We’re on to the NFC games. The first one is the most critical one, given that it features the hated Saints, but the second one will probably be a close, ugly football game because of the team involved.
Here’s your open thread and some notes on both teams.
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints, 1:05 p.m. EST
The Vikings knocked off the Saints in hilarious, last second fashion not all that long ago in the playoffs. We’re obviously rooting for them to do it again.
The Vikings are hard to figure out. They actually outscored the Packers this year and only allowed ten more points than their division rivals, but they finished three games behind them due primarily to comically bad play against the division rival Bears and Packers. They went 0-4 against those teams and their offense seemingly went into the toilet every time out.
For all that, this is a gifted, well-coached football team that can make a deep run. Kirk Cousins is having a great year, Dalvin Cook and Alex Mattison are a nightmare to defend, and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are still one of the best 1-2 punches at receiver in the NFL. Couple that with a very good defense and you’ve got a team that can surprise. We just have to hope they start surprising right this second.
You don’t need much in the way of an introduction to the Saints. They are infuriatingly great at feeding one receiver on seemingly basic routes that are essentially uncoverable for most teams, which is a testament to Sean Payton’s coaching, Drew Brees’ legendary accuracy, and Michael Thomas’ meticulous route running and hands. Despite Alvin Kamara having a tough year and having few quality secondary receiving options, they’re a top team offensively, and you have to admire that even if you hate it.
Defensively they’re also very good, if not a juggernaut now that Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport are out. After not allowing over 30 points once in the first half of the season, they’ve allowed 48 and 31 in the second half and will likely struggle with Cook today. The secondary is good enough to overcome a lot of that, but this is a team very reliant on a small handful of truly great players, great coaching, and a lot of solid role players.
It’s hard to see the Vikings repeating the upset, but then, it was kind of difficult seeing them get the upset in the first place last time out. The Saints are the better team, however narrowly when you just stack the talent up, and they’ll be hungry and extra-motivated after having to play in the Wild Card weekend at 13-3.
I picked against the Saints on principle in our weekly picks but it’s hard to see them losing this game. Please let my powerful jinx magic work.
Prediction: Saints win
Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles, 4:40 p.m.
This one should be a cakewalk, and potentially the single most-lopsided result of the weekend. Yet just as I wrote for Patriots-Titans yesterday, it’s unlikely to be as onesided as a glance would suggest.
Much of that has to do with the Seahawks. They’ve outscored their opponents by just 7 points all year, which is what happens when you play 11 one-score games. Seattle has a nasty habit of letting teams hang around and an equally nasty habit of letting things snowball against inferior teams, as three of their losses were blowouts against the likes of the Cardinals, Rams, and the much better Ravens.
Their talent level is difficult to question, with Russell Wilson looking as good as ever and the defense reviving, and thus I’m always a little surprised to see the final scores of their games.
The Eagles, meanwhile, went the 2019 Falcons route, or close to it, with a bunch of streaks and a lackluster first half nearly dooming them. Unlike the Falcons, they were able to claw their way all the way to 9-7 and into the playoffs thanks to the general malaise of the NFC East. Their offense is capable but unspectacular with Carson Wentz at the helm, but that’s at least as much due to their awful situation at receiver as it is anything else. Their vaunted pass rush hasn’t quite delivered the goods the way it has in years past, and the secondary—particularly the cornerbacks—is borderline terrible. They’re a team with some very real, very definite strengths and a couple of huge Achilles heels.
Could they still win? Sure. The Eagles were a Super Bowl winner a couple of years ago and it was not by accident, and their team remains talented and reasonably well-coached. I do think the Seahawks are just better, however, more or less across the board this year.
It’s also worth noting that Seattle’s going into this game with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin as two of their top backs, which is not good! Even so, seems like a straight forward call.
Prediction: Seahawks win