The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings meet tonight in the 2017 season opener for both teams. Minnesota is also the site of the final game of this NFL season, as host of Super Bowl LII. Before we jump ahead into the future, however, we will embrace a bit of the New Orleans Saints’ past. Canal Street Chronicles will look back at a series history of each of the Saints opponents during the season. We begin the year as the Saints do, with a look at the team’s history against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints and Vikings have a fairly extensive history against one another. They have played against each other 31 times in regular season meetings or playoffs before tonight, the most of any team New Orleans has faced that was not a one-time or current divisional foe. The Saints have an 11-20 overall record in the series, including 1-2 in playoff meetings and a 3-12 record in Minnesota.
The last meeting between the two teams was in New Orleans during the 2014 season, a 20-9 Saints victory. The very first game these two played in Minneapolis was September 27, 1970, resulting in a 26-0 victory by the Vikings. The teams have not met in Minnesota since a 42-20 New Orleans win during the 2011 season. They have faced off 3 times in season openers (1976, 1978, and 2010), each of the three games being played in New Orleans, with the Saints winning the last two.
The Vikings were one of the NFC's dominant franchises through the early to mid-1970s. They went to four super bowls between 1970 and 1976 with offensive stars like Fran Tarkenton, former Saints receiver John Gilliam, running back Chuck Foreman, and a dominant defense nicknamed "The Purple People Eaters". New Orleans lost six straight games to Minnesota during that time frame, a streak that was finally broken with a 31-28 victory in the 1978 season opener.
The Vikings have a much longer playoff history than the Saints, having qualified for the postseason 28 times since their inception in 1961. The team's three playoff meetings have certainly had a far different meaning to each city. The first such meeting occurred on January 3, 1988, in New Orleans. The Saints had finally achieved their first winning season, and first playoff berth, after 20 years of existence. Although they would finish second in the NFC West behind the San Francisco 49ers, they had the 2nd best record in the entire NFL at 12-3, and were even talked about as serious Super Bowl contenders.
The Vikings on the other hand, had barely qualified for the playoffs at 8-7, and would enter the postseason as the lowest seed, traveling to New Orleans for a 1st round Wild Card match up. After an early Saints touchdown got the home crowd into a frenzy, the Vikings quieted the raucous somewhat by pulling into a 10-7 lead by the end of the 1st Quarter. Two more Minnesota touchdowns in the 2nd Quarter had Saints fans on the verge of panic, but when a field goal tightened the margin to 24-10, New Orleans faithful held to the belief that the team would rebound in the 2nd half. Even the most die-hard fan was deflated on the last play of the half, when the Vikings executed a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired for a 31-10 lead at the break. The shell-shocked Saints never recovered, getting upset in their first playoff game, 44-10.
Minnesota added to the bitter New Orleans playoff history almost 13 years later to the day, on January 6, 2001. The Saints had shocked most of the league during the 2000 season, winning the NFC West and the franchise's first ever playoff victory by defeating the defending champion Rams. The Saints provided little resistance against the second seeded Vikings in a divisional round match up at Minnesota the following week, losing 34-16. The loss was the 4th straight for New Orleans against Minnesota in the series, during a stretch of 8 losses in 9 games against the Vikings between 1994 and 2008.
The 2008 season was the last time the Saints lost to the Vikings, and the only time that New Orleans has lost to Minnesota during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. Payton's Saints teams have won the last four games against Minnesota, including one of the franchise's most significant wins ever, on January 28, 2010. The Saints had started the 2009 season with 13 consecutive wins, but had stumbled down the stretch, losing their last 3 games entering the playoffs. The Vikings had kept pace with the top-seeded Saints all season long in the NFC. Led by legendary quarterback Brett Favre and young dominant running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings were favored by some to hand New Orleans a 3rd heartbreaking playoff defeat in the two teams' history against each other. This time in the NFC championship game.
Minnesota outgained New Orleans in the game, 475-265 yards, and more than doubled their 1st down total, 31-15. The Saints defense stood strong though, forcing 5 turnovers, while the offense made timely plays, and got 3 touchdown passes from their own legendary quarterback, Brees. A Tracy Porter interception of Favre at the end of regulation preserved a tie score and sent the game into overtime. The interception was the last postseason pass of Favre's Hall of Fame career.
Once overtime began, the Saints moved the ball into field goal range, with the help of a gutty 4th down gamble by Payton converted by a Pierre Thomas run. Kicker Garrett Hartley nailed a 40-yd. field goal to give the Saints a 31-28 victory and their only NFC Championship to date. New Orleans would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV two weeks later with a victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
This 32nd meeting between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings will obviously not possess some of the postseason drama that the series has given us over 3 decades, but history has certainly shown that this tale of two cities will result in an unpredictable outcome.
Prediction: Saints 24, Vikings 20
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