The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings are expected to produce a playoff epic on Sunday.
The divisional-round contest at U.S. Bank Stadium might not reach the level of drama the 2010 NFC Championship Game between the two teams did, but we're still expecting a close affair to finish off the weekend.
New Orleans is trying to win multiple games in a postseason for the first time since its trip to Super Bowl XLIV that included the famous Tracy Porter interception of Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game.
Minnesota has a 19-28 postseason record and hasn't won a playoff game since the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys the week before falling to the Saints in 2010.
Date: Sunday, January 14
Time: 4:40 p.m. ET
Ticket Info: All available tickets for the game can be found here on StubHub.
How Can the Vikings Linebackers Contain the Saints Running Backs?
It's difficult to gauge what will happen on Sunday from the Week 1 meeting between the Saints and Vikings for a few reasons, one of them being the presence of Adrian Peterson in the New Orleans backfield.
Since then, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have taken the reins of the Saints offense and turned into one of the league's top positional duos.
The Saints will face the league's second-best rushing defense in the divisional round, as the Vikings have limited opponents to 83.6 yards per game. Minnesota boasts an impressive passing defense that was second in the league as well.
If the Vikings choose to lock down the Saints receivers with their secondary led by Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, the pressure will be on their linebackers to bottle up Kamara and Ingram when they receive the ball out of the backfield.
The key for Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and the rest of the Minnesota linebackers will be to limit the impact of the running backs early on the ground and through the screen game.
"Screen game, run game, they're both exceptional," Kendricks said, per Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "They've had a lot of yards apiece. But it's about minimizing that. A great quarterback [in Drew Brees]. We have a challenge ahead of us. We have to study."
Barr went into detail about how to stop Kamara and Ingram in the screen game to Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN:
"There are some screens that are more difficult than others. I'm not going to say which ones those are, but it all comes back to reading your keys. Running backs, they kind of tell you everything you need to know. They kind of paint the picture for you on a given offensive play. Just understanding what the situation is. Down and distance is always a big factor. Then let the running back lead to you the play."
Kamara is the bigger threat of the two running backs in the passing game, as he had 826 receiving yards compared to 416 from Ingram.
If the Vikings are able to recognize the screens and sniff them out before Kamara gets open, it will take a valuable asset away from quarterback Drew Brees.
When it comes to the running game, it wouldn't be a terrible idea for the Vikings to stuff the box early to shut down Kamara and Ingram, who combined for 45 yards on 19 carries in the wild-card win over the Carolina Panthers partly because the Panthers installed a similar strategy.
However, stopping the Saints running backs is only half of the equation with Brees under center, but taking away the ground game and screens would allow the tremendous Vikings secondary to flex their muscles against Brees in the passing game.
Diggs vs. Lattimore Could be Best Matchup of Divisional Weekend
It's hard not to get excited about the matchup between Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs and Saints corner Marshon Lattimore.
Both players have developed into elite performers at their respective positions, and the scary thing is they're only going to get better.
Diggs, 24, had 64 receptions for 849 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, but he only had one 100-yard performance which came on September 24 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The low yardage total occurred because of the focus of opposing defenses on Diggs and the developing threat posed by fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Although he received a growing amount of attention as the season went on, Diggs caught 24 passes in December, his highest total of any month in 2017.
Lattimore, a 21-year-old rookie out of Ohio State, has 18 passes defended and five interceptions to his name, with three of the picks coming in December. He's also coming off a strong performance on wild-card weekend in which he limited Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess to four catches on eight targets.
The defensive back has garnered respect across the league for his play, and Vikings quarterback Case Keenum is aware of how well Lattimore has performed.
"He's not a rookie anymore," he said, per Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune. "He's got a full season under his belt, and he's playing at a really, really high level, and he's played some really, really talented receivers, especially down there in the NFC South. He's put some impressive stuff on film."
In order for Diggs to be successful, he needs to create separation throughout the first half when he is matched up against Lattimore in order to develop a rhythm between himself and Keenum.
One factor that could play into the success of Diggs is the performance of the Minnesota running backs. If Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are able to break a few nice runs, it could open the play-action game for Keenum and Diggs to exploit against Lattimore.
Regardless of the game situation, any time Diggs and Lattimore are paired with each other, it will be must-watch television as both players try to gain the upper hand in a head-to-head showdown that could be determined by the smallest of margins.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90
Statistics obtained from ESPN.com
Odds obtained from OddsShark.com