The National Football League is offering a Christmas gift in the form of a game from the Big Easy between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. The contest is set to kickoff at 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
Both these National Football Conference teams are hopeful of making the 2020 NFL playoff field, which this year has expanded to 14 teams, seven from each conference. The Covid-19 inspired playoff format has three AFC and three NFC Wild Card games, while one team from each conference gets an opening week bye.
The Vikings are limited to a Wild Card berth for their playoff hopes, their chances for that could end today if they fail to win in New Orleans. The Saints lead the NFC South Division, holding a one game lead over second place Tampa Bay, and are assured of participating in the postseason.
In other words, the Vikings are facing elimination today and the Saints are looking to improve their playoff seed. That is a situation that more often favors the team needing a win for survival.
Do we have any overriding factors today that bend the advantage back to the home team?
First, the Saints only need to win today or next week’s finale against the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South Division because they have already beaten Tom Brady and his second place Buccaneers twice this season. What is still possible for Drew Brees’ Saints is capturing that first week playoff bye, they are currently one game behind the Green Bay Packers for that slot, but the Packers also own the tiebreaker against New Orleans based on a win in their only regular season matchup.
Now, the reason the Vikings are desperate to win and still would need help to capture a playoff berth is that they just haven’t won enough this season. A team that was expected to compete against the best this year, they were a playoff squad in 2019, came out of the gate like a horse that trips.
The Vikings opened their season with five losses in their first six games headed into their bye week. One could have expected a team as talented as the Vikings to come out of that open date with renewed focus and a lot of success.
It started that way, with the Vikings pinning the Green Bay Packers with one of their three regular season losses, 28-22. Minnesota then completed a three week sweep of NFC North Division opponents with victories the following two Sundays over the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
Those wins elevated the Vikings to contender, but a loss to the win-starved Dallas Cowboys on November 22 landed with a thud. Since that defeat, the Vikings have split their four games, losing to the Buccaneers and Bears the past two weeks after narrow wins against the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Meanwhile, the Saints were rising to the top of the NFC standings with victories in 10 of their first dozen games. Then, two weeks ago, they got upended by another NFC East team struggling for wins, the Philadelphia Eagles. That road loss was followed by a defeat last Sunday at home against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that marked the return of Drew Brees behind center. The Saints quarterback was injured against the 49ers and missed four starts.
Okay, a lot to digest.
But here is our bottom line.
The Vikings have not shown the character to make a late season rush and their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has as much trouble beating teams with a winning record as a fourth-grader trying to defend LeBron James. Cousins' record against teams with winning marks in Washington was legendary, four wins and 23 losses. Then, with his move to the Vikings, it was thought that he may be better able to challenge quality teams with a better team around him. Not so much, he is 4-9 with the Vikings against teams with winning records and 1-4 this season.
Now, here is the kicker, one of those wins against a team with a winning record was gained by Cousins last January in the opening playoff round against the Saints.
Which means this, the Vikings may need this game, but the Saints have both motivation and the talent to get it.
Qoxhi Picks: New Orleans Saints (-6½) over Minnesota Vikings