Drew Brees and the Saints begin title defense Thursday versus the Vikings.
Thursday night’s NFC Championship Game ‘rematch’ between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome has all the earmarks of a blood bath.
The Vikings believe they, not the Saints, should have won Super Bowl XLIV. They are convinced they gave away the game. What Minnesota fans and stat sheet disciples are forgetting is that New Orleans won the NFC last season.
Between the Saints’ style of play and the Vikings seeking revenge, Thursday’s matchup promises plenty of pop.
If you recall, New Orleans put a beating on Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, collecting two personal fouls in the process. However, Favre was able to find enough holes in the New Orleans defense to complete 28 of 46 passes for 310 yards with a touchdown and the Vikings generated 475 yards in total offense.
Buried beneath the five turnovers and three lost fumbles and the 31-28 overtime loss was a dominant running game that churned out 165 yards, a 4.1 average and three touchdowns.
Stopping the run was a problem for the Saints last season. They ranked 21st giving up 122.2 yards per game, but made up for it by finishing second in the NFL in takeaways. They also led the league in defensive touchdowns by a wide margin.
The results were thrilling and effective, but may not be sustainable. Despite the return of nearly every significant player or coach, New Orleans is very unlikely to return to the Super Bowl. Reduce the turnover totals, and the Saints defense suddenly becomes mediocre.
New Orleans is counting on coach Sean Payton to once again baffle opponents with misdirection, subterfuge and a thousand different formations. His gambits will probably work, but not as well as last year.
The Saints’ defense that lines up Thursday will have new starters at free safety, left end and at one outside linebacker position.
Not surprisingly, the Vikings decided to bring everybody back for another shot, but assuming that the previous year’s performance guarantees future performance in the NFL is obviously foolhardy.
Half of Minnesota’s offensive starters missed substantial practice time, from Favre to tailback Adrian Peterson to receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin to center John Sullivan.
Rice won’t return until midseason following hip surgery and Harvin’s recurring migraines make him a question mark on a daily basis. That leaves the Vikings with one established big play receiver (Bernard Berrian) and two possession receivers (Greg Lewis and Greg Camarillo).
It’s probably safe to assume Favre will lean heavily on tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and will also use Peterson out of the backfield as much as possible.
Most offshore books opened New Orleans as 4 ½-point NFL spread favorites, with the ‘total’ set at 51 ½.
Home favorites of 3 ½ to 6 ½ points are 18-28 ATS during the first week of the season since 1999 and failed to cash six of eight last year.
Both teams have been proficient off the hop. Minnesota has ‘covered’ six of eight during Week 1 and the Saints have cashed five straight in September and four of five season openers.
However, the Vikings are 8-3-1 ATS in their last dozen chances versus conference competition, while New Orleans has flunked six of its last eight conference tests ATS. The Saints have also dropped five of their last seven spread decisions in the Big Easy.
Minnesota has ‘covered’ in its last five meetings with New Orleans, including four straight on the road.
The Vikings finished last season on a 3-7 ‘under’ run. Conversely, New Orleans has topped the ‘total’ at a 16-6-1 clip at the Superdome. The Saints have ducked ‘under’ in eight of their last 11 openers.
Home favorites of 3 ½ to 6 ½ points have strayed ‘under’ in 16 of 21 season lidlifters since 2005.