Mayer: Playoff drama heightens with Vikings’ run
Let the drama unfold. If history has taught us anything, when the Minnesota Vikings reach the NFL Playoffs, it's bound to be entertaining. And when the Vikings are favored in the playoffs, like they are for this week's divisional round game again...
Let the drama unfold.
If history has taught us anything, when the Minnesota Vikings reach the NFL Playoffs, it’s bound to be entertaining. And when the Vikings are favored in the playoffs, like they are for this week’s divisional round game against New Orleans, there’s often dramatic disappointment. Usually, it’s the heartbreaking kind of devastating drama that Hollywood script writers couldn’t even make up.
Just look at the last time the Vikings played a playoff game in 2015. When it looked like the Teddy Bridgewater-led Vikings were going secure a win, Blair Walsh shanked the easiest (27 yards) of four field goal attempts in the game’s final seconds as Minnesota fell 10-9 to Seattle.
The more I’ve thought about this troubling history, the more I believe it doesn’t matter.
This is 2018. It’s not 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 or 2015. The Vikings aren’t cursed, head coach Mike Zimmer even had to say so in his press conference after the final regular-season game.
Compared to other successful Vikings’ seasons, this has been one of the most pleasant. Instead, there’s been a plethora of positive stories - journeyman backup quarterback Case Keenum playing at a high level, Adam Thielen’s continual emergence, Bridgewater's return, the star-studded No. 1 defense and Parkston native Riley Reiff thriving in his first year with the team.
The stars have even aligned for a possible ultimate fairytale ending. The Vikings could play all of their remaining games at home and also become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
But that’s looking way too far ahead. First, a tough rematch with the New Orleans Saints looms. Here’s three keys to watch for in Sunday’s showdown, which will air on FOX at 3:40 p.m.
- Keenum. In a brief survey of Vikings fans I polled, all pointed to Keenum being the biggest wildcard for Sunday’s game. I’d agree. He’s had a fantastic season and his ability to protect the football while extending plays has played a big role in Minnesota’s 13-3 record. But this will be Keenum’s first playoff start. As the Falcons proved against the Los Angeles Rams last week, playoff experience counts. He should be comfortable at U.S. Bank Stadium and will have a relatively healthy offensive line protecting him. If Keenum plays really well, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings losing. On the flip side, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings winning without a positive game from Keenum.
- When the Saints have the ball: It’s the marquee matchup, the No. 1 total defense with the Vikings against the No. 2 total offense from the Saints in terms of total yards per game. Minnesota will have its hands full, as the Saints have proven they can win games by leaning on either their rushing and passing attack or both. Forcing Drew Brees into as many third-and-longs as possible will be crucial, along with red zone defense and creating turnovers. The chess match of schemes and in-game adjustments between Sean Payton and Zimmer will likely play a major role.
- Special teams/home field advantage. This is the first playoff game in U.S. Bank Stadium and it will be loud. There’s a reason the Vikings are 7-1 at home and Zimmer has stressed publicly his desire for fans to make communication at the line of scrimmage difficult for Brees and the Saints’ offense. Often overlooked, special teams tend to have a larger effect in even matchups like this one. The Vikings will need an edge somewhere in the third phase of the game, whether it’s not giving up a big return or Kai Forbath knocking down extra points and field goals. As the Vikings know all too well, special teams can’t be overlooked.