If the Saints beat the Vikings this Sunday – and they should – the decisive play occurred nearly a month ago.
New Orleans punched its ticket to the Super Bowl the second Devon Aromashodu hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass in overtime to give Chicago a 36-30 upset victory over Minnesota on Dec. 28. That game clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the Saints, and there’s little indication the Vikings can win in the Superdome.
Seriously. There isn’t.
No NFL team has a bigger home/road disparity than Minnesota. As hosts, the Vikings handed their last three opponents (Cincinnati, the New York Giants, Dallas) their most lopsided losses of the year discounting the Bengals’ mail-in job against the Jets in the final week.
As guests, the Vikings have become road kill. They can’t stop the pass away from home, and they have not won outside of their own dome since November.
The Vikings were 10-1 when Arizona whipped them 30-17 in the desert on the first weekend of December. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner went 22 of 32 for 285 yards with three touchdown and zero interceptions
The Vikings were 11-2 when Carolina clobbered them 26-7 two weeks later in Charlotte. The Panthers’ Matt Moore completed 21 of 33 for 299 yards with three scores and zero interceptions.
The following Monday, the Bears won for only the second time in eight games, jumping out to a 23-6 lead in the third quarter and surviving a late Minnesota rally in Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler went 20 of 35 for 273 yards with four touchdowns and one interception one month after the Vikings rolled up 31 first downs to the Bears’ 8 in a 36-10 Minneapolis mauling.
If the Vikings had won, they would have forced New Orleans to go all-out against Carolina in the final week of the regular season to hold on to the No. 1 seed. A Saints loss would have sent them to Minnesota, where the Vikings are 9-0 and have won six in a row by at least 17 points, for the championship game.
After leading the NFL with 49 sacks during the regular season, the Vikings dropped Tony Romo six times in a 34-3 beatdown of Dallas last Sunday. Analysts will talk about how well their front four matches up with the Saints’ offensive line, which allowed four sacks to Dallas in December, with heavy focus on All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen facing first-year starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
But the Vikings generate much less pressure away from home. They did not sack Warner and managed just two against Moore and Cutler.
The bigger mismatch is Drew Brees versus the Minnesota secondary.
The Vikings’ coverage is terrible even when the front four terrorizes quarterbacks. They rank among the NFL’s bottom 10 in passing touchdowns allowed (26) opponents’ completion percentage and interceptions, a troubling trifecta.
Cornerback Antoine Wingfield, normally a strong point, has become a weakness while battling a lingering foot injury. Starting safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams have combined for one interception in 17 games, eight fewer than Vikings’ castoff Darren Sharper has by himself for New Orleans. Only Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland (composite record: 13-51) had fewer interceptions than Minnesota’s 11 in the regular season.
The uncertain health of wideout Robert Meachem (sprained ankle) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (bad foot, knee) is a cause for concern in New Orleans, but Brees should be fine even with a depleted group of receivers.
Lesser teams than the Saints have taught a lesson to the Vikings’ secondary.
This is shaping up as a Super Sunday for New Orleans.
FOR MORE INFO: Go to SaintsReport.com and BlackandGold.com and Whodatzone.com for active message boards and all the latest news on the Saints.