DP - Saints at Vikings
January 12, 2018
By Kevin Rogers
To check out this game from a totals perspective, read up on Sunday's edition of "Total Talk" by clicking here.
The final game of the divisional round looks to be the most entertaining one as the Saints visit Minnesota to face the Vikings in a Week 1 rematch. Minnesota is two victories away from being the first team ever to host a Super Bowl in its own stadium, while New Orleans is attempting to reach its first NFC championship since its Super Bowl winning season of 2009.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Saints (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS) ended a three-year playoff drought by capturing their first NFC South title since 2011. New Orleans rolled through a trio of 7-9 seasons from 2014-2016 and things didn’t look to improve following an 0-2 start in 2017 following losses to Minnesota and New England. Things turned around in Week 3 as the Saints blasted the Panthers as five-point underdogs, 34-13, spurring on an eight-game winning streak. During that stretch, New Orleans limited six of those teams to 17 points or fewer, while covering seven times.
New Orleans split its final six games of the regular season, with all three losses coming on the road to the Rams, Falcons, and Buccaneers. Quarterback Drew Brees lifted the Saints to a home playoff victory last Sunday over the Panthers, 31-26, but Carolina cashed as 6 ½-point underdogs. Brees threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns, as the Saints overcame only 41 yards on the ground. The Saints are 7-4 in the playoffs since Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006, including a perfect 5-0 mark at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
The Vikings (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS) were expected to ride the back of quarterback Sam Bradford this season as Teddy Bridgewater continued to rehabilitate from a knee injury suffered in 2016. Bradford won the opener against the Saints by throwing three touchdown passes, but a knee injury put the former Oklahoma standout on the shelf for 14 of the next 15 games.
Career backup Case Keenum stepped in and following two losses in first there starts, Minnesota won 11 of the final 12 games, including a perfect 5-0 mark at U.S. Bank Stadium. Keenum threw for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns, as the Vikings also went a majority of the season without standout rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who ripped up his ACL in a Week 4 overtime loss to Detroit. Latavius Murray became the feature back and compiled 842 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Vikings after a four-year stint in Oakland.
Minnesota dominated at home this season by posting a 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS record, while holding all eight opponents to 19 points or less. Since eclipsing the OVER in its first two home contests, Mike Zimmer’s team finished UNDER the total in five of the final six home games. The Vikings have won 13 of the last 17 home contests since the start of the 2015 season, but that includes a 10-9 setback to the Seahawks last January in the Wild Card round.
The Saints split eight games away from the Superdome this season, which includes a 20-0 shutout of the Dolphins in London back in Week 4. New Orleans last won away from the Big Easy in Week 10 in a 47-10 blowout at Buffalo, while its past three road defeats came by seven points or less, including underdog defeats to the Rams (26-20) and Falcons (20-17).
New Orleans had its issues in the underdog role this season by compiling a 1-4 SU/ATS record when receiving points, one season after posting an 8-1 ATS mark as a ‘dog in 2016. Minnesota started 2-3 ATS but put together seven consecutive covers prior to a Week 14 loss at Carolina as 2 ½-point favorites. The Vikings covered the next two games before failing to cash as 13 ½-point favorites in a 23-10 Week 17 win over the Bears.
Minnesota held off New Orleans in the season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, 29-19 to cash as three-point favorites. The Saints registered four field goals in the first 52 minutes prior to a late Brees touchdown pass to Coby Fleener to cut the deficit to 10. Cook rushed for 127 yards in his NFL debut, while wide receivers Stefon Diggs (93 yards, two touchdowns) and Adam Thielen (157 yards) each torched the Saints’ secondary.
The victory by the Vikings snapped a four-game losing streak to the Saints dating back to January 2010. That game is a famous one because it’s the last time these teams met in the playoffs, a 31-28 home triumph by New Orleans in the 2009 NFC championship. Brett Favre was intercepted in the final minutes of regulation, as the Saints won in overtime on a 40-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, but the Vikings covered as four-point underdogs.
The Saints didn’t win their first postseason game until 2000 against the Rams, but New Orleans has picked up a playoff victory in four of the past nine seasons. Since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006, the Saints have won only one of four road postseason games, not including the Super Bowl victory over the Colts in 2009. New Orleans has never won multiple playoff games in a season outside of 2009, while losing its last two divisional playoff games by fewer than eight points.
Minnesota has picked up only one postseason victory since 2005, routing Dallas at home in the 2009 divisional round. The Vikings missed the playoffs last season, while suffering the heartbreaking one-point defeat to the Seahawks in the 2015 Wild Card game. Minnesota is in rarified air, as this franchise hasn’t made a Super Bowl since 1976, while losing five of their past six playoff games.
VegasInsider.com handicapper Joe Nelson breaks down the New Orleans’ side, “The Saints are the only NFC team remaining led by a Super Bowl winning quarterback and while Brees was less prolific in the passing game this season, his stat-line is very similar to his 2009 season numbers, the year when the Saints upset the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Brees had a career-high 72 percent completion rate with his fewest attempts since that 2009 season and the fewest interceptions he has thrown since 2004.”
On the flip side, Nelson says Brees will have his hands full with the Minnesota defense, “This year’s Vikings team led the NFL in total and scoring defense. The key matchup will be the ground game with the Saints breaking their reputation to become one of the NFL’s top rushing offenses, posting 4.7 yards per carry. Minnesota allowed just 3.7 yards per rush. The turnover and scoring differential numbers for these teams were nearly identical in what is expected to be the most intriguing playoff game of the weekend with the winner headed towards being the favorite in next week’s NFC Championship.”
Scott Cooley of BookMaker.eu points out to beware of the public underdog, “The public believes points with the Saints is a gift from God so they’re on that side to the tune of 70 percent. But during the last 48 hours, the sharps have spoken and they are all over Minnesota. The OVER in this game is our biggest total liability thus far. Sharps and squares love the over, and it’s the most wagered option by the wiseguys in the Divisional Playoffs thus far.”
You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.
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