The Saints reputation as an all-offense, no-defense team was never so richly deserved as it was a year ago. The offense hummed along behind Drew Brees and his 5, 208 passing yards, with rookie Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks each going over 1,100 yards receiving. The Saints led the league in yards and scored the second-highest amount of points in the league. But the defense was comically porous, finishing last against the pass and giving up over 28 points a game. The end result was a so-so 7-9 record, the third straight season the Saints ended at that mark.
Minnesota created shock waves even before the season started when they traded for Sam Bradford the week before the opener. That proved to be a good move, as Bradford had his best season as a pro. The Vikings looked like Super Bowl contenders as they raced out to a 5-0 start. But their offensive line couldn’t protect Bradford for very long or open holes for the running game, which was hampered when Adrian Peterson was knocked out for the season in Week 2. The excellent defense started to wear down as well, and the Vikings stumbled to an 8-8 finish.
Welcome Back, So Soon – Those NFL schedule-makers sure have a sense of humor. Adrian Peterson, who carried the Vikings offense on his back for much of the last decade, returns to play them in his first game as a Saint. He’s no longer the lead dog, as he’ll share time with Mark Ingram, who is coming off a 1,000-yard season. The Vikings defense is strong, but it struggled a bit against the run last season, so Peterson might have an opportunity to produce against his old squad.
The Rookie – Peterson missed most of last year, during which Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata struggled to fill the void. The Vikings signed Latavius Murray from Oakland, but the job appears to belong to rookie Dalvin Cook. Cook does a little of everything: run inside, run outside, catch passes. His versatility could help him be a factor even if Minnesota’s offensive line is still in flux, which it appears to be after the recent release of G Alex Boone.
A Tough Drew – Brees usually has big games in domed stadiums, but he isn’t usually battling the Vikings combination of furious pass rush and stingy secondary. New Orleans will try to run the ball to give him a few breaks in the battle, but the Saints offense usually goes as Brees goes. He’s coming off a monstrous statistical season, even if it didn’t lead to much in the way of wins, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in this one.
Matchup to watch
Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Vikings CB Terence Newman – The Vikings will likely put Xavier Rhodes on Michael Thomas. Ginn is the Saints number-two guy with Cooks now in New England and Willie Snead on suspension, so that puts him up against the ageless Newman. Ginn’s strength is the deep ball, which will put Newman’s 39-year-old legs to the test.
Fantasy football tip
WR Adam Thielen – Thielen is a great story, a guy who was typecast as a slot receiver but played his way into a big role with the Vikings a year ago, leading the team in receiving yards. He should continue to improve thanks to his rapport with Bradford, and a questionable Saints secondary is just the matchup his owners will be seeking.
Prediction: New Orleans Saints 23-20 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings still haven’t figured out their offensive line issues. That means they’ll give the ball back to Brees just enough for him to figure out some holes in their defense and pull out a close one.
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