Everybody, and I mean everybody, is picking the Saints over the Vikings. The raw emotion of last year's NFC title game is gone, so with the season opener upon is, it's time to take a closer look at the box score the last time these teams met. What you'll find may startle you.
Drew Brees was only 17 of 31 for 197 yards. He did throw for 3 TDs. The Saints as a team ran for only 69 yards.
Adrian Peterson ran for 122 yards on 25 carries and 3 TDs of his own. Almost 5 yards a carry. Is there any reason to believe this won't happen again? The Saints made no improvements in the offseason to stop the run.
In fact, Peterson was a big reason the Vikings dominated time of possession - 38:49 to 27:56. They ran 82 plays compared to the Saints' 55. 475 total yards to the Saints' 257. That's crazy.
They held the Saints' offense to 3 for 12 on third down. Their offensive line did not commit one false start penalty in such a harsh environment. The Saints racked up 9 penalties for 88 yards.
Lost fumbles cost the Vikings the game. The renowned stat-nerds Football Outsiders do their best to break down every detail of every play of every game (and they're awesome for it), but one thing they abide by is that it is impossible - IMPOSSIBLE - to predict lost fumbles. They are pure luck and chance. The ball could bounce in any which direction. I'll give the Saints defense credit for stripping the ball when they did, and for being Johnny-on-the-spot, but the bottom line is the Vikings didn't get the bounces.
(Quick aside: I'm not doing the cowardly "we were the better team and we still lost!" act a la Robert Smith. We lost obviously, the Saints won and beat the Colts in the Super Bowl. Clearly they were better.)
(Also, if people want to misguidedly point at Favre's interception costing the Vikings the game, they're probably the same people who think Bill Buckner cost the Red Sox the World Series in 1986. Yes it was a terrible play, but the writing was on the wall at that point. I'm 100% convinced Longwell would've missed the FG. Berrian's fumble at the 10 in the 4th quarter was a dagger. Their offense was rolling, and the Saints offense was sputtering. That cost the Vikes an extra possession. They would've had a lot more time to take the lead.)
So what are people pointing at to be the Vikings' downfall this year? Sidney Rice is out. Yes, it sucks, but Percy Harvin will play. In fact he hasn't missed a practice since doctors said they pinpointed the cause of his migraines (knock on wood). Greg Camarillo's hands have proven impressive in the limited action he's seen. Peterson will get more carries. Shiancoe will get more looks. Rice is a luxury, not a necessity. This is still a good offense without him.
Other absences: Center John Sullivan is questionable with a calf injury. Considering he played just average last year, this isn't a huge loss - Anthony Herrera is talented and capable enough to stand in. Corner Cedric Griffin is also out with a knee - Lito Sheppard and rookie Chris Cook will step in opposite Antoine Winfield. Again, Griffin is average (a poor tackler if anything), those two will shoulder the load on his side of the field. No worries there.
People also think Favre is suddenly a corpse back there because of his ankle. He threw 46 times the last game, a lot even for him. The only way he has that many throws this time around is if the Vikings fall way behind early. Quick reads, screens, a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson. I see no issue with this formula. Childress may prove to be an idiot at times (okay, most of the time) but he's smart enough to keep guys in the backfield to protect Favre.
There is no reason the Vikings should not be confident heading into the Superdome on Thursday. In fact, it's a blessing that everyone's assuming the Saints will roll over them. We'll see how much fire the Saints really have after winning a Super Bowl. Complacency can be a bitch.
(Disclaimer: none of the above information will prevent me from drinking heavily due to my debilitating anxiety regarding this game. It'll be close, down to the wire, just like last time. You've been warned.)