To call Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings a rematch is a bit misleading.
The teams facing off this weekend are quite different from the squads that took to the field on September 11 in what was a 29-19 Vikings win.
Leading that Vikings win were quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Both have since been lost for the remainder of the campaign with injuries.
Case Keenum took over for Bradford and has been remarkable in leading the Vikings (13-3) to an NFC North title. The Vikings have used Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to fill in for Cook, who had 127 rushing yards in last time out.
The Saints (12-5) had former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as their starter, but he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals after four games. That opened the door for rookie Alvin Kamara, who is a favorite to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Just because the Vikings won handily in Week 1, it does not mean Sunday’s playoff game will have a similar result.
CAN THE SAINTS RUN THE BALL?
The Vikings, who had the NFL’s best defense and ranked second in rush defense, held the Saints to 60 rushing yards in Week 1 as Peterson had only 18 yards on six carries. Kamara rushed the ball seven times and Mark Ingram had six attempts for 17 yards. The Saints had a hard time establishing the run early on, limited to 81 yards in a Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots.
But the Saints finished the regular season with the NFL’s fifth-ranked rush offense after over 129 yards per game. Ingram and Kamara were selected to the Pro Bowl after they tallied more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Ingram led the team in rushing with 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns while Kamara added 728 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Both were shut down by the Carolina Panthers last week as Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 376 yards and two scores. The Saints can win — and have done so — with Brees carrying the team, but they will have a much better shot at pulling off the upset if they can get Ingram and Kamara going.
WHO WILL WIN THE BATTLE ON THIRD DOWN?
The Vikings ranked either first or second in most team defensive stats, including on third down. Minnesota allowed opposing offenses to convert just 25.3 per cent of penultimate downs, the best in the NFL.
The #Vikings allowed teams to convert just 25.3% of their third downs this season, the best rate of any defense in the NFL. And it doesn’t stop there… h/t @OptaJerry #NOvsMIN pic.twitter.com/043FXyeWLS— Omnisport US News (@OmnisportUS) January 11, 2018
Despite having the NFL’s second-ranked offense, the Saints were surprisingly pedestrian on third down — converting just 38 per cent of the time to sit 19th in the league.
Minnesota’s offense, conversely, was third-best at 44 per cent. The Saints' defense was tied for sixth-worst in allowing teams to convert 41 per cent of their third-down chances. That tied them with the Oakland Raiders (6-10), the Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) and the Cleveland Browns (0-16).
WILL THE STAGE BE TOO BIG FOR KEENUM?
Keenum is in his fifth NFL season, but 2017 was the first year in which he started more than nine games. Sunday will be his first playoff game.
The former Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams quarterback stepped in beautifully for Bradford and set career highs with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdown passes. He threw just seven interceptions and was in the MVP conversation.
As good as he was during the regular season, the playoffs can be a different story. Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has to devise a game plan that can instill Keenum’s confidence early to keep the 29-year-old quarterback calm.
|WATCH: Anthony Joshua serves up Stephen Curry assist|
|Rockets backed up fighting talk, says Harden|
|Curry not taking the blame for defeated Warriors|
|Brewers extend Diamondbacks´ losing streak to six|
|Rockets break Warriors´ 16-game home postseason win streak|
|Chargers tight end Henry suffers torn ACL|
|WATCH: Harden dunks all over Green|
|Giants sign wide receiver Shepard|
|Stevens says Tatum should´ve been unanimous All-Rookie First Team selection|
|Rodgers on Bryant: If he ends up here, we´ll welcome him|
|Jets´ Hackenberg dealt to Raiders for 2019 conditional pick|
|Mets sign Bautista, start him same day|
|Warriors´ Iguodala ruled out for game four|
|Warriors´ Iguodala upgraded to questionable for game four|
|Simmons, Mitchell unanimous picks for NBA All-Rookie first team|
|Ronaldo again pips LeBron and Messi as sport´s most famous star|
|A fast start to life - The Golden Knights and the expansion teams who excelled early|
|It doesn´t get better - Stevens relishing best-of-three shootout for Celtics|
|LeBron and Lue hail evergreen Kyle Korver|
|Yankees´ home runs fuel win over Rangers|
|LeBron scores 44 points as Cavs level series against Celtics|
|LeBron James sets record for postseason field goals|
|Nationals´ Juan Soto hits homer in second career at-bat|
|Eli Apple embarrassed by 2017 antics, ready to move forward|
|Bills release Richie Incognito from reserve/retired list|
|Gentry and Pelicans want Cousins back in New Orleans|
|MLB extends Blue Jays closer Osuna´s administrative leave|
|LeBron ´appreciative´ of hometown effort to put up statue of him|
|LeBron or Kawhi could lead Lakers to the Finals - World Peace|
|Harden, D´Antoni rue ´soft´ Rockets performance in Warriors drubbing|
|Wash your mouth out! - Curry´s expletive outburst earns scolding from mother|
|Ohtani says he´s not good enough for Home Run Derby yet|
|Braves rally for six runs in the ninth to defeat Marlins|
|Warriors breeze past Rockets in game three|
|Golden Knights GM on Stanley Cup Finals berth: I don´t know how we did it|
|I did a ´s*** job´ defending LeBron James – Morris|
|Cavs´ Lue not satisfied with just one win|
|Sweden win shoot-out to retain world title|
|I think I made a fantastic decision - Garoppolo key to Sherman joining 49ers|
|Green: Warriors play best when we feel threatened|
|Don´t try it at home! - LeBron wows with game three passing|
|Celtics ´needed to get our butts whooped´ by Cavs, says Rozier|
|NBA great Bill Russell released from hospital|
|Indians ace Kluber becomes first in AL to seven wins|
|Kuznetsov sets Capitals´ playoff points record|
|Cavaliers rout Celtics to cut series deficit to 2-1|
|Sweden batter USA, Swiss roll on to gold medal match|
|Quarterback Manziel heading to the CFL|
|World Peace: Durant not part of Warriors dynasty|
|Watt offers to pay for funerals of Santa Fe shooting victims|
|Jacob deGrom leads Mets to much-needed win|
|Suns open to trading number one pick|
|Cousins open to Pelicans return, but wants to play for a contender|
|Bucks´ Antetokounmpo met with Budenholzer before hiring, excited for new era|
|Cowboys in a standstill under Garrett, says Owens|
|Mets outfielder Lagares expected to miss rest of season with toe injury|
|Cardinals´ DeJong suffers fractured hand, to miss ´significant time´|
|Former All-Star Buchholz expected to start for Diamondbacks on Sunday|
|Red Sox first team to 30 wins as Price, Betts steal the show|
|Pirates send Marte to DL, promote Meadows|
|Angels reliever Middleton facing Tommy John surgery|
|Comedy of errors force Yankees to sleep at airport|
|Reds may already be looking to deal Harvey|
|Canada see off Russia as Sweden squeeze past plucky Latvia|
|Budenholzer appointed Bucks head coach|
|Smith says Cavs can´t make LeBron play ´hero ball´|
|WATCH: Rome bewildered by streetballer Bone Collector|
|Rockets-Warriors not a ´chess match´ for Harden|
|Verlander sets strikeout mark against Ohtani in shutout|
|Curry plays down fitness worries|