NFL Playoffs Wildcard Preview: Vikings vs Saints

Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints

Spread: Saints -8 | Over/Under: 48.5

The Vikings will travel to New Orleans to attempt a large upset of the 13-3 Saints this Sunday. The Saints are heading into this Wild Card round match-up red hot; having won three straight and six out of their last seven games. They won the NFC South division title handily but got snubbed out of a first-round bye despite posting the third-best record in the NFL this season. The Vikings head into the match-up as the largest underdog of the weekend, at around +8, which is about 3 points more than the Titans are getting against the Patriots. They are limping into the playoffs with three losses over the last five weeks.

The Fantasy Football season is over, but you can still get into the action with daily fantasy games held at Fanduel or Draftkings. If you’re not interested in going up against thousands of people and would rather just bet on a game outright, look into a sportsbook if your state allows online sports betting. I’ve heard that Bet365 has a great app for the iPhone – how to download Bet365 app for iOS – or you can just use the desktop version. Either way, there are some great games this weekend for sports betting and DFS and I hope my tips point you in the winning direction.

Keys to the Game: Minnesota Vikings

If the Vikings are going to overcome their significant underdog status they are going to have to outshoot Drew Brees in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Minnesota has moved away from the passing game for much of the season but will need to expose the New Orleans secondary, which allowed the 13th most (4th highest among playoff teams) passing yards to opposing offenses this season. Cousins was quietly on pace for one of his most successful seasons, despite throwing 150 fewer attempts than 2018, before a rough December. Prior to Week 13 Cousins had thrown 23 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while averaging 250 passing yards a game. From Weeks 13-16 he threw 3 interceptions and just 5 touchdowns while averaging 211 passing yards a game. Despite an injury-riddled season, we will see Thielen on the field along with Stephon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. His ability to exploit a favorable match-up against a porous New Orleans secondary, and likely primary coverage from Eli Apple, could be an X-Factor for their offense.

Dalvin Cook is expected to return for this match-up. Cook has sat out the last two weeks with a shoulder injury and hasn’t seen more than eleven carries in a game since Week 10. The dynamic back is notorious for missing time with injury but is a difference-maker when on the healthy. He’s rushed for 1,135 yards this season and caught 53 balls for 519 yards through the air and the Vikings are 6-3 in games where Cook touches the ball at least twenty times. The Saints, though, have allowed the fourth least rushing yards to opposing offenses this season. The Vikings aren’t likely to slow down the league’s third-highest scoring offense, so they will need Cousins, Thielen, and Cook to be at their best if they expect to pull a massive upset and shake up playoff pools.

Keys to the Game: New Orleans Saints

The Saints come into this game 6-2 at home in 2019. They are an efficient offense; having totaled the 9th most total yards in the NFL (5,982) despite running the 21st most plays (1,011). New Orleans has turned the ball over just eight times this season, the least in the league and 12 fewer times than the Vikings. It sounds simple but this is the Saints game to lose if they play their game and win the turnover battle they will win.

A major component of the Saints game is keeping opposing defenses guessing. The threat of getting burned by Alvin Kamara is one of the ways they do this. Kamara, though, has had a relatively underwhelming season. Prior to Week 16 he had only found the endzone twice this season. He scored twice against the Titans in Week 16 and another two times on the ground against the Panthers in Week 17. He totaled 168 yards in those two games. An efficient Kamara could be key in dominating the time of possession battle that could define the outcome of this game.

Fantasy Take: Start’Em Sit’Em

Fantasy football takes a variety of formats for the NFL playoffs. These picks provide general advice that can be tailored to specific formats.

Drew Brees: Start

Quarterback

Brees will be on the back burner for many fantasy players. He’s known as a low-ceiling play at this point in his career and those looking quickly at his stats will see he’s QB21 on the season. Much of that finish, though, is attributed to his 5 missed games due to a hand injury mid-season. He’s thrown the ball at least 40 times in four games this season, and I expect this game to be the fifth time he does that. In those games, he has thrown for at least 349 yards three times and has ten touchdowns. At home, in the dome, in the week’s highest projected scoring match-up is a formula for fantasy success.

Dalvin Cook: Start

Running Back

Dalvin Cook FantasyThis very well may be your only week to start Cook in fantasy football playoffs. I mentioned earlier the match-up challenges but Cook has found the endzone in 12 of the 14 games he played in this year and he averaged 167 yards per game in the two weeks he did not score. When he’s been healthy he has produced, don’t overthink this one and play Cook while you can.

Tre’Quan Smith: Start

Wide Receiver 

Much of the attention in the Saints passing game has been given, rightly, to Michael Thomas. Smith, though, has finally caught back on as the second option in the passing game. He caught all five of his season-high five targets in Week 17 and found the endzone. He has scored in three of the last four weeks and four of his last six games. Thomas will be best left for later in the playoffs in leagues where you can only use a player once, use Smith this week.

Adam Thielen: Sit

Wide Receiver 

I’m not eager to get Adam Thielen back into my fantasy line-up. Despite the Vikings’ optimism for him to return as a weapon, he hasn’t been fantasy relevant since Week 7. Since then Diggs has emerged as the go-to for Cousins, catching at least four balls in his last five weeks and pulling in at least 75 yards in three of them. It’s an easy narrative to buy into him as somebody who likely won’t be available next week and is in a high scoring match-up but I would pivot to a different option in the Minnesota offense.

My Pick

The Saints may not have a first-round bye but they should be considered one of the top Super Bowl contenders. Their high powered passing offense should overwhelm the Vikings’ secondary and if Kamara can catch fire they should control the game. I’m picking the Saints to win this game outright but I don’t think they cover. Saints 27-20

 

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