'09 Saints/Vikings Eerily Similar to '98 Vikings/Falcons
Once upon a time a dome team went 15-1, with the highest scoring offense in the league (in league history, at the time), the highest point differential in the league, a turnover-happy defense that pounced in the fourth quarter when their team had the lead, and were generally regarded as a lock to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
At the same time another dome team went 14-2, with the fourth highest scoring offense in the league, the third-best point differential in the league, a veteran quarterback having the best year of his career, a running back they were running to death, and a coach generally regarded as kind-of a moron.
But later in the season, in the most important game, when the 15-1 team's defense needed to get a stop against that 14-2 team, they couldn't get it done.
The 2009 New Orleans Saints are the number one scoring offense and have the highest point differential in the league. Just like the 1998 Minnesota Vikings; the 2009 Vikings have slightly better statistics (second highest scoring offense, second in point differential) than the 1998 Falcons.
And, when you really think about it, O.J. Santiago might be Visanthe Shiancoe, after taking gallons of steroids and Fountain of Youth Juice (tm: Johnson and Johnson).
Basically, we've seen this movie before. And the ending.
The dome surface doesn't give an advantage to either team; the team with the sturdier defense holds up; Gary Anderson skips in, shanks a field goal, and skips off; and the gamblers of America weep sadly. Or cry joyfully. It is always hard to tell what the gamblers of America are feeling.
No one knows if the story will be the same this time. That's why we watch. But the analogy is pretty interesting, even if doesn't hold up entirely.
This '09 Vikings team is being given a better chance than the '98 Falcons were given; perhaps rightfully so, perhaps not.
Back then, nobody really thought the Falcons would stop a record-setting Vikings offense that featured MVP Randall Cunningham; the devastating trifecta of Cris Carter, Randy Moss, and Jake Reed; and the Robert Smith/LeRoy Hoard combo in the backfield.
Nonetheless, the Falcons defense—led by a consistent and talented defensive front four—were able to stymie the Vikings just enough, and let their offense go to work on the Vikings statistically-overrated defense.
The Falcons offense was riding Jamal Anderson in the best year of his career, but Chris Chandler and the passing game pulled out this game. Time and again, Chandler was able to find an open receiver (usually Tony Martin or Terrance Mathis) against the Vikings slow secondary.
Brett Favre is not Chris Chandler, though. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin have much more talent than Martin and Mathis had, even if they lack the veteran awareness of the Falcons duo. And then there is Adrian Peterson.
The Saints defense and that Vikings defense have a couple of distinct differences, though.
The Saints have a young, talented, emerging defensive line; whereas the Vikings had John Randle and three guys who couldn't take advantage of all the attention opposing offensive lines gave John Randle.
Will Smith and Charles Grant, the Saints defensive ends, would cause a lot of havoc for Vikings tackles Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt. The Saints young, first-round defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis could annihilate the Vikings young, sixth-round center John Sullivan.
Jonathan Vilma, the Saints middle linebacker, is faster and bigger and stronger than Ed McDaniel, the Vikings middle linebacker in 1998.
But any possible Saints-Vikings game would inevitably come down to what that Falcons-Vikings game came down to: Which secondary blinks first?
The Falcons secondary was under the most stress, as the Vikings secondary would be in any game against Drew Brees and the Saints' passing attack. If the Vikings blink, and Brees has one of those Brees games that gives fantasy owners fantasy wins, the Vikings chances to win would go from "possible" to "highly improbable."
However, if the Vikings secondary—like the Falcons secondary—can work in tandem with their defensive line to hold down Brees' potent passing game, then the pressure would shift as it did in '98, albeit to the Saints.
While they are enjoying a statistically good year, the Saints secondary can be had.
Darren Sharper might still be able to catch a pass thrown to him and run straight, but he is a 34-year-old safety; those creatures don't last too long in the NFL. Chris McAlister might have been one of the best corners a couple of years ago, but that was a couple of years ago. Their other corners are very young, and in the playoffs, young corners are often exposed by veteran quarterbacks.
If pressure is put to this secondary, they could easily fold. And if the Saints have to re-adjust their defense to focus on the Vikings pass, that's when Peterson would make them pay.
Lucky for the Saints, pressure might never be applied them. Much like the '98 Vikings, their offense looks unstoppable. Unbeatable. And their defense looks good enough.
But just like in 1998, there is a team that is right there with them, unafraid of going into their dome, with all the necessary pieces to expose that Achilles' Heel, and the necessary talent to win.
There really are some eerie similarities going on here.
Of course, this could all be moot.
Maybe the Cowboys or Cardinals or Eagles put it all together, and ruin this almost-assured NFC-championship matchup. Maybe Brett Favre retires tomorrow; that actually seems more likely than the Cowboys putting it all together.
Sean Peyton could be jailed for tax evasion. What if Drew Brees quits football to be a monk in Tibet?
Who really knows what the future holds.
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