5 questions for Vikings, Saints ahead of playoff game
FOX Sports North
The Minnesota Vikings finally have an opponent for Sunday's divisional playoff game.
Just over four months after their shocking win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, the Vikings will take on a very different Saints squad at U.S. Bank Stadium. New Orleans now leans on the running game as much as star quarterback Drew Brees, while their defense, once a liability, has emerged as a serious threat.
Can the Vikings stop the new-look Saints? Check out our five biggest questions ahead of the biggest game in U.S. Bank Stadium's brief history.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
Will U.S. Bank Stadium rattle the Saints?
The Saints haven't won on the road since Week 10, when they blasted the Buffalo Bills 47-10. Since then they've dropped three straight away from the Superdome, including losses to the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. U.S. Bank Stadium can be among the league's loudest stadiums thanks to its unique construction. Its seats are closer to the field than those of any other NFL venue, and the crowd noise was clocked at 114 decibels during a preseason game last year. That's well within the range the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association considers dangerous to your hearing.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
What about that running game?
Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are as athletic as linebackers come, and match up well against the Saints' star running backs: veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. They could get some help from an unexpected source: cornerback Trae Waynes. According to Pro Football Focus, the third-year defender led all NFL corners with 15 run stops during the regular season. They'll have a big job ahead of them. Kamara and Ingram combined for 25 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage during the regular season.
USA TODAY SportsChuck Cook
Will the Vikings' defense hold up against Drew Brees?
In their NFC wild-card game, the Carolina Panthers held Ingram and Kamara in check, limiting each to fewer than 25 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards. They still lost. Brees was at his best, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with a 115.2 passer rating. The Vikings have allowed just two 300-yard passers this season, and have held opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 200 passing yards in each of their last five games. However, Brees, who threw for 291 yards in Week 1, could present major problems for the Vikings' secondary. He was one of the league's most accurate deep-ball passers this season per Pro Football Focus, and at 52.5 percent had the NFL's second-highest adjusted completion percentage on deep throws this season.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
Which pass rush will break through?
Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Everson Griffen finished tied for fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks each. Brees has taken multiple sacks in a single game just six times this season. The Saints are 3-3 in such games. Case Keenum has been sacked 2+ times in each of the last six games, but Minnesota is 5-1 in those contests, with the only loss coming to Carolina, which dropped the Vikings' QB six times. The Saints and the Vikings have had similar injury issues along the offensive line this season, but while Minnesota should get rookie center Pat Elflein back this week, the Saints will be shorthanded after losing left guard Andrus Peat to a leg injury. New Orleans sacked Sam Bradford just once in Week 1.
The Associated PressAP
Nearly 10 years after the 2009 NFC Championship, is this still a revenge game?
The answer appears to be a resounding "no." While the Saints have retained a few major pieces from that team, defensive end Brian Robison, 34, is the only member of the 2009 Vikings remaining. He doesn't seem interested in any talk of vengeance. “I’m not worried about that," Robison told reporters. "This is 2017. That’s a long time ago."