Editor’s note: NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian deliver their NFL picks every Thursday of the season, and here’s who they like in the New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings NFC divisional-round game, with the line from OddsShark.
New Orleans Saints at (-4.5) Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
This goes one of two ways: It’s either an instant classic and is by far the best game of the weekend, or the Vikings stomp out the visiting Saints. I’m leaning toward the latter. Minnesota’s defense is elite in all three levels. The Vikings’ defensive line might be the best in the NFL, and it’ll put pressure on Drew Brees, who’s playing behind a banged-up offensive line after losing left guard Andrus Peat to an injury and with left tackle Terron Armstead already nursing an injury. Minnesota has good, athletic linebackers, as well as a ball-hawking secondary led by All-Pro safety Harrison Smith, who will make a big play Sunday. And don’t sleep on the Minnesota offense, either. The Saints have allowed 400 yards or more two weeks in a row (and in four of the last eight games) while also struggling to defend slot receivers this season. Minnesota’s Adam Thielen is arguably the NFL’s top slot receiver.
While there’s no real evidence to suggest Case Keenum will lay an egg with the stakes raised, there is a precedent for quarterbacks struggling in their first taste of the postseason. Since 2013, quarterbacks making their first career playoff starts have gone 3-12, with two of those wins coming in games where one first-time quarterback played another first-time quarterback, meaning there needed to be a winner. Conversely, Brees has a ton of experience and is one of the best QBs in NFL history, therefore New Orleans has an overwhelming advantage at the most important position on the field. And that’ll be huge in a game where each team will be looking to control the clock and the tempo.
Alvin Kamara and Mike Ingram were taken out of the Saints’ wild-card game against the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans still won because Drew Brees was vintage Drew Brees. This shows the Saints can beat you in many different ways. Their defense also is just as good as Minnesota’s in some ways. They get to the quarterback at a higher rate than the Vikings, and they had six more takeaways this season than Minnesota. The Vikings actually were 23rd in takeaways, and that doesn’t bode well when going up against one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history. Let’s not forget the Saints played in the most difficult division in football and they still were first in yards-per-play differential. That’s pretty impressive.