For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Vikings have an extra week to prepare for the playoffs.
Beyond that, it's probably best not to dwell on that season and all that came after, from Brett Favre's dismal encore a year later to the "bountygate" scandal and beyond.
Quarterback Drew Brees, head coach Sean Peyton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and punter Thomas Morestead are just about all that's left of that New Orleans team the Vikings faced. It's still probably enough to rankle Minnesota fans, who haven't sniffed the NFC championship game since and have a habit of folding such losses into their own particular brand of fatalism.
Depending on what happens this weekend, the Vikings could get another shot at the Saints, nearly a decade after that debacle in the Superdome.
But while the Vikings' postseason past is one of catastrophic misses and untimely turnovers, this year's team is an unexpected contender after losing their starting quarterback and running back within the first five weeks of the season.
Vegas likes the Vikings to emerge from the NFC, even if they remain bullish on the New England Patriots chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions.
First, they'll need to get through the divisional round. The No. 2 seed behind the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings will face the highest-seeded team to make it out of wild-card weekend. Of the four wild-card teams -- the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons -- only the Falcons are off limits, and would face the Eagles regardless of who else advances. As it turns out, Minnesota played all the teams taking the field this weekend during the regular season.
As you watch this weekend's games (Falcons at Rams, Saturday, 7:15 p.m.; Panthers at Saints, Sunday, 3:40 p.m.), here's a look at each of the Vikings' possible opponents in the divisional round to be played next Sunday in Minnesota at 3:40 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
LAST MEETING: Vikings won 29-19 in Week 1
WHY THE VIKINGS WIN: The Saints' much-improved defense made just five stops on 18 third-down tries last week against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a figure that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is surely aware of. Athletic linebackers like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are a solid antidote to the twin problems of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the versatile running backs who've powered the Saints' offense this season.
WHY THEY DON'T: Don't let that score fool you; these aren't exactly the Saints of old, nor are they even the Saints of Week 1. Drew Brees fed receiver Michael Thomas at a reliable clip this season, but Ingram and Kamara have pummeled opponents on the ground this year. The duo hit their stride after ditching Adrian Peterson, combining for more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage (both finished with just over 1,500) and 25 touchdowns.
The Associated PressAP
LAST MEETING: Vikings lost 31-24 in Week 15
WHY THE VIKINGS WIN: The formula here is pretty simple. Quarterback Cam Newton has been picked off more than once on four separate occasions this season. The Panthers are 0-4 in such games. He was particularly off against Atlanta in the Panthers' regular-season finale, throwing three interception.
WHY THEY DON'T: Keeping Keenum upright is just as important as bringing Newton down. The Vikings quarterback took six sacks against the Panthers last month, while throwing two interceptions. Right tackle Mike Remmers and center Pat Elflein were both shelved for that game, but should be available for this potential matchup. However, some shuffling along the O-line in the Vikings' regular-season finale is a little troubling.
USA TODAY SportsJeremy Brevard
LOS ANGELES RAMS
LAST MEETING: Vikings won 24-7 in Week 12
WHY THE VIKINGS WIN: The Vikings were still facing questions about their legitimacy after rattling off five straight wins earlier this season. Their sixth -- over the Rams -- changed the conversation. And while Jared Goff and the Rams' offense remain formidable, their defense hasn't kept up. They rank 13th against the pass but a dismal 28th against the run. Latavius Murray is coming off a 111-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chicago Bears. Expect him to get the ball early and often.
WHY THEY DON'T: That win wasn't quite as tidy as the box score would have you believe. The Rams came within inches of a touchdown -- and the lead -- to close out the first half before Cooper Kupp's untimely fumble negated the go-ahead score. The Rams led the NFL in scoring during the regular season, and likely won't be held to a single score again.