The AP Bowl

NFC Divisional Playoffs

(4) New Orleans Saints vs (2) Minnesota Vikings

Saints: So, let me just issue this warning to any team that will play the New Orleans Saints moving forward. You can take away Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara all you want and that’s fine because they’ve been absolutely dominant this year as a tandem, but realize who’s still under center for the Saints and that’s Drew Brees. He has shown no sign of slowing down anytime soon and he will still carve your defense up. That’s how good he is and he’s been throughout his legendary career. Sunday was definitely a game that the Saints had to grind out against Carolina and you almost expected that type of game because of playing a divisional opponent in the playoffs and these two just know each other extremely well, especially when you play each other twice a season. At first, I stated to myself that the Saints defense had way too many mental lapses in the second half of the game and they almost let the Panthers retake the lead. They were able to hold on and close it out. As improved as the Saints defense has been this season, they aren’t what you necessarily call a shutdown unit, but they play as a unit and they know when to make a stop. They will still miss tackles, give up big plays, but when it comes to clamping down to make a play on defense, they can do it. This is a veteran savvy team lead by a smart coach and Hall of Fame quarterback. They’ll look to get back to the NFC Championship for the first time since the 09-10 season by playing who they opened up their season against in 2017.

Vikings: Once Aaron Rodgers went down, this division became theirs and here they are, champions of the NFC North, a first-round bye, something they haven’t had since 2009 with some guy named Brett under center for them and they won 13 games in 2017. There were a lot of questions about them and who would play quarterback for them because Teddy still hasn’t been able to get back on the field since injuring his knee in camp back in 2016 and Sam Bradford was injured earlier in the season. Who in their right mind thought that Case Keenum would be the guy to have the Vikings in the position they are in right now? I really enjoy how this team plays football because they have a good and physical offensive line that can set the tone up front in the trenches, they run the football, Keenum knows his role and he spreads the football around to each of his receivers and he has a trio of pass catchers who are extremely reliable in Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen who’s come in and had a breakout season this year. Next, to the Jacksonville Jaguars, this is also one of the best defenses in the NFL. They have that punishing defensive line that can stop the run and the edge rushers to rush the quarterback, linebackers that can tackle in open space and cover if needed and the secondary, which has become one of the best with Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo as the safeties and Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes as your corners. The bye week is over and it’s time to go to work.

Saints Player To Watch: Brandon Coleman– With Ingram and Kamara commanding so much attention, the receivers will be isolated in single man coverage on the outside. I really like what this guy brings to the table for this Saints offense. Ever since Jimmy Graham left, the Saints haven’t really had that big target to get the football to down the field. Brandon is six-foot-six with the ability to play in the slot and play small, get down the field to make a catch and he can run the crossing pattern over the middle of the field. When you have guys like this in the red zone, use them.

Vikings Player To Watch: Latavius Murray– Whenever you’re facing a quarterback who’s capable of sustaining long drives and putting points on the scoreboard, your offense has to be able to control the clock and run the football. The Vikings may have lost Adrian Peterson in the off-season last year, but they found a solid replacement for him in Latavius Murray. He’s a strong runner that has no issues getting into the open field to make a play and possibly put six points up on the scoreboard.

Final Analysis: This is one of two rematches for divisional weekend. It’s incredible how different both teams are now than they were in week one. The Saints offense looked unsure of what to do when they still had Adrian Peterson and the Vikings spoiled his return to Minnesota. The Vikings need to really take away the middle of the field and force Brees to throw the ball to his outside receivers. Do not do what the Panthers did because you will pay for it just as they did. I see the Saints spreading their receivers out on the line of scrimmage and making Minnesota work to defend each of these weapons. It’s key that the Vikings keep their emotions in check as well. We know the Super Bowl will be played there in a few weeks, take it one game at a time.

Prediction: Saints 30 Vikings 21