Well Saints fans, we have waited since December 24, 2016 for this week. Opening week of the NFL season comes with an optimism that is almost unheard of. Everyone who has a team that they love and follow have been reading up on everything that has gone on during the offseason. Trying to fill the void that only one gets while wearing their favorite players jersey, eating wings, sipping an ice-cold beer and biting their nails as the game winning field goal soars through the air. Football season is back and Monday night we will get our first taste of the 2017 Saints team.
Monday night the Saints will travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings in the bright lights of Monday Night Football. The Saints have excelled during the Sean Payton era during primetime. But reality will hit the Saints as soon as kickoff happens, as the Vikings are no joke. In 2016 the Vikings were the second best passing defense in the NFL behind only the Broncos, they posted the fifth most sacks and held opposing quarterbacks to an 83.0 rating. The stats for the defense would have been better had it not been for a week 15 and 16 meltdown against Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. They finished 16th in the NFL in rushing defense allowing 4.2 yards per rush. They also gave up the third fewest rushing touchdowns. Needless to say the Vikings defense put the team into position to win more often than not, helping them finish with a 8-8 record.
The offensive numbers for the Vikings were nothing to get excited about. 28th in yards per play, 32nd in rushing, 18th in passing yards per attempt, 25th in first downs and 28th in the red zone just to name a few. The Vikings scored only 29 offensive touchdowns in 2016, which is “ONE” more than the Browns scored. And incase you forgot the Browns only won one game last year. The one area that the Vikings thrived in on offense in 2016 was play-action passing. They were the third best team in play-action passing last year.
As we prepare for the game I sought out the help of Tanner Webber of Purple News to help get insight on the Vikings. You can find and follow Tanner on Twitter @Purple_Post.
-How do you think the Saints young cornerbacks will hold up against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen?
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are a duo that most CBs don’t like matching up against, due to their excellent route running and sure hands. New Orleans’ CBs may be young but they are raw and extremely athletic. The Saints drafted the best CB in the 2017 class, which is a great get for them when you look at how deep this class is, but i have to give the edge to the Vikings wideouts. This is a tough matchup on the road in a tough environment for the first game of the season. Your best chance of slowing Diggs down is to be as physical with him as possible off of his releases.
-What impact do you think Dalvin Cook will have in this game?
Dalvin Cook will have a huge impact in the outcome of this game. You can’t find many better running backs to replace Adrian Peterson with, than Dalvin Cook. This kid does everything well. The Vikings have to set the tempo early and get their run game going…which is something they struggled to do last season. Cook will play a majority of the snaps but expect to see newly required free agent, Latavius Murray to be the guy on short yardage situations.
-With the Saints starting a rookie at Left Tackle how do you think Offensive Line will hold up against Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph?
The Saints have had a brutal offseason, with the injuries of Terron Armstead and Max Unger. Everson Griffen finished the 2016 season with just 8 sacks, but he’s a guy who produces consistent pressure throughout the game. This is a GREAT test for Ramczyk to start his career. Facing a defensive line on the road like Minnesota’s isn’t an ideal situation for a team that’s only returning 2 starters from last season. Danielle Hunter (recorded 12.5 sacks in less than 50% of the teams snaps in 2016) and Linval Joseph are the two guys that you have to watch out for though. Linval Joseph finally made the pro bowl for the first time in his career last season and 2017 will be Danielle Hunter’s first full season as the starter, who is replacing Brian Robison at the RDE spot. New Orleans’ OL will have to set the tempo early against a formidable pass rush. Run defense was Minnesota’s kryptonite last season and it’s something the team is looking to improve on. Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and Alvin Kamara will be an excellent test.
-What about the Vikings offensive line verse what seems to be a vastly improved pass rush from the Saints?
The Vikings offensive line was arguably the worst, if not the worst pass protectors in the league last season. The team signed free agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency, while also adding the best center in the 2017 draft class in Pat Elflein. Riley Reiff will have his hands full with Cameron Jordan, with whom i consider one of the best pass rushers in the league. Like every offensive line wants to do, the Vikings will have to set the tempo early and get out to a fast start against New Orleans’ defensive line. The Saints have an improved pass rush and the Vikings have an improved offensive line. It should be fun to see who can win the battle in the trenches.
-What do you expect from the return of Adrian Peterson to Minnesota? How is he viewed there?
Adrian is Adrian. 32 years old and looks like he could still play another 5 years…which is unheard of at the running back position. I don’t expect him to have a big game by any means. It all depends how the Saints utilize him and how many touches he gets, but i could definitely see 15 carries for 70-90 yards. He isn’t much of a receiver so I don’t expect him to produce in that aspect at all. Vikings fans are looking forward to his return. He wants to shove this game down our throat just like we want to shove it down his. But it’s all love. Adrian Peterson has done amazing things for the Vikings and he saved some of our poor teams from being “very poor” teams. I expect an applause when he enters the field but after that it’s game on. Guys like Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, and Xavier Rhodes have been wanting to hit Adrian for years (which they weren’t allowed to do in practice) and I think they’re really looking forward to this game as much as he is.
-Predictions for the game? Final Score?
Anytime you have a Hall of Fame Quarterback like Drew Brees under center, he’s always going to give you a shot to win regardless if the game is on the road or if you are playing against a really good defense. I expect this game to go down to the final 5 minutes.
Vikings prediction: WR Stefon Diggs 10 catches, 130 yards, and 2 TDs.
Saints prediction: Defensive Line has 4 sacks in the season opener.
Final Score: Vikings-24 Saints-21 (What kind of fan would i be, if i didn’t predict a win?)
I have to say that agree with Tanner on a lot of his insight. The biggest test will come in the trenches. How improved is the Saints defensive line? How improved is the Vikings offensive line? Can the Vikings do anything to stop the run? Can the Saints secondary shut down Diggs and Thielen? All good questions. I expect the Saints to get after quarterback Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook to have to work for every yard he gets. The key to the Saints winning this game is keeping the Vikings in third-and-long situations forcing Bradford to win the game with his arm. As far as offense the Saints need to get the running game going fast and to methodically pick apart the Vikings defense with quick fast passes.
My Vikings prediction: WR Stefon Diggs 8 catches, 105 yards, 2 TDs
My Saints prediction: RBs Mark Ingram/Adrian Peterson combine for 200 yards and 4 TDs
Final Score: Saints-31 Vikings-28
Who do you think will win? Leave your predictions and score in the comments section.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @318realty.