PURPLE PAIN: Saints Playoff Path Starts With Record 5th Match-Up vs. Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube.com

Things didn’t quite go as planned yesterday for the New Orleans Saints yesterday, even though the team ended their 2019 Season on a high note with a dominant 42-10 victory over their division rivals, the Carolina Panthers that allowed them to finish with one of the League’s best win-loss records at (13-3).

That’s because since they are only seeded 3rd in their conference as they now head into the opening round of the NFL Wild Card Playoffs beginning next Sunday afternoon at home inside the Superdome, they will have to do so against a very familiar opponent: their Playoff arch nemesis, the (10-6) and 6th seed Minnesota Vikings — who they will now face a team-record 5th time in their franchise post-season history.

The Black and Gold have played a total of 20 games in their NFL Playoff history, and have an overall win-loss record all-time of (9-11), which of course was the year that includes their one and only Super Bowl title back in 2009; which ironically was the one and only time that they’ve ever beaten the Vikings in the post-season.

Most loyal ‘Who Dat’ fans will recall that famous and unforgettable 30-27 overtime victory in the 2009 NFC Championship Game over Minnesota on that game’s final play, which came on a game-winning 40-yard field goal by then Saints kicker Garrett Hartley.

However, the Saints have faced the Vikings three other times in the NFL Playoffs throughout their 53-year franchise history and have lost all of them. (Up until this upcoming Sunday, the Saints had been tied in the past with 4 total meetings against both Minnesota and the Philadelphia Eagles, who they also had faced four times previously).

In order, the other Playoff losses to Minnesota were the 1987 Wild Card game at the Superdome (the Saints’ first-ever Playoff game in their team history), and then again twice in the Vikings’ home city of Minneapolis: the NFC Divisional Round in the 2000 Playoffs (19 years ago) and of course two years ago again in the NFC Divisional Round of 2017, on the final play of the game which infamously became known as the “Minneapolis Miracle”.

But before the team and their devoted fans can begin worrying about having to face Minnesota for what will be the record-breaking 5th time in team Playoff history, Saints head coach Sean Payton and a handful of players were more interested yesterday after the thorough whipping of the Panthers about expounding on the outstanding play for the majority of the regular season that got them to this point, as they spoke after the contest with the media.

“You just find yourself after you’ve done this long enough to focus on the things you can control and fortunately, we’re in the position to be in the postseason”, Payton emphasized. “We know we’re going to be playing a home game. Those are positives.”

Payton then stressed that the team’s overall success and their momentum heading into the post-season, will allow then to continue compete and remain successful — no matter who they ultimately will have to face in the Playoffs during what they hope will be over the course of the next several weeks.

“Hey, you just want to win more than we lose. You want to win each time you play. I don’t know that that’s a certain benchmark goal. The first goal is winning your division. The second goal may be getting the best possible seed you can get and it’s just hard to do in this league.”

At the very same post-game press conference after Payton had spoken, Saints QB Drew Brees furthered Payton’s point as to the team’s confidence heading into the post-season, regardless of who or where they will have to play going forward into the immediate Playoff future.

“I think we have been balanced on offense. I think we have run the ball effectively. We have been efficient in the passing game. We have sort of made some bigger plays in the passing game, with different guys. I think overall, just efficiency, all the things you pay attention to, that equate to winning football – taking care of the football, third down percentage, redzone efficiency, all of those things are ticking up in the right direction, which is good”, Brees said.

“Defensively, those guys have been battling. Quite a few injuries I think over the last few weeks. The lineup has been getting shuffled around, but guys are stepping up and playing really well. They played fantastic today, especially early on. For us to come on the road and win the way we have, I think the last two weeks, I think that says a lot about the team understanding that good chance we have to go on the road in the playoffs and do the same thing. I think that’s good from a confidence perspective there.”

Saints 4th year superstar wide receiver and All-Pro Michael Thomas — who finished his record-breaking 2019 NFL Season with a grand total of a League-record 149 catches for a franchise record 1,725 receiving yards along with 9 TD receptions — concurred with Brees’ observation.

“Definitely the goal right now is to be the ascendant team”, Thomas noted to reporters matter-of-factly. “Coach [Sean Payton] talks about it all the time week in and week out. Scoring a lot of points, putting points on the board, and having complete wins from all units from special teams, offense, and defense. We just have to watch the film and continue to build.”

Undoubtedly, Thomas and the Black and Gold will delve heavily into the film this upcoming week as they begin preparations for the Vikings; who finished 2nd overall in the NFC North Division behind the #2 overall conference Playoff seed Green Bay Packers (another potential Playoff opponent for the Saints depending on what happens against Minnesota) but who still remain a very dangerous team.

Minnesota has been dealing with a whole slew of injuries and inconsistency in recent weeks, which could have a rather large impact on this upcoming Sunday’s match-up.

Minnesota Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook has been battling some notable shoulder and chest injuries and  missed the final two contests of the Vikings’ recently-completed regular season. He’s expected to play against the Black and Gold this coming Sunday, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be.

And then of course there’s Vikings 8th-year veteran QB Kirk Cousins; who has had a lot of success over the past several years (in regular season games) against the Saints when he played previously with the Washington Redskins; but hasn’t EVER won a playoff game in his four seasons as an NFL starter.

This past week, Cousins likely played what was easily his worst game of the year on Monday Night Football in a loss against the Packers, and if the Saints defensive line can generate adequate pressure on him while playing in front of a boisterous and hyped-up home Superdome crowd, one would have to like the Saints’ chances at coming away with a win in the NFL Playoffs’ Wild Card opening round.

Sunday’s game against the Vikings will be televised nationally by FOX beginning at 12:05 p.m. Central time, and will be shown locally in NOLA on WVUE Fox Channel 8.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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