The Minnesota Vikings (13-3) and New Orleans Saints (11-5) are statistically two of the most impressive teams in the NFL. The Vikings rank 10th in scoring and first in points against, while the Saints are fourth in points scored and 10th in points allowed. But how do the two teams size up beyond the basic numbers? Let’s have a look at 10 stats that tell the story…
Heading into Week 17, the Vikings were desperate to lock down the No. 2 seed in the NFC because of the huge advantage that comes along with playing at US Bank Stadium. The Vikings won seven of their eight home games this year with the only loss coming to Detroit in Week 4 – a game in which they sacked Matthew Stafford six times and held the Lions to seven points. Minnesota’s defense has more INTs than touchdowns at home this year and has outscored opponents by 131 points since US Bank Stadium opened.
Drew Brees will turn 39 years old the day after the Vikings and Saints play their Divisional Round game, but he doesn’t look anywhere close to 40 from his recent performances. During the regular season, he led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.1) and in the Wild Card game against Carolina Brees threw for 376 yards. Over nearly a full season’s worth of playoff games, the future Hall of Famer has 26 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 101.6 rating.
Look up and down the Vikings’ schedule and you will see all sorts of great duel-threat running backs. Whether it was the Saints’ tandem in Week 1 or Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Theo Riddick or Duke Johnson, the Vikings’ defensive speed and discipline won the day over quick passes out of the backfield. They allowed the fewest yards to opposing running backs in the passing game in the NFL. Carrying that over to the matchup with the Saints will be vital – though the Panthers allowed just two catches to running backs and Brees still went for nearly 400 yards.
While the Vikings’ defense has dominated opposing running backs, they will draw the best tandem in the NFL in the Divisional round. The last time these two teams played, Adrian Peterson earned the first carry of the game. Oh, how different things will be this time. Ingram has consistently been one of the NFL’s best running backs, averaging 4.9 yards per carry over the past three seasons and adding an average of 51 catches per year. His ability to catch insures that the Vikings have to be prepared for anything when either he or Kamara is in the game. The rookie out of Tennessee quickly became one of the most exciting players in the league. He had 81 catches and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
Because Brees is the big ticket, Thomas’s rise to superstardom has been overlooked. But he has ranked in the top five by Pro Football Focus in each of his first two seasons. This year, he scored only behind Antonio Brown.
There’s no doubt Xavier Rhodes will be matching up against Thomas again. In Round 1, Thomas caught five passes for 45 yards. He made the long list of elite receivers that Rhodes shut down this season. Allowing 6.4 yards per attempt against while facing Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Julio Jones and AJ Green is remarkable. Rhodes solidified himself as one of the top shutdown corners in the NFL this year.
There is no good way to stop both Thielen and Diggs. When teams play deep safeties, they run underneath and create yards after catch. When teams play up at the line of scrimmage, they beat opponents down the field. Not only are they both terrific route runners with exceptional hands, but Thielen and Diggs are versatile enough to play outside or slot, which means creating challenging matchups for corners or mismatches. Diggs ranked ninth and Thielen 10th by PFF ratings.
The Saints have made an incredible turnaround on defense, from historically bad over the past few seasons to ranking high against the pass. Football Outsiders adapts yards against by opponent and found the Saints to have a very good pass defense. At the center of that is rookie corner Marshon Lattimore, who was ranked by PFF as the fourth best corner in the NFL. Safety Marcus Williams has also been a game-changer for the Saints.
The combination of a vastly improved offensive line and Case Keenum’s escapability has resulted in the Vikings’ quarterback being one of the hardest to sack in the NFL. His success was partly driven by the ability to find receivers while on the move. According to NFL Next Gen stats, Keenum was seventh in the league in time between snap and throw.
Keenum’s time to throw may be cut down by the Saints since they sport one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Cameron Jordan. He finished the season with 13.0 sacks and caused havoc for Cam Newton in the Wild Card game. Jordan got one sack against the Vikings in their first matchup. Shuffling along the offensive line could make him especially difficult as he lines up on both sides.