While it’s just one game, Saints know it’s a big game

New Orleans opens up 2017 season on the road in a primetime matchup in Minnesota. The matchup has plenty of storylines from homecomings, new weapons and faces, a dash of hope for a defense, to a battle of a top five offense versus a top five defense. Add the significance for the Saints to start the season on the winning foot and for a season opener it has a big game feel to it

2014 saw the Saints lose three of their first four including the first two at Atlanta and at Cleveland. 2015 the Saints again started the season on the road at Arizona losing that game and then the next two for a 1-3 start. Last season was more of the same despite starting the season at home, three straight losses led to yet another 1-3 start in the open quarter of the season.

THE ENEMY

Head coach Mike Zimmer is looking to get back into the playoffs as he had the Vikings in the post season two seasons ago with an 11-5 season. 2016 saw an 8-8 campaign and the addition of Sam Bradford at quarterback after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season ending knee injury before the start of last season and that still has him recovering.

The Vikings were the 28th ranked offense by being the 32nd best rushing offense with just 75.3 yards per game and 18th in passing with 239.8 yards per game. Minnesota defense was the third best in the NFL a season ago allowing just 314.9 yards per game. The Vikings ranked 20th in stopping the run at 106.9 yards and 3rd in stopping the pass allowing just 207.9 yards

Minnesota has just about every returning starter back on defense and five of those starters made the Pro-Bowl: LB Anthony Barr, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, and S Harrison Smith.

To help pick up a run game that finished last a season ago the Vikings brought in Latavius Murray via free agency and drafted Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.

HISTORY

Minnesota leads the regular season series picking up 18 of the 28 meetings between the two. The first meeting came back on October 13, 1968 at Tulane Stadium a game the Saints would win 20-17 but it would be 10 years later before they’d beat them again. 6 straight losses during that ten year time span. Since Sean Payton’s arrival however both teams have met four times and the Saints have won three of those with the only loss coming back in 2008 in the Dome. The wins came in 2010, 2011 and 2014 by the scores of 14-9, 42-20, and 20-9.

In the post season they have met three times with the first being back in 1987 in the first Saints playoff game in franchise history. 44-10 was that final, and they’d lose in the NFC Divisional round in 2000 after picking up their first ever playoff win 34-16. Revenge came in the NFC Championship game in 2010 in the 31-28 win in overtime.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON: DIVISION IN ACTION

Carolina          1-0      @        San Francisco 0-1     23-3 F

Atlanta            1-0      @       Chicago           0-1      23-17 F

Tampa Bay     0-0      @        Miami             0-0      Postponed to Wk 11

STORYLINES  

FAST START

New Orleans has started three straight seasons 1-3 and finished 7-9 in three straight seasons. The slow start has forced the team to have to play come back just to get to five hundred and eventually fall short of a winning season.

Let’s be blunt here. It’s inexcusable to have the most prized possession in football and not be involved in the post season. QB Drew Brees is a future hall of famer and he has watched the playoffs like you and I now for three straight seasons. Brees isn’t getting younger and he is in the final year of a contract with both he and team completely contempt to see how this year plays out before deciding on a future.

Several reasons exist for the lack of winning and we know them well by now. Poor drafts, bad signing, lack of development from picks and players, poor coaching, and poor play on game days.

WHEN the Saints were winning, a loss early could be passed on as hey we still have so many games left. That has been said the last three years following the season opening loss. ‘They are 15 left, still plenty of season to play, no time to panic.” The Saints face a Patriots team that juts got smoked to start the season next week, travel to Carolina a week later before facing Miami in London. A 1-3 start this year would almost likely mean another season with out a post season and likely big changes ahead.

The principle characters know that as in head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees. This offseason and training camp the focus has been there and the seriousness of that task at hand has been evident. Starting drills over, Payton being open and stern about where areas and players needs to improve on.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist but a loss Monday night could easily turn into an 0-2 start with a division rival awaiting in a place the Saints don’t play well at in Carolina. A 1-3 start then could very likely become a reality yet again.

PETERSON HOMECOMING

The national media is salivating about the return of RB Adrian Peterson to Minnesota where he played for 10 seasons. AP while there led the league in rushing and in 2014 picked the NFL MVP award. The history is impressive as he accumulated 11,747 yards in those 10 seasons. Now a 32-year old running back, many analysts are wonder what he has left.

Peterson leading up to the game mentioned he wanted to stick it to the Vikings and that it wasn’t meant to be personal but that it’s how he feels about whoever he plays for. He was also somewhat beleaguered when asked if he felt he had something to prove this season. Peterson brought up that injuries had kept him from performing at a high level and reminded everyone that when healthy he led the league in rushing. There is no doubt this is a special game for Peterson and he will be facing a tough defense to go with that motivation. It’ll be great theatre and I can’t wait to see what happens when he touches the ball.

ALL EYES ON D

The preseason saw the Saints defense actually play defense but as DE Cam Jordan reminded us this week that while it was somewhat of a confidence builder, it was the preseason and the records and stats don’t matter.

Five of the seven players drafted this past April were on defense and they all made the final roster and four likely will see heavy snap amounts in CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams, and LB Alex Anxalone.

LB A.J. Klein was voted a team captain and it’s easy to see why as he’s brought much needed leadership to that side of the ball and more importantly play making ability. Klein spoke this week about how much more communicative the defense is now then when he first got there. They’ll be tested on the road but a good showing and contributing in a win would go a long way for a group in desperate need of confidence.

PLAYERS TO KEPP AN EYE ON  

OFFENSE

RB ADRIAN PETERSON: Yea you know the story. A big play or two from him would be fantastic and help quiet the home folks.

LT RYAN RAMCZYK: The rookie will get his first NFL start and it’ll come on the road in a loud environment against last season’s third ranked overall defense. Good luck! Ramczyk has actually shown that the situation and moment won’t be too big for him. Look I’m not saying he won’t be nervous or have the butterflies, but from Andrus Peat, to Zach Strief teammates have said that he doesn’t play or practice like a rookie. QB Drew Brees says he learns from his mistakes quickly and the fact Payton didn’t sign a veteran to play while waiting for Terron Armstead to get healthy says a lot. That all said, how he plays will be a huge key in this game

RB ALVIN KAMARA: The rookie impressed during the preseason and proved to be so valuable that Payton sat him the final two-preseason games. I believe matchups are a key and in the Kansas City – New England game Kareem Hunt proved an athletic and speedy back is a tough matchup for any defense. I expect Payton to use the matchups to an advantage.

DEFENSE

LB A.J. KLEIN: Klein’s ability to be able to position players in the right spot will be key. Davlin Cook and the Viking run game will be key. If the Saints can stop the run game and force Sam Bradford to try and beat the Saints I think it benefits the Black and Gold.

DE CAM JORDAN: Jordan’s offseason has been impressive as he has looked faster and has absolutely embraced the leadership role. He was voted a captain and he has something he hasn’t in season’s past. Help. The Saints will get pressure from the outside I believe from Okafor on the outside and inside from Rankins and that means limited amount of times Jordan will see double teams. I predict a double digit sack season from him.

WHAT I SEE:

I believe the Saints have had a lot of time to think about just how important this game is. The Vikings are indeed a big test and have a solid defense. QB Drew Brees has shown in the past that the offense can score on anyone. It’s the defense. I believe they are better and I think they can provide one or two key plays to make the difference. It could be a sack that shortens the field or a turnover that gives Brees a chance to put up points.

 

I thinks Saints win it 23-17 and for the first time in four seasons start the season with a win.

 


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