The New Orleans Saints will travel to Minnesota on Sunday for their second straight road game.
New Orleans is currently 10-3 and fighting for the second seed in the NFC. If it wants to win that spot, it has to go into the Metrodome and take care of business.
The Saints have been playing pretty great football lately. They have won five straight games and have already clinched a playoff berth. This team is talented enough to go deep into the playoffs, but it has to start being consistent week in and week out.
The Saints are known for being dominant at home and struggling on the road. This week they need to prove they can dominate an underwhelming opponent and play good football on the road. Granted, this is the 2-11 Vikings and it's in a dome, but this will be a good start.
In order to beat the Vikings, the Saints will need to win a few key matchups. Let's take a look at the most important matchups for the Saints in Week 15.
Jermon Bushrod really does not get enough credit for how well he plays.
People often say the left tackle is the most important spot on the offensive line, and Bushrod has done well enough to not get his name called a lot, which is normally a good thing for offensive linemen.
Bushrod will be matching up against the NFL's sack leader in Week 15. Jared Allen comes into Sunday's game with 17.5 sacks, and he will be looking to add to that number against Drew Brees and company.
The Saints offensive line always determines a lot in the outcome of games, but Bushrod's work against Allen this week will probably be the single most important factor of this game. Allen can destroy any offensive lineman and quarterback on any play. He has done it all year, and when he does it makes it much tougher on opposing offenses.
However, all Bushrod has to do is play against Allen like he has the past two times they have faced each other. Bushrod has played against Allen two times in his career, first in the 2009 NFC Championship Game and then again in the 2010 season opener. In both of those games, Bushrod did not allow Allen to get to Brees once.
Bushrod has essentially shut down Allen in their previous matchups. Allen has a total of five tackles in those two games. That's it.
Bushrod and the Saints will be fine on Sunday because he will stop Allen and keep him away from Brees all day.
Adrian Peterson is probably the best running back in the National Football League.
It helps that he has a pretty good offensive line in front of him and that he gets a ton of carries, but he is definitely dominant on the gridiron. Peterson is coming off a high ankle sprain and will be playing in his first game since Week 11.
Peterson is dangerous and has hurt the Saints in the past. He ran for 122 yards in the '09 NFC Championship Game and 87 in the '10 season opener. He has averaged 4.8 yards a carry against the Saints in those two games. If the Saints allow him to run like that on Sunday, it will be a long day for the defense.
However, I expect the Saints defense to shut down Peterson just like it did Chris Johnson last week. The Saints run defense has played exceptionally as of late. It has not allowed a team to run for more than 100 yards since Week 10 against Atlanta, and the Saints have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Steven Jackson in Week 8.
The Saints defense gets a horrible reputation, but it has been playing well lately, especially the run defense. I expect it to show up and shut down Peterson on Sunday. It will need to if the Saints expect to leave Minnesota with their sixth straight win.
This is really about the Saints playing on the road.
It seems as though the experts and analysts around the league believe the Saints not only can't play in cold weather, but that they also cannot win on the road.
The Metrodome is a lot like home for the Saints. It's a dome stadium with tons of noise. The Saints can win this game in a massive blowout and still be doubted for their ability to win on the road. However, a win on the road can't hurt at all.
I look for the Saints to go into this game wanting to prove they can beat a team convincingly on the road. A win against the Vikings may not impress many people, but it can certainly give the Saints some more confidence heading into the playoffs, where they will have to win a road game or two to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Saints secondary is known around the league as a porous unit. It gives up huge plays and consistently allows teams to drive down the field on it.
I know the Saints defensive backs are some of the most talented in the country, but they do need to start performing better if they want another Lombardi Trophy. That starts on Sunday.
The Vikings do not have a great passing offense, but Christian Ponder and the receivers can be dangerous.
I do not expect an average game from this pass defense. Instead, I think it will dominate and look more like the opportunistic defense from 2009. Gregg Williams loves playing against rookie quarterbacks and I believe he will give Ponder a warm welcome from the Saints.
This will be the secondary's best game of the season, and it will only get better from this week on.
This matchup does not have much to do with the Vikings, if anything at all. I am not concerned about the Vikings red-zone defense stopping the Saints, but I want to see if the Saints can get touchdowns this week instead of field goals.
The problem with their game against the Titans last week was their inability to capitalize on possessions. If the Saints want to compete with teams like the Green Bay Packers in the postseason, they have to score a touchdown every chance they get.
I expect Brees and the boys to put more than 30 points up this week, possibly even reaching into the 40s. If they want to do that, they need to score touchdowns on their trips to the red zone.
The Saints will win easily if they can do that.