Minnesota Vikings Vs. New Orleans Saints: Key Matchups
The NFL regular season finally kicks off tonight, with the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints re-living the 2010 NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on NBC.
There's certainly plenty of bad blood between these two clubs. January's 31-28 overtime thriller left behind plenty of fuel to stoke a fire on the field in New Orleans.
As such, the match-ups for tonight's season opener go beyond just X's and O's. Throw in superstar quarterbacks, a dynamic runner or two, some late hits, a bevy of turnovers, and more than enough recent history to make things interesting, and this game is easily the juiciest and most intriguing of any during the opening weekend, and may prove to be one of the most memorable of the entire season.
That being said, here are five match-ups to watch for at the very outset of the 2010 NFL campaign.
Vikings' Offensive Line Vs. Saints' Pass Rush
So much of the talk leading up to the NFL season kick-off has centered around how the Saints' front seven pummeled Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress has been rather outspoken about his belief that New Orleans' defense administered more than a few illegal hits to his coddled quarterback.
Favre disagrees, saying most of the hits "didn't really hurt", aside from the ones that sprained his ankle, cut his forehead, and bruised his thigh.
Perhaps Favre is simply playing contrarian to the head coach that he allegedly has been at odds with since the two joined forces in Minnesota.
Either way, if the Vikings are going to come away with a "W" tonight, the offensive line will have to do a much better job of giving Favre time to operate in the pocket and keep him off his back.
Aside from the injuries it incurred, New Orleans' pass rush pressured Brett Favre into a lost fumble and two interceptions, the last of which came in the final minute of the game while the Vikings were driving in Saints territory.
If the Saints can overwhelm the Vikes' O-line and bring the pain Favre's way again, it'll go a long way toward shutting down Minnesota's offense and propelling New Orleans to a 1-0 start.
Brett Favre Vs. The Ankle
Speaking of Brett Favre and injuries, there are still plenty of questions about how the much-publicized ankle will hold up amidst game action, much less during an entire season.
Favre is set to keep his 285-game consecutive start streak alive tonight, though he'll be doing it on a surgically-repaired wheel that went bum against the Saints in the NFC title game.
A bad ankle that Favre has mused about in public, questioning whether it will withstand the rigors of an NFL game in a way that's highly unusual for any professional athlete, especially one of Favre's media profile and on-field caliber.
Thus, even if the Vikings are able to fend off the Saints in the trenches, Favre may still find his performance hampered by own body, and then maybe by his depleted receiving corps.
Adrian Peterson Vs. Saints' Run D
Of course, Minnesota's offense won't depend entirely on Brett Favre.
Thanks to the presence of All-Pro running back and terror of the turf Adrian Peterson, the Vikings should be able to move the ball even if Favre finds himself hampered by injuries and/or New Orleans' defensive front.
A.D., as Peterson is know, had himself a field day against the Saints' run defense in the NFC title game, collecting 122 yards and three touchdowns, though not without some mishandled handoffs mixed in.
Peterson should have plenty of opportunities to replicate that performance, as Minnesota's receivers have been decimated by injuries, most notably Sidney Rice's hip surgery and Percy Harvin's migraines.
With the Saints' linebacking unit in flux and Jonathan Vilma dealing with leg problems, expect similar results this time around for A.D.
Assuming, of course, that he does a better job taking care of the ball.
Saints Dynamic Offense Vs. Vikings Defense
But enough about the Vikings' offense.
The Super Bowl-champion Saints sported one of the most prolific offenses in league history, averaging nearly 32 points and 404 yards per game on the way to bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy to New Orleans for the first time.
That said, Drew Brees and Co. sputtered against the Vikings' defense in the NFC Championship Game, coming up with only 257 yards and 15 first downs compared to 475 and 31 for the Brett Favre's crew.
Brees can thank his defense for delivering five takeaways for the offense to capitalize on, though New Orleans mustered only seven points in return.
Hence, if the Saints are going to start this season the same way the finished the last, it'll be up to Brees, Reggie Bush, and the rest of the Saints offense to be a more consistent force rather than relying on a gambling defense to snatch the ball from the opposition.
Revenge Vs. Title Defense
Aside from all the measurables on the field, the most intriguing match-up of the night will be between the motivators for each team.
Minnesota doesn't have to look hard to find reasons to get up for this one. The Vikings have payback on the mind after January's heartbreaking defeat. Expect the Purple People Eaters to put on a rough pass rush comparable to that given to Brett Favre when these two teams last tango'd.
For New Orleans, it's all about avoiding complacency in defense of the franchise's first-ever league title. No team in the NFC South has ever won back-to-back division titles, much less taken him consecutive Super Bowl wins.
And while one game certainly won't make or break the Saints' season, tonight's bout will give the world a glimpse at New Orleans' prospects of being the first team since the New England Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Anticipate the Saints coming away with a close victory in a shoot-out, capitalizing on a lively home crowd with a 34-31 win.