The Saints and Vikings have developed a little bit of a rivalry over the past few years. They squared off in the NFC Championship game in 2009. (I'll wait while you punch something because you thought of how much room Favre had to run on that last play...ouch, that hurt, didn't it? Have you settled back down yet? Take a deep breath. OK good.) They opened the season against each other in 2010. And now in 2011, they're playing a game that doesn't quite have the cachet as the previous two matchups.
We all know that this version of the 2011 Vikings is nowhere near what they were the last two times these teams met, but how about the Saints? To get a better idea of what we're up against on Sunday, we asked Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles for some details in our Five Good Questions segment. Here's what he had to say:
Daily Norseman: Is Drew Brees having the best year of his career? He has been putting up great numbers since he arrived in New Orleans, but he's on pace to break league records in 2011. What has he done differently this season after struggling at times last year? Do you think he'll break Dan Marino's single-season passing record? (Note: with Minnesota's secondary, I think he might break it on Sunday.)
Canal Street Chronicles: This is definitely one of his better seasons. He was incredibly close to breaking Marino's record in 2008 also, so this isn't necessarily uncharted territory. This is the year he breaks it, though, and probably goes a good bit beyond the 5,084 yard mark. I don't think he's really done anything different this year compared to last. He was playing through a knee injury much of 2010, which I think explains why it was a bit of a down season for him. The emergence of Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles in the offense this year I'd say is what's really made the biggest difference, adding to Drew's weaponry and making him that much more dangerous. Is it his best season ever? If he wins another Super Bowl it will be.
DN: New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL, but two of their three losses were absolute clunkers on the road to the lowly Buccaneers and Rams. The Saints were also shocked in the playoffs last year when they had to travel to Seattle. Why do they seem to struggle so much at times on the road?
CSC: I wish I had a logical answer for you, but I really don't. I'm not sure there really is any rhyme or reason for it. Last year three of their five regular season losses were in the Superdome, so it's definitely a more recent trend. When asked, coach Payton has said he really likes the routine the team has for road games. I'm sure there's also some truth to the old adage about dome teams playing outdoors.
DN: Barring a disaster, the Saints will most likely win the NFC South. With their aforementioned road struggles, is it important for New Orleans to clinch the #2 seed and a first-round bye or would you be happy with simply hosting a home game? Are you rooting for a rematch against Green Bay in Lambeau or would you prefer avoiding the undefeated Packers at all costs?
CSC: The Saints have already secured a playoff spot and can clinch the NFC South this week with a win against the Vikes coupled with an Atlanta loss. Obviously it would be ideal for the Saints to grab the #2 seed and use the bye week to get healthy. Getting as many games as possible at home in the playoffs is every team's goal. All eyes are currently on San Francisco; the Saints need to finish with a better record than the Niners to lock up that first round bye. As for the Packers, I'd rather avoid them. Lambeau in January would be an incredibly difficult test for the Saints. If the Packers could miraculously get taken out in the divisional round of the playoffs, that would be amazing. I know there are fans who always want their team to play the best so they can say they beat the best. I'm not one of those fans.
DN: The Saints have a ridiculous amount of offensive weapons. From Darren Sproles to Pierre Thomas to Mark Ingram to Chris Ivory to Jimmy Graham to Devery Henderson to Marques Colston to Lance Moore to Robert Meachem, it seems like there's always someone different stepping up from game to game. But with all of the talent on that side of the ball, do you think there are certain players that are getting lost in the shuffle and underutilized? Is there anyone in that group that might get the ball too much in your opinion?
CSC: Despite the myriad weapons the Saints have on offense, I'd say there's definitely a slight bias toward Sproles, Colston and Graham plus a hint of Pierre Thomas. The rest of them, like Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, just sort of get sprinkled in randomly. But any one of them can hurt an opponent at any given time and you never know who it will be. Therein lies the the power of this offense. I really don't think there's anyone that gets the ball too much or is overused. The Saints really do a great job of spreading it around and keeping things even. It's probably also helped them stay relatively healthy.
DN: Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that might be under the radar for most Vikings fans yet could have a huge impact on Sunday's game. Finally, tell us how badly you think the Saints will beat the Vikings. Er, I mean, give us your prediction.
CSC: There really aren't too many unknown players on this offense so I'll go way outside the box and say fullback Jed Collins. You never know when he's gonna come out of the backfield and catch a touchdown pass. On defense, look out for sophomore cornerback Patrick Robinson, who's been getting a lot more playing time this season. He could have an impact, I'm just not sure for which team. I predict the Saints will win handily, 42-24.
Thanks again to Dave for answering our questions and providing insight about Minnesota's upcoming opponent. Be sure to check out Canal Street Chronicles for Saints news and stories.