Divisional Playoff Preview: New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

By Ha Kung Wong  New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

 

Sunday, January 14, 2018 – 4:40 PM ET

Current Line – Vikings by 4

NOTE: Ryan Whitfield and I also broke this game down in this weeks podcast, so give it a listen!

Saints Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 6th

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 261.8 (5th)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 1st

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 129.4 (5th)

Points Per Game – 28.0 (4th)

We all know that Drew Brees is good, regardless of what appears to be a down year.  With Michael Thomas stepping up this season with the 3rd most receptions (104) for the 6th most receiving yards (1,245) of any WR in the NFL, Brees has found a new favorite target.

And perhaps more importantly, the Saints ranked 5th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and first in the NFL in yards per carry (4.7), while Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram became the first RB duo in NFL history to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage.  The Saints are firing on all cylinders and continued rolling at home in a narrow Wild Card win over the Panthers that essentially went down to the wire.  Their reward is facing an much more intimidating Vikings defense in the Divisional Playoffs.

Perhaps they’ll be up to the task.  Part of the reason that Brees has been successful is experience, and part of it is having a decent receiving core and a dynamic backfield.  But that’s not all. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints’ offensive line has posted a collective pass-blocking efficiency of 84.8 this year, which is good for best among all NFL teams.  In fact, LT Terron Armstead has a pass-blocking efficiency of 96.9 this season, which is good for 7th best among tackles with at least 300 pass-blocking snaps.  Perhaps we’ll finally figure out what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

Also interesting, though, is that the Saints aren’t great in 3rd Down situations with the 4th least 3rd Down conversions per game (4.4).  However, in a strange twist, they have the 4th most 4th Down conversions per game (0.7).  I wouldn’t want to count on 4th Down conversions though, and it looks like the Saints will need to stay out of 2nd and long situations.

Saints Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 5th

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 224.8 (15th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 23rd

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 111.7 (16th)

Points Allowed Per Game – 20.4 (Tied 10th)

Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan, who’s having an amazing year with an unheard of 11 passes defended for a defensive lineman while adding the “usual” 13 sacks this season.  He’ll be needed to put pressure on Keenum while making sure Murray and McKinnon don’t get too far out of the backfield.

Plus, rookie Marshon Lattimore looks to already be one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL, which could mean a long day for the likes of Stefon Diggs.

The defense has been solid, but they’ll have to beware of penalties, as they’re tied for allowing the 2nd most first downs by penalty (2.8) to opposing teams in the NFL.  That’s something they can’t afford against the Vikings on the road.

Last, one shouldn’t overlook the contributions of punter Thomas Morestead, who can really help flip the field, making it a much easier task to overcome the vaunted Vikings defense.

Vikings Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 3rd

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 234.6 (11th)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 18th

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 122.3 (7th)

Points Per Game – 23.9 (10th)

Is Case Keenum really that good?  It sure looks that way.  In fact, the Vikings have the 3rd best passing offense in the NFL this season.  But the Saints are solid on pass defense, being ranked 5th this year, so it won’t be easy.  The Saints, however, are only 23rd against the run, so giving Latavious Murray and Jerrick McKinnon significant reps may be a good idea.

But if they’re throwing the ball, Keenum would be wise to avoid Lattimore.  Thankfully, with Adam Thielen playing mostly out of the slot, he’ll be able to avoid Lattimore and build on an already impressive season.  Kyle Rudolph should also remain in play as a significant redzone threat.

The other important fact is that the Vikings are incredibly careful with the ball as they have the 3rd least giveaways of any team this season (14).  Plus they’re terrific at ball control having the 4th most 3rd Down conversions per game (5.9) and the 2nd highest time of possession per game (32.26 min).  All this together means they might be able to keep Brees and company off the field, giving them a chance to control pace and give their defense time to recharge.

Of course, they’ll want to avoid desperate situations, as they have the least 4th Down conversions per game (0.1).

Vikings Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 4th

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 192.4 (2nd)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 5th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 83.6 (2nd)

Points Allowed Per Game – 15.8 (1st)

The Vikings defense is, in a word, formidable.  The Vikings have the second best defense in the NFL, but they’re really good against RBs, being 5th against the run and 1st against RB receptions.  Sure, the Saints won without Ingram and Kamara last week, but making the Saints one dimensional will help keep this game close.

In addition, according to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings’ defense has allowed just 25.2 percent of their opponent’s 3rd Down attempts to be converted, the best among all NFL teams this season.  And in particular, Anthony Barr racked up 38 stops this season, which is tied for the 7th most among 4-3 outside linebackers.

And one can’t understate the contributions of S Harrison Smith this season.  He’ll have his hands full dealing with all the Saints passing options.

Prediction:

The Vikings look like a team of destiny, as they made an incredibly run even after losing Dalvin Cook and having to start the previously unimpressive Case Keenum under center.  But we all know that postseason experience matters, just ask the Rams after their opening round loss to the Falcons.  Brees has plenty of experience, and has too many offensive weapons at his disposal for the Vikings to account for, from Thomas to Kamara to Ingram, and heck, even Josh Hill is getting in on the action.  I don’t hate picking the Vikings, but I think Brees pulls this out. 

Saints Win, but feel free to take the Spread

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