The last time the Saints and Vikings hooked up, folks in Minnesota were toasting Stefon Diggs with steins of Surly, and people in Louisiana were crying in their gumbo.
They get together again in prime time, a nice treat to finish off a Sunday with several intriguing matchups.
New Orleans sure hopes there’s no second Minneapolis Miracle.
“This is not a revenge game,” Drew Brees insists, referring back to the playoff loss in January. “It’s a different season. These are new teams, even though there’s a lot of similar personnel. It’s a new season, new team, new mindset. So listen, it’s a very good opponent that we are playing on ‘Sunday Night Football’ at their place. It is a tough environment (and) a tough place to play. We understand we’re going to need our best game, our best execution to win.”
The Saints (5-1) have been doing a lot of winning since being upset by Tampa Bay in their opener. Last week they won in a “tough environment” against a playoff-caliber team at Baltimore. Now they get the Vikings (4-2-1), who have been spotty but lead the NFC North and are 14-3 at home vs. New Orleans.
The Vikings might feel equipped enough to get into a shootout with Brees, but when you listen to their coach, Mike Zimmer, who has a defensive background, he knows his side will be tested. It’s uncertain if the Vikings will have end Everson Griffen available as he returns from dealing with mental issues that sidelined him for almost six weeks.
“I think as the game goes on, Brees gets a much better feel of what the defense is trying to do throughout the course of the ballgame with him,” Zimmer says.
“A guy like him who has seen everything — he sees everything anyway — but he’s seen so many different looks that he can kind of decipher things quickly on the move. I think that’s part of it, and he’s got good players, too. Michael Thomas is good, (Alvin) Kamara is good, (Mike) Ingram is good. They have a lot of good players.”
The weekend began Thursday night with Houston’s 42-23 home victory over the Miami Dolphins. Deshaun Watson matched his career high with five touchdown passes to lead the Texans to their fifth straight victory after opening 0-3. Miami has lost two straight to drop to 4-4.
Off are Dallas (3-4), Tennessee (3-4), Atlanta (3-4) and the Los Angeles Chargers (5-2).
Green Bay (3-2-1) at Los Angeles Rams (7-0)
Talk about shootouts, this has the makings of one.
Green Bay comes off a bye, which means Aaron Rodgers is healthier and could have more targets to connect with. Still, the Packers rank fourth in passing and A-Rod has 332.8 yards passing per game and 12 touchdowns, one pick.
But the Packers opened as the biggest underdog of his career. That’s because the NFL’s only unbeaten team has been unstoppable with the ball and pretty stingy without it.
Oh yeah, the Packers don’t cover particularly well in the secondary.
Running back Todd Gurley leads the NFL with 88 points, 686 yards rushing, 144 carries and 956 yards from scrimmage. DE Aaron Donald co-leads with eight sacks, comes off four sacks, six tackles for loss against San Francisco.
Denver (3-4) at Kansas City (6-1)
The Chiefs have won six in a row in this series and, like the Rams, have a dynamic, versatile offense. But they also rank last in yardage allowed on defense, so Denver might not be totally overmatched.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid won his 200th game last week vs. Cincinnati. Reid would tie Dan Reeves for eighth in NFL history with another victory. To get it, he will rely on second-year QB Patrick Mahomes, who leads the NFL in TD passes (22) and 25-yard-plus completions (26). He has a franchise-record six consecutive 300-yard passing games.
Baltimore (4-3) at Carolina (4-2)
Carolina exhibited its resilience and staying power by rallying from 17 points down in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia last week. It was the largest comeback in franchise history, and now the Panthers are home, where they’ve won eight straight.
The challenge is huge against Baltimore, which fell at home by one point to New Orleans when Justin Tucker — only the league’s career kicking leader — missed an extra point for the first time. That final-seconds miscue shouldn’t camouflage that the Ravens lead the league in defense. Baltimore has allowed 101 points, lowest total through seven games since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008. The Ravens have allowed the fewest yards (280.6 per game) and fewest points (14.4).
Seattle (3-3) at Detroit (3-3)
Two teams that started ugly and have begun to look a lot more attractive.
Seattle has gone physical with the run game and on defense and, despite being in retooling mode, seems ready to challenge for a wild-card playoff berth. Pete Carroll’s bunch protects the ball, too, with only six giveaways.
The Seahawks are playing for the first time since the death of owner Paul Allen.
Detroit seems to have discovered a running game: Rookie Kerryon Johnson ran for a career-high 158 yards at Miami last week. But Seattle’s D is stingy on the ground.
Philadelphia (3-4) vs. Jacksonville (3-4) at London
Two teams beginning to look ugly, particularly the Jaguars, who had locker room discord after last week’s loss to Houston that included QB Blake Bortles getting benched. Coach Doug Marrone is sticking with Bortles for now and there was a players-only meeting Monday in hopes of clearing the air. This is the sixth straight year Jacksonville is playing a home game in London.
Following their collapse against Carolina, the Eagles probably welcomed getting far out of town. It’s their first trip to London for a game.
The Eagles lead the NFL in time of possession, averaging more than 33 minutes. But with Jacksonville’s secondary undermanned, Carson Wentz could look to the air. He has thrown 173 consecutive passes without an interception.
New England (5-2) at Buffalo (2-5), Monday night
ESPN must have liked the idea of the Bills, coming off their first playoff berth since before ESPN was created — well, not quite — against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Instead, this could be a classic rout. Consider these numbers:
—The Patriots are 31-4 in the past 35 meetings.
—Brady holds the NFL career wins record by a quarterback against one opponent with a 28-3 record.
—New England is 7-0 in night games against the Bills.
—The Patriots have scored 21 or more points in the first half in each of the past four games this season to match a franchise-best streak, and the Bills have allowed 24 or more points in the first half three times.
Cleveland (2-4-1) at Pittsburgh (3-2-1)
Another lopsided rivalry, though this game has some cachet because the Browns tend to play the Steelers tough before losing. They tied to open the season.
The Steelers come off a bye. They have won the past 14 meetings at Heinz Field; Cleveland’s last victory in Pittsburgh came in October 2003. Plus, the Browns have lost 24 straight road games, two shy of the NFL record owned by the Lions (2007-10). And the Browns are 6-32-1 overall against Pittsburgh since 1999, when Cleveland re-entered the NFL.
The Browns lead the NFL with 20 takeaways, but they have scored only 31 points off those turnovers.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is 22-2-1 all-time against the Browns and unbeaten at home. He’s an Ohio native.
Washington (4-2) at New York Giants (1-6)
The New York tabloids already are projecting which college quarterback the Giants will draft after they finish near the bottom of the standings for a second successive season. Maybe if they had anyone who could pass protect, the conversation wouldn’t be so stilted against Eli Manning, who barely has time to look downfield as he sets up to throw.
In comes surprise NFC East leader Washington, which ranks fifth in defense and has one of the top candidates for Comeback Player of the Year in Adrian Peterson. The veteran has 95-plus yards rushing in four of six games.
Tampa Bay (3-3) at Cincinnati (4-3)
It’s natural to wonder about the Bengals’ psyche after again blowing a lead at home to Pittsburgh, then getting hammered in Kansas City. They took the second-most-lopsided loss in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons with that 45-10 debacle at the Chiefs. They had only one drive longer than 50 yards and a season-low 239 yards gained.
Tampa stopped a three-game skid as dramatically as possible. Chandler Catanzaro made a 59-yard FG — the longest in OT since 1974 — for a 26-23 win over the Browns.
The Buccaneers lead the NFL in total yards per game (449.5) and yards passing per game (364).
New York Jets (3-4) at Chicago (3-3)
A few weeks ago, the Bears sure were representing the city of big shoulders well, reviving talk of the Monsters of the Midway on defense, looking like a burgeoning power on offense. Then came a pair of losses and the Bears plummeted from the top of the NFC North to the bottom.
Chicago led the league with 18 sacks through the first four games. The Bears have one since. Star Khalil Mack has no sacks in the past two games while being limited by an ankle injury, after getting five in the first four outings.
Jets first-rounder Sam Darnold is learning how difficult a rookie QB’s life can be. He’s coming off his worst game as a pro with three interceptions. The No. 3 overall draft pick leads the league with 10 interceptions to go with one of the NFL’s worst completion rates (56.1 percent) and passer ratings (74.3).
Indianapolis (2-5) at Oakland (1-5)
The teardown of the roster continues in Oakland, where Jon Gruden dealt his top receiver, Amari Cooper, to Dallas.
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck seeks his fifth straight game with at least three TD passes. Luck has 15 TDs in his past four games. Oakland is last in the league with seven sacks.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri needs five points to break Morten Andersen’s NFL career scoring record (2,544 points) but is plagued by an injured groin.
San Francisco (1-6) at Arizona (1-6)
The Cardinals have won eight of the past nine in this series, including three weeks ago.
San Francisco is minus-15 in turnover margin, worst in the NFL.
Arizona fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy this week, replacing him with QBs coach Byron Leftwich. Star WR Larry Fitzgerald needs 135 yards to pass Terrell Owens into second place in NFL career yards receiving.
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