Saints Have Christmas Clash with Nemesis Vikings
New Orleans Saints (10-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (6-8)
Friday, Dec. 25, 3: 30 p.m.
TV: FOX WVUE 8
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM
NFC South crown tops Saints’ wish list
It won’t be do or die for the New Orleans Saints when they host the Minnesota Vikings in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday, but a win and its implications would bring a lot of holiday cheer to the Black & Gold Nation.
A Christmas Day victory would allow the Saints to win their fourth-straight NFC South title and hold on to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. As a bonus, it would also squelch Minnesota’s postseason chances. That would be a nice turn of events considering the Vikings have knocked the Saints out of the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. But the Vikings would love to play Grinch once again by handing the Saints their third straight loss and denying them from claiming the division crown.
New Orleans has seen a three-game lead over Tampa Bay drop to one with consecutive losses the past two weeks. The Saints have defeated the Buccaneers twice this season and hold a head-to-head tiebreaker for the division lead should both teams end the season with identical records. A win would stop the skid, seal the division, and give the Saints momentum going into the regular season closer against Carolina and the playoffs.
Although the Saints are coming off of a 32-29 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, they can’t be discouraged about their performance last Sunday.
Despite the offense sputtering, being held to season-lows of 60 rushing yards and 18:46 in time of possession, they only suffered a three-point loss. It’s encouraging moving toward the playoffs that the Saints have kept games against the Packers and Chiefs, arguably the NFL’s current best, within one score.
Quarterback Drew Brees looked a little rusty last week after missing the previous four games with 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. His return was made that much more difficult when wide receiver Michael Thomas was put on injured reserve with a lingering ankle injury for the remainder of the regular season and receiver Tre’Quan Smith exited the Chiefs game with an ankle injury of his own.
New Orleans has a Top 3 NFL defense and will have to win with this unit for the foreseeable future.
The Vikings have lost two straight games to the Buccaneers and Bears. QB Kirk Cousins
Has thrown for 3,569 yards and 29 TDs, but he’s also tossed 13 interceptions. Minnesota leans on RB Dalvin Cook – who has gained 1,484 yards and scored an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns this season – and their ground attack, which has averaged nearly 150 yards per game, and looks to receiver Justin Jefferson (1182 YDS, 7 TD) over the top. They gain a lot of yards, but that’s not translating into points on the scoreboard (25.7 points per game).
The Saints had slow starts in the first and third quarters last week. Much of their offensive struggles had to do with Brees and his receivers not being on the same page. Look for the Saints to use their ground game to establish passing opportunities to as many receivers as possible. When the playoffs start, quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas will have only played 10 quarters – 2 ½ games – together this season. The Saints will have to have multiple downfield options to reach their Super Bowl dreams.
At the Line of Scrimmage
Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.
When the Saints have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Saints Offense 28.4 (9) 363.8 (16) 232.0 (21) 131.8 (7)
Vikings Defense 27.7 (25) 378.0 (23) 252.4 (24) 125.6 (23)
When the Vikings have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Vikings Offense 25.7 (14) 387.1 (5) 239.4 (18) 147.7 (5)
Saints Defense 21.2 (6) 306.4 (3) 210.9 (5) 95.6 (4)
Goal to Geaux
Minnesota plays traditional football – establish the run game and use play action to set up passing opportunities. The Saints still have the league’s fourth ranked run defense, allowing 95.6 rushing yards per game. They’ll plan to stuff the run and put the game on Vikings’ QB Kirk Cousins’ shoulder. He’s not as mobile as the last two QBs the Saints faced, and his offensive line has been vulnerable to the pass rush, and the Saints D-line would love nothing more than to show some dominance in the NFL’s lone Christmas day matchup.
Look for the Saints to try to establish a balanced offensive attack to churn up yards and time of possession. The Vikings’ defense is in the bottom quarter of the league in the four major stat lines. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray can grind down the D while Brees tries to establish consistency with his receivers.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 15
- It’s amazing that Drew Brees has played 20+ NFL seasons and had his first game starting 0-5 in passing in his career.
- Alvin Kamara is the first player in Saints’ history to score 15 touchdowns in two separate seasons (2018, 2020). He now has 53 career TDs, tied for fourth place with running back Dalton Hilliard.
- After facing the Chiefs’ offense for an astounding 92 plays, the Saints’ defense had two days cut from their normal preparation for the Vikings’ Christmas Day game this week.
Quotes of the Week
“I was proud of how we competed. I thought that we flew around. I thought guys (played well) against a really good offense. I thought we played our hearts out. It wasn’t good enough, obviously, but I’m proud of the effort.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the Saints’ defensive effort against the Chiefs
“No excuses! No matter how I feel about it, an ejectable offense was the outcome, I hurt the squad, and in the 4th qtr on a crucial drive! that’s on me! This loss on me! Can’t happen! Whatever the correction I will be better” – Saints defensive end Cam Jordan’s Twitter post after being ejected in the fourth quarter for punching Kansas City offensive lineman Andrew Wylie
“Right now, the most important thing is getting our next win so we can officially win the division and then we will worry about the next one after that. So, we have a one game season and that is this Friday night.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the team’s outlook for the remainder of the season
Inside the NFC South
W L T Win % PF PA DIV
New Orleans Saints 10 4 0 0.714 397 297 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9 5 0 0.643 401 321 3-2
Atlanta Falcons 4 10 0 0.286 355 353 1-4
Carolina Panthers 4 10 0 0.286 323 356 1-4
Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)
KC can lock up home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs with a win. Atlanta has been eliminated from the postseason and is playing for pride and future contracts. After a tight game with the Saints, the Chiefs want to flex and show their might. This one could get ugly.
Carolina Panthers (4-10) at Washington Football Team (6-8)
Washington can’t win a wild card spot, but they can claim the NFC East and the No. 4 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win. Meanwhile Carolina has been eliminated from the postseason. Like Atlanta, the Panthers are playing for pride and future contracts. D.C. has more to play for and is at home.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) at Detroit Lions (5-9)
The Buccaneers can clinch a Wild Card position Saturday at Detroit, which has also been eliminated. After an up and down season, Tampa wants to show that they are among the NFL’s best. Plus, they still have a shot at the NFC South title if they win out and the Saints lose their next two. Detroit has already fired their head coach and looks like they might be on the verge of rebuilding, again. Expect the Bucs to punch their ticket to the postseason after this one.
NFC Playoff Picture
Below are the NFC standings through Week 15. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.
Seed Team Division W L T
1 Packers – y North 11 3 0
2 Saints – x South 10 4 0
3 Seahawks – x West 10 4 0
4 Washington East 6 8 0
5 Rams West 9 5 0
6 Buccaneers South 9 5 0
7 Cardinals West 8 6 0
8 Bears North 7 7 0
9 Vikings North 6 8 0
10 Lions – e North 5 9 0
11 Cowboys East 5 9 0
12 49ers – e West 5 9 0
13 Giants East 5 9 0
14 Eagles East 4 9 1
15 Falcons – e South 4 10 0
16 Panthers – e South 4 10 0
z – Clinched home field advantage
y – Clinched division title
x – Clinched playoff birth
e – Eliminated
The Extra Point: Pro Bowl
When the NFL announced its 2020 Pro Bowl squad, five Saints were included among the 88 All-Star players, but there should have been more in that number.
Tackle Terron Armstead, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Alvin Kamara, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and guard Andrus Peat made the NFC’s team. This will be Jordan’s sixth, Kamara’s fourth, Armstead’s, Lattimore’s, and Peat’s third Pro Bowl honor. But left out were seemingly obvious choices linebacker Demario Davis, who has 106 tackles, four sacks, four passes defended, and 10 tackles for loss, and defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson, whose 12.5 sacks are tied for the league lead with the L.A. Ram’s Aaron Donald. Strong cases can also be made that safety Marcus Williams, cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and center Erik McCoy should have been included, too.
The NFL’s Pro Bowl rosters are determined by votes from fans, players, and coaches, with each group’s vote counting toward one-third of the selection. It is inherently biased and doesn’t offer a true reflection of the league’s best players. The NFL isn’t hosting its All-Star game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so there won’t be alternate selections for players who opt out or are on Super Bowl rosters.
This hurts players who have Pro Bowl recognition built into incentive-laden contracts, but there is an opportunity for the Saints who have starred in 2020 to receive recognition. When the Associated Press names its All-Pro team, expect the Saints to have better representation.