Saints allowed the third-fewest sacks and the second-fewest QB hits.
How the New Orleans Saints Win
Important Player: Alvin Kamara
Football Absurdity’s founders went to the 49ers-Saints game in week fourteen this season, and visited Saints practice, as well. In this practice, a young fan in an Alvin Kamara jersey ran a play on the field and scored a touchdown. It was a heartwarming moment, but also a harbinger of things to come. Kamara battled an ankle injury that cost him two games but started to work his way back into usefulness after the 49ers game. Over the last three games of the season, he scored four touchdowns and averaged 85 yards per game, and his usefulness will determine how far the Saints go these playoffs.
Important Position Group: Cornerbacks
Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, and Eli Apple make for one heck of a trio at cornerback. While Jenkins has just two games with the Saints, they’ve yielded 17 points a contest in those two games while notching four interceptions. Kirk Cousins has three picks in his last four games. These two situations could lead to the Vikings’ downfall.
Important Statistic: Completely Insane Game-Breaking Situations
This is really the only thing that matters to the Saints in this one. A blown incredibly obvious (and admittedly intentional) defensive pass interference cost them in 2019. The Minneapolis Miracle sent them home in 2018. These Saints also fell victim to the Beastquake and The Catch III at the beginning of the decade. In reality, if New Orleans keeps the completely insane game-breaking situations to zero, they’ll leave with a W.