Gridiron Experts Staff Wild Card Preview
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings -5 | O/U 41.5
Other NFL Playoff Games
Graham Hackney –Last week I stated my belief that the Saints will win Super Bowl LII. I am continuing with this assertion, primarily because the Saints are a more complete team than they have been for years. We all know that Brees is a future Hall of Famer. We all know that Kamara and Ingram pose a threat unlike any backfield duo seen this year. In yards from scrimmage they were 6th and 7th respectively, there isn’t a primary and secondary option, they are simply two superb options. What has changed this year is they are middle of the pack for total yards conceded by their defense. And this is absolutely fine because last year they were 27th and the year before, 31st.
I am less confident this week than I was last. Reasons: seemingly every time the Vikings have a 3rd and 7 the opposition are incapable of covering Adam Thielen as he grabs an 11 yard gain. The Vikings lost Dalvin Cook, at the time a candidate for rookie of the year, earlier this season and have coped without him. In Case Keenum they have a quarterback who has transitioned from journeyman to regular starter on a winning team. This should be a good game, but the Saints will roll on. Picks: Saints
Brad Castronovo – OK. Let’s get this out of the way. The Vikings beat the Saints 29-19 in Week 1. Cool. Alvin Kamara had 18 yards rushing in that game, to Dalvin Cook’s 127, and Sam Bradford had the best game of his career. Can we agree that Week 1 was an eternity ago? Maybe a couple things have changed? Good… let’s move on.
I think this game will be the most anticipated of the weekend, and rightfully so. The Vikings are currently the favorite to emerge from the NFC, while the Saints have the hot hand, fresh off a victory over the Panthers last week. This game touts two very strong defenses. Minnesota’s squad has been one of the best in recent memory, while the Saints Defense, anchored by rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore, has been one of the great surprises in the NFL this year. To me, it comes down to the strength of each team’s weapons… and I think the Saints have the upper hand in that regard. While the teams are very close, I think the Saints’ edge comes mostly from their running game. Alvin Kamara has shown his potential to be a superstar, while Mark Ingram is having the best year of his career. I think they can control the clock, Drew Brees can make timely throws, and that Kamara can make a game-breaking play or two in this one. It’ll all come down to a razor-thin margin, with a kicker potentially deciding the outcome. Saints 22 – Vikings 20. Pick: Saints
Tanner Bollers – This one should be a game for the ages. Fans in the future will harken back to the legend that will be this game, reliving the tale for younger generations to enjoy. I can’t remember being this excited to watch a playoff game, not involving my home team, in a very long time. Both the Saints and Vikings are very evenly matched. According to ESPN.com each team is in the top 10 of the league for Offensive points scored per game (NOS- 28.0, MIN- 23.9) and Defensive points allowed per game (NOS-20.4, MIN-15.8). The similarities don’t end there. Both teams have dynamic receivers and a versatile running game. Despite the similarities, Vikings are favored at home by 3.5 points. Which I believe is the most accurate spread of the entire Divisional Round. This game will be back and forth down to the wire. While I have full faith in Drew Brees and this offense’s capabilities, I just don’t think they’ll pull this one off on the road. The old adage, “Defense wins Championships” will ring true in this contest with the Vikings D coming through big time with a couple turnovers. I expect to see a hard fought battle ending with Vikings on top 27-21. Pick: Vikings
Graham Hackney – In what may be the best game of the weekend, the New Orleans Saints will head to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. Coach Zimmer has been a leader of men since his days as the Bengals defensive coordinator and you’re seeing that translate in Minnesota. Continuously losing marquee Vikings, they also seem to persevere. The defense will be led by the likes of Eric Kendricks who will look to slow down a Saints offense that put up 31 against the Panthers last week. The scariest part of this Saints team is that as opposed to the past, the offense can come out you from all different angles. Last week when backfield duo of Ingram and Kamara could only muster 45 yards rushing, Drew Brees would throw for 376 yards. All of that being said though, the Vikings defense is a different animal than the Panthers and even the Saints for that matter. Top defenses are what I bank on this time of year. The Saints will be the best team to not win it all this season while the Vikings will be one step closer to a home field Super Bowl. Pick: Vikings
Phil Clark – Much has changed since the Week 1 matchup between New Orleans and Minnesota, As Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have long since been unbridled by the ill-fated Adrian Peterson experiment, and the Saints have modified their defensive schemes since that contest. Meanwhile, the Vikings offense has been spearheaded by Case Keenum since Week 2, and Dalvin Cook has been sidelined since October 1. I expect the Vikings to prevail in this rematch because they consistently displayed the ability to restrict opposing offenses while ranking second against both the run and pass during the regular season. They were especially stringent at home – no opposing back has exceeded 41 rushing yards at U.S. Bank Stadium since Week 6, and none have attained 30 yards as a receiving option. Which includes the miniscule rushing totals of Todd Gurley (37), and Jordan Howard (9). This matchup is hardly favorable for Drew Brees, as the Vikings have also yielded multiple touchdowns to only one signal-caller since Week 3, and have allowed 300-yards only once during that span. Minnesota should sustain the lead during this contest, through a heavy reliance on Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, while Keenum will encounter the majority of his success when locating Adam Thielen. Enabling the Vikings to move into next week’s NFC Championship Game. Pick: Vikings
Anthony Cervino – When the New Orleans Saints travel to U.S. Bank Stadium to battle the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, they’ll be they expected 3.5 point underdog. However, this is a game that I believe the road time will come out victorious.
Although the Saints are facing the No. 1 ranked Vikings defense in yards (4,415) and points (252) allowed, their two-headed monster rushing attack could be difficult to contain for Minnesota’s No. 2 ranked front seven versus the run. And while the Vikings shut down New Orleans’ running game in their Week 1 win, holding them to a total of 60 yards, that was a tale of two different teams. The Saints’ rushing attack was headed by Mark Ingram and Arian Peterson while the Vikings were led by Sam Bradford at quarterback. Since then, Peterson moved on to the Cardinals, opening the door for rookie stud Alvin Kamara while Case Keenum emerged as Minnesota’s starting QB following a Sam Bradford knee injury, which ultimately ended his season.
With Kamara’s presence, the Saints employ a pair of effective running backs who can beat you on the ground and through the air, especially Kamara, who is a lightning-quick home-run hitter. Combined, Ingram and Kamara totaled 3,094 yards and 25 touchdowns.
And while the New Orleans’ rushing attack was bottled up last week — the Panthers held them to 68 total yards and a touchdown — the Saints still picked up the Wild Card win while dropping 31 points on a top 10 defense. They managed to do so on the arm of Drew Brees. While Brees had an off-year statistically in 2017, the future Hall of Fame signal-caller went off, throwing for 376 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. And in Sunday’s Divisional Round matchup that features Brees versus an up and coming Keenum, I’m going to trust the former to get the job done while a vastly improved Saints defense does just enough hold off the Vikings offense in a 24-21 victory. Picks: Saints
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