When two teams meeting in the playoffs also faced off earlier that regular season, you can often learn a lot from the first game when handicapping the postseason matchup. For example, the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers twice this past regular season so there was no good reason to pick against the Saints in last weekend’s Wild-Card Round vs. the Panthers.
That said, there’s almost nothing you can take from the Saints’ Week 1 visit to the Minnesota Vikings as those teams prepare to face off in the NFC Divisional Round on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, home to Super Bowl LII. The Vikings are 4-point NFL betting favorites.
In the first Monday night game of the 2017 season, Minnesota was a 3-point home favorite and beat the Saints 29-19. Reason No. 1 why that game matters little: Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford had maybe the game of his NFL career in completing 27 of 32 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. However, it turned out Bradford injured his knee in the game, and he has played less than one half of one game since, way back on Oct. 9.
Reason No. 2 why that game matters little: The focal point of the Vikings offense this season was to be second-round rookie running back Dalvin Cook. He was among the preseason favorites for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and looked the part in Week 1 with 127 yards rushing on 22 carries and three receptions. Cook, however, hasn’t played since Oct. 7 due to a torn ACL.
Reason No. 3 why that game matters little: The Saints hadn’t forged their rushing identity yet. Against Minnesota, the co-leading rusher was former Vikings great Adrian Peterson with 18 yards. He’s long gone now. Alvin Kamara had 18 yards rushing on seven carries and Mark Ingram 17 yards on six. Now both Kamara and Ingram are Pro Bowlers and arguably the best 1-2 running back punch in the NFL.
In addition, the Saints’ leading receiver that night was tight end Coby Fleener with five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. He’s out for the season.
A total of 14 Saints and seven Vikings who were on the 53-man roster for the season opener are no longer with those teams.
Minnesota’s current quarterback is journeyman Case Keenum, who was 11-3 as a starter and had his best year in setting career highs in attempts (481), completions (325), completion percentage (67.6), yards (3,547), touchdowns (22) and passer rating (98.3). When he had a rating of at least 100, the Vikings (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS) were 8-0. Latavius Murray has taken over for Cook and rushed for 842 yards and eight touchdowns, all those TDs coming in the past 10 games.
While the Vikings were resting up last week, the Saints (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS) beat the Panthers 31-26. The good news for New Orleans is that 38-year-old Drew Brees looked in his prime with 376 yards passing and two touchdowns. The bad news is the running game that averaged a league-high 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season had just 41 yards on 22 carries. Now the Saints go against the NFL’s No. 1 total, scoring and third-down defense.
New Orleans has covered eight of its past nine road games vs. teams with a winning home record. Can you really trust Keenum in his first-ever playoff start? Brees has 12 under his belt. Take the points.
January 11, 2018