As the New Orleans Saints continue to bask in the glow of their thrilling 24-23 road victory yesterday over the Baltimore Ravens, the time for celebration likely will come to a rather swift and abrupt end once they began turning their focus towards next Sunday's upcoming game and the team they;ll be facing: the very same team that ended their season and Super Bowl dreams last year: the Minnesota Vikings.
As most of the older / long-time Who Dat fans will quickly tell you: dating all the way back to the birth of the franchise, the Vikings have seemingly had the Saints' number throughout the Black and Gold's 52-year history; but no one particular game that New Orleans has lost to Minnesota, was as painful as the 29-24 heart-breaking loss to them at Minneapolis in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs this past January.
Saints fans don't have to be reminded of that fateful day some 9 months later, given that it's a permanent memory that's been emblazoned both into their minds and even all the down to the depths of their very souls.
"I'm still not over it," now-Saints 3rd year safety Vonn Bell told Chattanooga Times Free Press writer Dave Paschall in a recent interview right before the start of this season.
"It's something to build upon and get stronger from mentally, but it's still a sore spot."
Saints fans certainly share in Bell's never-ending pain, especially those older than the age of 40 who can recollect other similarly heart-breaks which include the 1983 season finale at the Superdome, and a Divisional Playoff loss at San Francisco to the 49ers in the 2011 NFC Playoffs.
For Bell and the Saints, they were on the very cusp of advancing to the NFC Championship Game and a trip to Philadelphia to play the Eagles with a spot in Super Bowl LII at stake.
But we all know how it turned out, and it's something that unfortunately can only be healed with the passage of time.
However, in 6 more days from now, the date that the team and its fans have had circled on their calendar since the 2018 Regular Season schedule was released back in early May, will finally be here.
It's Saints vs. Vikings. in one of the longest-anticipated regular season match-ups that anyone can remember.
One thing that certainly will be different during the match-up between the two teams this Sunday will be the man under center for Minnesota at QB: 7th year veteran and former Washington Redskins starter Kirk Cousins, who signed with the Vikings this past off-season on an insane 3 year, $84 million dollar contract that's fully guaranteed, with no-trade and no-transition tag provisions.
Cousins ironically faced the Saints last year in the Skins' 34-31 loss at the Superdome, in which he passed for passed for 322 yards and 3 TD's, finishing 22 of 32 with no interceptions.
It goes without saying that the Saints will need to bring some big-time pressure against Cousins and attempt to get him rattled and a bit "off" of his game.
Thus far through the Vikings' first 7 games, Cousins has been solid if not spectacular, although he did struggle somewhat surprisingly yesterday in New York during Minnesota's 37-17 win on the road against the Jets.
The Vikings running game led by RB's Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, has been virtually non-existent this season up to this point; meaning that you should expect Cousins to come out "gunslinging" in this contest. especially against a VERY suspect Saints defensive secondary,
One thing that could work to the Saints defense's advantage is that Cousins in the past has had some issues with ball security, including a sack-strip-fumble last year by Vonn Bell in that same Saints win over the Redskins in the Superdome.
The bigger concern for the Saints defense will obviously be the Vikings WR's; led by the NFL's leading #1 ranked receiver Adam Thielen, who so far has already caught a whopping 67 passes for 822 yards.
If covering Thielen isn't enough of a challenge, then of course there's the added problem of covering 4th year veteran and speedster Stefon Diggs. who of course was the player that caught the game-winning "miracle pass" from then-Vikings QB Case Keenum (now with Denver) and scored the touchdown after the missed tackle by Saints safety Marcus Williams.
On the season, Diggs has caught 48 passes for 468 yards and 3 TD's.
Conversely, the Saints offense will have to be "firing on all cylinders", against a Vikings defense that ALWAYS seems to give New Orleans fits, especially in the games played in Minneapolis.
The Vikings no doubt will be looking to turn their stout defensive Front 7 loose in the hopes of slowing down the Saints 1-2 RB punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara; which they were able to do effectively last year in both the 2017 Regular Season Opener and again in the Divisional Playoffs.
But clearly, Priority #1 for the Vikings defense will be stopping Saints starting QB and 18th year veteran (and future first-ballot Hall of Famer) Drew Brees; who currently might be in the midst of what finally could be his first-ever League MVP season.
One problem Minnesota's defense potentially could have however, is having all 11 of their defensive starters healthy for this particular contest.
Starting Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (personal) back isn't expected back any time soon, although nose tackle Linval Joseph could possibly be available after missing Week #6 with ankle, knee and shoulder injuries.
Additionally, starting linebacker Anthony Barr (who has made three straight Pro Bowls) left the game early in the 4th quarter with a hamstring injury yesterday in the Purple People Eaters' victory over the Jets; while All-Pro CB Xavier Rhodes sprained his ankle also in the fourth quarter, although Zimmer didn’t seem to be all that concerned about either player's status during the Vikings post-game press conference.
The one-on-one battle between Rhodes and Saints #1 WR Michael Thomas was an epic one last year; as Thomas finished with seven catches for 85 yards and 2 TD's.
(St. Paul Minnesota) Pioneer Press Vikings beat writer Chris Thomasson reported that Rhodes had a noticeable limp after the game but declined comment about his injury. He left with 8:41 remaining after defending a long pass to Jets WR Robby Anderson.
“I think he’s got a sprained ankle,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal, but we’ll see.”
Barr left with 11:03 remaining. Asked if he was concerned, Zimmer said, “I don’t think so.”
Having any of these injured players back in time for this upcoming Sunday's game would be a huge boost for Minnesota; who certainly is expecting a laser-sharp and focused New Orleans squad hell-bent on winning at the site of one the Saints franchise's biggest heart-breaks, in team history.
Get yourselves ready, Saints fans.
The game that you've all been waiting for now ever since that unspeakable event that took place 9 months ago, is close to finally arriving in a mere 6 more days from now.
Saints vs. Vikings, the "rematch" is almost here....