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Saints vs Vikings: Week 1 Preview

The showdown between the Saints and the Vikings is expected to reach epic proportions as the two teams face off Thursday night in the Superdome in what some are calling the repeat of the NFC Championship Game. But it isn’t a repeat at all. It is the official kickoff to the 2010 regular season. Both teams have undergone changes due to injury and personnel jostling since the last time they met. But that won’t make watching it any less exciting for Saints or Vikings fans.

Some analysts have staked their predictions on the effect that Brett Favre’s return will have on the success or failure of Minnesota’s potent offense, noting that he was rusty and rather uncoordinated in the preseason. My response to that is, it won’t matter one bit. I expect Favre to come out slinging the ball down the field as only he can. We’re talking about a future Hall of Fame quarterback with something to prove. He will be as sharp and as mobile as he ever was. Look for him to scramble and get out of the pocket like his ankle is brand new and be able to put the ball on the money. Favre won’t be rusty or uncoordinated come Thursday night. He will be ready for battle.

Drew Brees will be equally prepared. Expect to see a nice balance of screens to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and short passes to eat up chunks of yardage. Unlike Minnesota’s offense which will more than likely be able to find a lot of success running the ball straight up the middle of the Saints’ injury-thin defense, the Saints will have to rely more on those short-yardage tosses to get their offense going.  

Adrian Peterson will certainly see his share of action in this one.  Last time the two teams met, the Saints’ front seven couldn’t seem to find an answer for him, leaving him to run freely and pick up monster yardage.  This time around, Sedrick Ellis is back and healthy and the Saints have added Alex Brown to the defensive line, a move being touted as a definite upgrade at the position.  With this, the run defense has become that much better, but make no mistake about it, Peterson is still going to put up some very good numbers; he just may not post as many as he did last time.

Offensive line performance is going to be critical to the success of both teams. Keep an eye on key matchups between Jared Allen and Jermon Bushrod, as well as Bryant McKinnie and Will Smith. McKinnie hasn’t looked as sharp as he could have in the preseason, but I expect him to be ready for this game like no other. He knows that he’ll have his hands full trying to combat the strength and speed of Smith around the corner. Bushrod, on the other hand, has shown steady improvement since his playoff and Superbowl appearances. However, he’s going to be battle-tested as he tangles with the ProBowler, Allen for four quarters. Look for double-teams to help take some of the pressure off of him. Brees will obviously have to continue to find creative ways to avoid sacks or untimely hits as players are rotated to aid Bushrod. Whoever wins these battles will be the difference between a quarterback having the luxury of picking his poison down the field or one who can’t find the time to get into a rhythm.

Also, watch out for the Saints’ deadly receivers as they go up against an injury-thin Vikings’ secondary. We all know that the Saints love to pass the ball. If they aren’t able to establish the running game to their satisfaction (which I think is going to be extremely difficult against the Vikings’ stout front four), expect to see Brees air it out to get the job done. As for the Vikings receivers, they will have all they can handle because the Saints have two very good and healthy corners in Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter.  I think they will be able to take some advantage of Sidney Rice not being in the game, but trust me, Favre has the ability to make an average receiver into a star.  Because of his skills and abilities, someone else is going to have a chance to step up in Rice’s absence and probably claim a place on the Vikings roster as a starter.

Gregg Williams’ defense is going to continue to play aggressively, but with roster moves aimed at stouting up against the run, I don’t expect to see nearly as many blitzes as we did last year.  You know he is going to take those risks from time to time–some will be successful and Favre will make them pay for others.  But by no means should any of us think we’ve seen everything Williams has up his sleeve.  There will definitely be some surprises because he is a master of  creating exotic defensive packages.  His best success will be if he can find ways to confuse or disrupt Favre in order to keep him from getting into any type of a rhythm.  Expect the Vikings to try to get into the backfield as much as possible to try to disrupt Brees.

My prediction is that despite rushing for over100 yards (I’ll even say 150), Adrian Peterson’s guarantee of a Vikings win is going to come up just a little bit short.  The Saints have dome-field advantage that is tough to overcome in itself, especially when Brees will pass for over 300 yards.  The final score will be 31-24 in favor of the Saints.


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