Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints on a last-second, 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs in a play that went down in the NFL history books as the “Minneapolis Miracle.” That win advanced the Vikings out of the divisional playoff round — though they ended up losing in the NFC Conference Championship to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
On Sunday, the Vikings may need more than one miracle to win their playoff rematch against the Saints, this time the Wild Card round. The 13-3 Saints, runaway winners of the NFC South, host the game, and are — not surprisingly — heavy favorites. The point spread in New Orleans’ favor opened at 6 1/2, but quickly jumped to 7 1/2 points, where it sits as they enter game day, according to USA Today.
The two teams head into Wild Card Weekend moving in opposite directions. The 10-6 Vikings have lost their last two straight and three of their last five. The Saints, on the other hand, won their last three in a row, walloping the opposition by an average of 23 points in each of those games. New Orleans also won six games in their final seven, with their only defeat coming to the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, who also finished at 13-3. The Saints lost that game by two points in a 48-46 shootout.
CBS Sports previews the first NFC Wild Card game in the video below.
The Saints’ late-season dominance is due largely to the spectacular play of 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, who — according to ESPN.com stats — unleashed 15 touchdown passes in December alone, while allowing no interceptions at all in the regular season’s final month.
Overall, Brees tossed for 27 touchdowns, even though he missed five games with a thumb injury. Brees led the league in completion percentage at 74.3 — in other words, the future Hall of Famer connected on nearly three of every four passes he threw in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference.
ESPN.com NFL Next Gen Stats metrics also show that since Week 11, Brees was the NFL’s only quarterback to complete at least 70 percent of his passes against both zone and man-to-man coverage schemes.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints’ defense has been tops in the NFL against the run over 2019 and 2018. But their ability to control the ground game will receive perhaps its most severe test against Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, whose 1,135 yards were good enough for 10th among all NFL rushers.
The Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints Wild Card playoff matchup kicks off at noon CST — 1 p.m. EST, 10 a.m. on the west coast — at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The game will be televised nationally by the Fox Network.