The Vikings' first-round playoff opponent has finally been decided. Thanks to the 49ers' dramatic 26-21 win over the Seahawks on Sunday night, the No. 6 seed Vikings (10-6) will travel to New Orleans to take on the No. 3 seed Saints (13-3) next weekend. The game will start at 12:05 p.m. central time on Sunday.
The Saints aren't your average three seed. In most years, their 13-3 record would be enough for a first-round bye or possibly even the No. 1 seed. But because the 49ers and Packers also went 13-3, and the Saints lost tiebreakers to both – head-to-head against the 49ers, conference record against the Packers – New Orleans finds itself having to play on wild-card weekend.
Here's the full schedule for wild card weekend.
If the Vikings were to win, they'd face No. 1 seed San Francisco on Saturday Jan. 11th in the dvisional round.
It's safe to say this won't be an easy matchup for the Vikings, who may have preferred a Seahawks win on Sunday night (which would've meant Minnesota would start the playoffs in Seattle). Led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and the league's top wide receiver in Michael Thomas, the Saints possess one of the league's most efficient and explosive offenses.
The Saints' 458 points scored this season (28.6 per game) tied for second-most in the NFL. And they're peaking at the right time, having averaged 40 points per game over their last four outings. They've raised their point differential from +50 to +117 (fifth-best in the league) during that span. The Vikings are seventh in point differential at +104.
When Brees was injured in a loss to the Rams in Week 2, the Saints' season appeared to be in jeopardy. But in stepped former Viking Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 as a starter, including a road win in Seattle. Brees returned in Week 8 and has been red-hot since a clunker of a home loss to the Falcons in Week 10. Brees led the league in completion percentage (75.3) by a wide margin, and his 115.7 passer rating was the best in the NFL among players with at least 300 attempts.
A big reason why Brees has remained so effective at age 40 is the presence of Thomas, whose 1,688 receiving yards led the league by 355. Thomas set the all-time single-season record with 145 receptions this season and scored nine touchdowns.
The Saints have a formidable one-two punch at running back in Alvin Kamara (1,273 yards from scrimmage) and Latavius Murray (797 yards from scrimmage, six touchdowns). Tight end Jared Cook also had a strong season for the Saints, with 661 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches.
Defensively, the Saints are led by defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
This will be the third playoff meeting between the Vikings and Saints in the past ten years. The previous two are fairly well-known. Two seasons ago was the Minneapolis Miracle in the divisional round. Ten years ago, Brett Favre threw a crucial interception in a thrilling NFC Championship game.
Now, they meet in the wild card round for the first time.
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