The New Orleans Saints will take the field for a prime time game against the Minnesota Vikings tonight. The 5-1 Saints have won five straight games after an opening loss, while the 4-2-1 Vikings have won three straight after a slow start to the year. This will be the third meeting between the Saints and Vikings in less than fourteen months, all in Minnesota, site of today's game. Last year, Minnesota defeated New Orleans in the regular season opener, 29-19, then beat them again 29-24 in a divisional playoff thriller. This will be the 34th meeting between the Saints and Vikings, with Minnesota holding a 22-11 record in the match ups. This includes a 14-3 record of the games played in Minneapolis, and a 3-1 advantage in postseason meetings.
The first meeting between the two franchises was in 1968, a game played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Despite turning the ball over 7 times, the Saints prevailed over the eventual NFL Central division champs by a score of 20-17 by forcing four turnovers themselves, including a 94-yd. touchdown return of an interception by defensive back Bo Burris. The Saints weren't so lucky when the teams next played, during the 1970 season, their first ever meeting in Minnesota. The Vikings, who would finish that year with a 12-2 record and champions of the NFC Central division, would force four Saints turnovers and score two special teams touchdowns in rolling to a 26-0 victory. It was the first of six meetings in the next seven years against the Vikings where New Orleans would score 10 points or less, scoring as many as ten only once, while losing all six contests. Minnesota was one of the top teams in the conference during that stretch, missing the playoffs just one time from 1970-78, and winning the NFC title three times. The Saints on the other hand, were often near the bottom of the league's standings. The average score of those six meetings between 1970-76 was 29-7 in favor of Minnesota. New Orleans broke their six game losing streak against the Vikings in the 1978 season opener. Despite being outgained in total yardage, 424-321, the Saints won the game 31-24 on the strength of six forced turnovers.
The 1980's started as much of the '70's decade was for the Saints against the Vikes. The teams played eight times between 1980-90, with Minnesota winning six. Included among those was a Wild Card playoff showdown on January 3, 1988. New Orleans had qualified for the playoffs for the first time in their twenty year history. After jumping on top of the Vikings early with a touchdown pass from quarterback Bobby Hebert to Eric Martin, the Saints lost complete control of the game. New Orleans would complete only 11 of their 31 pass attempts on the day, gain just 149 total yards, and turn the ball over six times as they were pulverized in front of their own fans, 44-10. The Saints would manage to notch their first ever win in Minnesota in five tries during the 1985 season, a 30-23 victory. They would meet six times during the 1990's, with New Orleans winning two of the match ups, including their only shutout of Minnesota, a 26-0 win in 1991.
The first time New Orleans played the Vikings at the turn of the new millennium was a divisional playoff clash in Minnesota on January 6, 2001. The Saints had won their first ever playoff game the week before, but were no match for the Vikings on the road. Minnesota's Hall of Fame wideouts Chris Carter and Randy Moss combined for 241 receiving yards and 3 scores in a 34-16 win. The Saints would win a 28-15 rematch in New Orleans the following year, the only win against the Vikings while losing 8 of 10 between 1994-2008.
The New Orleans franchise has had slightly better success against the Vikings since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees joined forces in 2006, going 4-3 against them overall. One of the biggest moments in franchise history took place on January 24, 2010 against these Vikings. The Saints were hosting their first ever NFC Championship game, and the game was highlighted by a showdown between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks; Brees, and Minnesota's Brett Favre. The Saints have been plagued by turnovers throughout much of this series, but on this day the tables were turned. The Saints defense forced five turnovers, and advanced to the first Super Bowl in franchise history despite being outgained 475-257 in total yardage and giving up 31 first downs. New Orleans cornerback Tracey Porter intercepted a Favre pass at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime at 28. Once in the extra frame, Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who had 99 offensive yards and two touchdowns on the day, returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to set up terrific field position then later on the drive converted a 4th and 1 run. Just minutes later, kicker Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yd. field goal to send the franchise on to Super Bowl XLIV. That was the first of four consecutive victories against the Vikings, the longest winning streak the Saints have had in this series.
That streak came to an end in last year's regular season opener, when the Vikings handled the Saints with ease in Minnesota. The playoff rematch during the division round in Minnesota however, would go down as one of the most heartbreaking and shocking losses in New Orleans Saints history. The Saints had clawed back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to grab a 24-23 4th quarter lead with just seconds remaining. On the final play of the game though, Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum completed a miraculous 61 yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to pull out an improbable 29-24 win.
Going into the 2018 season, many considered this match up a preview to yet another postseason showdown between these two. The Saints will be facing the sixth different Viking quarterback in as many meetings tonight. This time it will be former Redskins signal caller Kirk Cousins, who has had alot of success in two previous meetings against New Orleans while with Washington. The Saints must find a way to control Minnesota wideouts Diggs and Adam Thielen, who had a combined 28 receptions for 461 yards and 3 touchdowns in the two games last season. Starting corner Ken Crawley will be a healthy inactive for this game, likely meaning that newly acquired Eli Apple will receive the bulk of snaps opposite of Marshon Lattimore at cornerback. New Orleans will attempt to heavily pressure Cousins with Cam Jordan and a talented defensive line, hoping to force him into rushed throws and potential mistakes.
Drew Brees has averaged 293 yards passing and thrown 16 touchdowns in his seven games against Minnesota, but has often been under heavy pressure from a formidable Vikings front. New Orleans must be able to establish an effective running game against Minnesota, something they have often been unable to accomplish during the Brees/Payton era. A banged up Minnesota defense will be without star linebacker Anthony Barr, and cornerback Xavier will be hobbled with a leg injury, although they may get elite pass rusher Everson Griffen back. Saints offensive stars Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram are the focal points of Brees' productive offensive attack, but will be tested by one of the league's best defenses. New Orleans is coming off a physical victory on the road over the Baltimore Ravens where they set the tone of the game early. Expect the team to try and do the same early in this game on both sides of the ball. Despite what the Saints players have said all week, this is certainly an emotional game for them after last year's playoff outcome. It will also undoubtedly be a key determinant in potential playoff seeding down the stretch of the season, something not lost on this Saints team focused on a championship goal.