“A Miracle”

NFC Wild Card 

(6) Minnesota Vikings at (3) New Orleans Saints 

Vikings: This was an important year for them. After breaking the bank to sign Kirk Cousins in the 2018 off-season, could he show that he was worth the money? Kirk put together one of the best seasons of his career in 2019. He threw 26 touchdown passes, a low six interceptions and threw for 3,603 yards on the year without Adam Thielen who was sidelined with injuries in the regular season. Even when Adam was out, other guys stepped up tremendously on the offensive side of the ball. For the first time since the 2017 season, they are back in the playoffs. This also marks the third time they’ve qualified for January football under head coach Mike Zimmer. As much talent as the Minnesota Vikings have on the offensive side of the football, the most important piece to everything is Dalvin Cook. I can explain. When they were able to, the Vikings ran the football 49 percent of the time during the regular season which was the third-highest run play percentage in the league. Without him, they struggle to gain yards. It’s so important to have your key guys healthy on the field. Since Zimmer became the head coach, they’ve also been one of the better defensive teams in the NFL. I’ve raved about their defensive line that can do a variety of things to make life miserable for the opponent. One thing I have noticed is they are a different team on the road than they were at home. I just noticed a lack of effort within the secondary and how they struggled to defend wide receivers. To start off the NFC Playoffs, they’ll face a team they’ve met in the postseason before.

Saints: I don’t think anyone is shocked that they made the playoffs once again. In that division, it’s them at the top with everyone else looking up. For the sixth time in the Sean Payton era, the New Orleans Saints are NFC South champions. I’ve seen a lot of Sean since the franchise hired him to be their head coach. This year was hands down his best season. Let’s take it back to week two of the regular season. It was a rematch of the NFC title game in Los Angeles against the Rams. Drew Brees injures his thumb. After the injury, it was announced he would miss time. Others panicked. I had the feeling the Saints would do all they could to stay on track until Drew returned. Number nine missed a total of five games. Sean led the Saints to wins in every game that Drew didn’t play in. At that time, he was my pick to win coach of the year. Let me say this about the quarterback. Appreciate what you’re seeing right now from Brees. Even at the age of 40, he continues to play at the highest level. One thing he’s never received credit for is how smart he is. You must be cerebral to be a quarterback. One glitch in coverage against him and he’s attacking you. He only played in 11 games this year. He was still able to put together a quality season. 27 touchdown passes, four interceptions and he’s the all-time leader in passing touchdowns. This is the most well-rounded team of theirs I’ve seen maybe since the year when they won it all in 2009. They have a top-three scoring offense, a top-ten defense and a legendary quarterback throwing the ball to the best wide receiver in the game. To advance to the next round, they’ll face the Vikings on Sunday afternoon.

Vikings Player to Watch: Dalvin Cook- As I said up top, he’s the most important piece for the Vikings offense. He impacts the game in so many ways from the ground game to the check-down passing game. When he does well, Cousins does well. It’s safe to say he’s a security blanket for the quarterback. The Saints will bottle him up as a runner. That doesn’t mean the Vikings won’t find other ways to use him in this game.

Saints Player to Watch: Demario Davis– He’s been the anchor of the Saints defense all season long. He’s an all-around linebacker that can stop the run, cover running backs and tight ends in space and he can blitz when his number is called. He’s a versatile piece that comes in handy for defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen. I expect to see a lot of him all over the field.

Final Analysis: They’ve met in two very memorable playoff games. First was the 2009 NFC Championship. That was when the Vikings had Brett Favre as their quarterback. The Saints would escape with a three-point win over Minnesota en route to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. The second came in the 2017 NFC Divisional Round when Stefon Diggs scored the biggest touchdown of his career which is now known as the “Minneapolis Miracle”. This is battle number three. Cousins struggles tremendously when he’s under constant pressure. Expect the Saints to run many different blitz schemes to move Kirk off his spots and wreak havoc on the Vikings offense. I look for Payton to draw up plays to attack this Vikings secondary. The Vikings will probably double Michael Thomas but watch for the Saints to attack Minnesota in other ways using Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill.

Prediction: Saints 31 Vikings 20


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