Football season is finally here—with it comes a blockbuster match up that delighted fans for weeks on end earlier this season, when the Minnesota Vikings took on the New Orleans Saints, in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Those unlucky fans that weren't privileged enough to see this epic game missed quite a treat.
Not only did it come down to the wire, it also left just about every NFL fan chewing their nails and resting uncomfortably on the edge of their seat as the Vikings rallied in overtime, only to see their chances ruined by a Brett Favre interception.
Now normally, when a game ends in the playoffs, that's just about it. One group of fans go home upset, while the other revel in a victory that normally results in a Super Bowl spot; funnily enough though, when it comes to New Orleans vs Minnesota, last season's great encounter has managed to last the distance of the offseason and perhaps, it is fair to say, that a small rivalry has been brewed as time has passed.
But more important than the rivalry itself, is how smart the NFL's commissioner truly is; not only did Roger Goodell realize how explosive this game would be to see repeated, he saw the potential of scheduling it as the opening fixture, in a way to bait the fans into a great weekend ahead.
So what can we expect from tonight's action on the field?
It would be stupid to expect nothing less than the very best.
Both teams have talent dripping on either side of the ball and as we saw earlier this year, when the two meet the game brings out the best in the players.
But what about the questions heading into the game?
There are both positive and negative ones, but this game could be an indicator for things to come for either team this season.
Therefore with this in mind, here's a look at the top 10 questions to focus on tonight, and keep in mind when watching these two teams go at it.
It's been well documented in the past six months that Brett Favre has had a few concerns when it comes to his ankle, which was ironically injured when these two teams met last season.
Following Favre's injury, he then proceeded to go on and have what was deemed as "minor surgery" to try and repair any damage done by the hard hitting ways of the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs back in January.
But aside from what happened in the past, the concern that lays with Brett Favre's injury is that the ankle is a very vital part of a quarterback, as it not only helps the passer move quickly, it is also an area on the body that can take a few collisions from time to time.
So how is Favre's ankle right now?
It isn't unlike Favre to hold every detail to himself, but when it came to deciding his return to the Minnesota Vikings, it became clear that the ankle injury was still a thought in the back of Favre's head, especially when the Vikings begged Favre to return for one last year.
The other concern other than re-injury for Brett Favre is of course his age—anyone that has a grandparent would know that the human body isn't the best healer when life begins to drag on; although Brett Favre is far from being a 70-year-old man yet, years of football do begin to take a toll on a player.
Realistically, the issue of Favre's ankle is one that we will see play out through the course of the season. Whether or not it holds up until the playoffs is a question, but considering how strong his shoulder felt after his surgery some two to three years ago, the likelihood of Favre's ankle being perfectly fine is favorable.
Will Favre be hesitant on the ankle against New Orleans?
Perhaps, but I wouldn't count on it.
Brett Favre isn't one to back down from a challenge and when it comes to revenge, it is certainly a dish he loves to serve—just ask the Green Bay Packers.
It's no hidden secret that Drew Brees was incredibly accurate during his 2009 campaign.
His arm was more or less a catapult and when a receiver was open to his liking, he found their open arms nine times out of 10.
Now while I'm not a big stats guy, I do follow the figures of passing yards faithfully; for you see, when comparing the two teams ahead of tonight's clash, right now the New Orleans Saints are ahead of the Minnesota Vikings 272.2 to 259.8 in passing yards per game.
While it could be said that the Vikings numbers are far from low, it does paint the picture that the majority of the Saints' offensive momentum comes from Drew Brees' very talented fingertips.
However, perhaps this is an area of the game that the Vikings may focus on: If Drew Brees is so accurate, and the Saints run game is nothing overly spectacular, maybe the formula to defeat the Saints is to simply attack Drew Brees (although that is easier said than done).
Still, when it comes to No. 9 himself, his accuracy will always be the key if the Saints are to succeed. Drew Brees had a standout year last year and as much as we would all like to believe he may top himself in 2010, it is a tough task.
Luckily for all of us, tonight will give us a small indicator of how Brees will handle tough defenses. Jared Allen is enough to scare even the toughest of men, yet Drew Brees knows all about him.
I'm no gambling man, but odds are that Drew Brees has a very typical game in the Superdome.
Injury seems to be the theme for the Vikings right now, as Brad Childress saw one of his most talented and well thought of wide receivers go down this preseason—for what appears to be up to an eight-game absence from the team.
Realistically, it goes without saying that the Vikings will struggle without Sidney Rice. As great as Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian are, the Vikings have strived recently by simply utilizing the three headed passing attack and now that one of their main men is down, the same firepower no longer exists.
But does this mean that the Vikings offense will ultimately struggle as a whole?
No, of course not.
Looking at the Vikings on paper, there is no reason that the team can't cope without Sidney Rice for an extended period of time. People seem to forget that the Vikings do have Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, and of course Brett Favre in their arsenal—all of whom are highly capable when they put their heads together.
Yes, Sidney Rice will be missed, especially for his 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. But teams have coped without receivers before and the Vikings are no exception.
At times, the Vikings may find it tough without Rice to dish out to opponents, but they must weather the storm.
Like the old saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." The Vikings are certainly tough, and you only have to look at Brad Childress' ragged beard to realize that.
As much as some fans would have you believe that the Superdome isn't as loud as the likes of Lambeau and Heinz Field, New Orleans faithful now take pride in competing with the league's biggest and best when it comes to decibels.
Last season in the playoffs, the Vikings didn't get too rattled by the Superdome. They withstood the pressure and the thousands of hopeful fans and until overtime hit, the entire side kept their composure and maintained stability.
However, that was in the playoffs and this is a new year and a new decade, with the Saints having just won a Super Bowl.
So with this thought in mind, along with the fact that the Saints are unveiling their first ever Super Bowl banner to hang from the rafters, expect every Saints fan to be in full voice as it is likely to resemble a College football atmosphere tonight.
And can the Vikings handle this pressure again?
If they've done it once to some degree, there is no reason they can't do it again this season. It is a tough test, but I think the Vikings are one of the best teams when it comes to blocking out crowd noise.
Brett Favre is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this, since he has experience in this area. But the whole team deserves some credit.
If the Vikings are to win, they'll have to listen to their traveling Viking fans and play like they did back in January.
It's obvious to say that every team wants to start the season off with a win.
Not only is it vital to hit the ground running and start off on the right foot, it is also important to make sure that the team is right and that confidence is flowing throughout.
But of course, as we have seen in the past, winning isn't always everything in Week 1.
A notable example of this would be the San Diego Chargers, who have consecutively started poorly, yet somehow wound up in the playoffs with quite a bit of confidence.
So when it comes to Vikings vs. Saints, so needs the win more?
Personally, I think it's the Vikings; the reason being is simple—the Vikings have it tough in the NFC North. Sure, the Saints have Atlanta to worry about, but one loss wouldn't discount them all that much.
However, as for Minnesota goes, it has Green Bay and Chicago to compete with, not to mention the upcoming Detroit Lions, who could surprise a few people this season.
A win for the Vikings would put aside some doubt for the time being and make sure that every player is on the same page. The Vikings are notorious for starting the season reasonably well and as tough as this game is, they can get it done once again.
If anyone out there didn't love last year's shootout for whatever reason, I suggest you get your head checked, as it was a classic example of playoff football.
Therefore, it is only imaginable to picture this very same story unfolding before us tonight in New Orleans.
Firstly, both teams are fairly similar to last year's. Minus the fact that Darren Sharper and Sidney Rice are absent, the rosters are exactly the same; although this game isn't as vital as playoff football, it certainly has that "big game" feel.
Secondly, this is a rivalry. No matter what way you put it, Brett Favre doesn't like to be embarrassed and he has definitely been put under the spotlight for his overtime pick last season.
Other than Favre, the fact that many fans have debated the officiating calls in this game also adds to the drama, as everyone seems to be all around pumped for this affair.
Things will no doubt be bubbling in New Orleans, as they always are come football time. Expect some Viking fans to be vocal tonight, as this game is destined for another classic chapter.
We all hope so—last season's game was a classic.
Reggie Bush has now been officially stripped of his Heisman Trophy during his impressive 2005 season with the USC Trojans, and although this is very much a past issue, some concerns comes right now as Reggie Bush's head may not be totally fixated on the task at hand.
However, when it comes to hands, Reggie Bush has recently stated that the matter is out of his, as it is something that happened five years ago; the fact that College Football feels so passionately about it doesn't help the situation.
So will Reggie Bush be focused come game time?
It's always a tough decision to make when considering Bush's past: On one hand, he has that uncanny ability to never show up in a game—on the other hand, he can provide a big bang at some of the most unexpected moments.
Perhaps the likely thinking here for some people is that this whole situation will motivate Bush to excel.
Now that he has been stripped, it has made Reggie Bush look less like a great rusher and more like a bust, so maybe he will try his best to impress us all.
Whether or not we get this version of Reggie Bush is always a question—after all, he could show up tonight and rush for a low amount of yards.
The Viking defense is tough, but the Heisman issue has been even tougher for Reggie Bush lately. Can he use it to fuel the fire? Certainly.
Let's just hope he does just that.
Sticking with running backs, we take a look at Adrian Peterson and discuss his recent fumbling woes that have made some Viking fans cringe when he touches the ball.
It seems that almost out of nowhere, Adrian Peterson has developed this problem. He stumbled his way into postseason football, and even during the playoffs had a few fumbling issues that saw Peterson's gloves be a little too greasy.
Unfortunately for Adrian Peterson, two of those fumbles came against the New Orleans Saints.
In the playoffs, Adrian Peterson struggled at times to hold onto the ball in big tackles and although his grip has always been superb, it has slipped a little in recent times.
Luckily for all Viking fans, this is an area that Peterson has been working on this offseason. Most running backs during the off months work on their handle, and Adrian Peterson was one of the many guys that needed to work on securing the ball better.
But will it work?
We'll have to wait and see. The ultimate test will come when a big gang tackle swoops on Peterson and puts him under pressure.
For the Vikings, they need Peterson at his best. When No. 28 plays well, the Vikings normally win and when Peterson really gets going, the Vikings rule.
If Peterson stays calm, expect the Vikings to play outstanding football.
If he starts off shaky, then look out—we may be in for a bumpy ride.
Like many teams this season, the New Orleans Saints will have to cope without one of their key defenders for six weeks, as Darren Sharper finds himself on the PUP list, along with other notable defenders.
Similar to these other teams as well, Darren Sharper is the true Saints defensive leader. Last season, Sharper recorded nine interceptions with 71 tackles and became the the team motivator, especially in the playoffs.
The main question awaiting the Saints and the loss of Sharper is how will they hold up against top-notch offenses this season?
When it comes right down to it, the Saints will have to find out; Sean Payton is a great coach, but with a key safety loss such as Sharper, their playmaker factor is now totally irrelevant from the Saints' gameplan.
Still, many teams have coped with losses such as these before and the Saints can get the job done. It won't be at all easy, and when teams like Atlanta pop up on the schedule, the smart thing to do would be to take advantage of this absence.
We should all get a brief preview of this type of advantage tonight, as Brett Favre will do his best to highlight Sharper's absence.
Will it work?
Let's wait and see, as the Saints may be in a tough position if they get burnt early.
Anyone that says Brett Favre doesn't excel in the regular season should go and ask the San Francisco 49ers, as Favre is a notably different player when the games matter.
When it comes to Brett Favre, he strives off of success: When the team wins, he gets better, and therefore his confidence skyrockets. Last season saw Brett Favre throw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, great stats for a guy of his age.
More importantly, Favre showed glimpses to his impressive past as he beat the 49ers late in the 4th quarter, delivered two daggers to the Green Bay Packers, and managed to keep his interceptions down to seven.
But on interceptions, the game against New Orleans was his biggest issue.
As soon as he thew that pick, questions began to flow in like running water, and people began to question how Favre would do this season.
To add insult to injury, Brett Favre's preseason also hasn't done him any favors, as he was sacked in his opening game against San Francisco and has been seen yawning on the sidelines.
Still, any fan that watches Favre on a weekly basis knows that he turns it all around in the regular season. He loves to play well for his coach and as old as he is, he still does have the talent to deliver well timed deep and short passes to his receivers.
What can we expect from ole' No. 4 tonight against New Orleans?
Easy: much of the same.
Like many have said, Favre strives when it comes to revenge and the Packers are a prime example.
New Orleans have made him look bad and like the Hulk, you wouldn't like Favre when he is angry.
Forget the meaningless preseason—this is the real deal and Favre epitomizes that very statement.