Prince could have stopped when he was ahead. His 80's hit, Purple Rain, would have been far more fitting--and far better, if still unfitting, an ode to the Minnesota Vikings--than whatever it was that he released last week to boost the play of his beloved hometown team. Prince's decision will be forgotten, however, and his earlier title remembered, following the Vikings' game today against the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings enter Sunday's game boasting the second worst opposition record in the league. The Saints enter the game with the worst opposition record in the league. In short, it is a pairing of two teams that have had to show little to win games for the better part of the season. That makes defining prospects for each team more tenuous, but not impossible.
The Saints have shown flashes of brilliance this season, both on offense and on defense. Offensively, the team ranks at or near the top of the league in most passing statistics. Defensively, they rank near the top the league in interceptions, with former Viking Darren Sharper leading the way.
Those strenghts would make for a long day for a Vikings' team that has increasingly relied on the pass in recent weeks and that has had difficulty stopping the pass, at times. But, as is often the case in the game sample-challenged NFL, things are not necessarily as they appear. Adding to that things that are as they appear for the Vikings, and the Vikings ought to be in position to end the Saints' season this week.
Offensively, the Saints continue to have their moments, but some late season struggles at home on both sides of the ball make it difficult to place too much confidence in last week's white-washing of the Arizona Cardinals as a sign that the Saints have all the kinks worked out.
On the season, only two teams failed to score fewer than 20 points in a game against the Saints--the Tampa Bay Bucanneers in week 11 and the New England Patriots in week 12. The Bucs are, well, the Bucs, and the Patriots were playing with an injured Brady and no running game, an otherwise perfect foil to the Saints' near-league worst rushing defense. And even the Bucs managed to avenge their low point total in week 11 by defeating the Saints, in New Orleans, in week 16, 20-17.
The Saints' 27 points allowed to the Lions, Giants, and Falcons, 34 points allowed to the Dolphins, 23 to the Rams, and 30(!) to Washington--a feat of near impossibility--thus shine brighter than do the 14 points that the listless Cardinals put on New Orleans last week.
Complicating matters for the Saints today is the fact that they struggled to score at the same clip at the end of the season as they were scoring at the beginning of the season. Prior to last week's 45-point outburst, the Saints had managed just 17 points a game over their last four games. Last week, they ran into a team that had surrendered 45 points to the Green Bay Packers, at home, one week earlier. That makes the Saints' 45 points last week a bit less inspiring.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are moving in the opposite direction, fortifying their offense over the past three weeks and turning in their most impressive defensive performance in several years last week, throttling a Dallas team that beat the Saints 24-17 three weeks ago.
That the Saints have come back to Earth in defending against the pass since their early season run of picks against several of the league's bottom feeders is not their greatest concern against Brett Favre and the Vikings. Rather, the greatest concern is that the Saints rank 29th in the league against the run and the Vikings have three very good options in the backfield in Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and Percy Harvin. And those options, combined with Favre's ability to read the defense, should mean another long day for the Saints' defense against the run and the screen--and, ultimately, against the quick hit to Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Harvin, or, even Bernarnd Berrian.
All of this assumes, of course, that the Vikings stay the course. That is, it assumes that head coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevill do not attempt to reinvent the wheel this week. If Childress controls his impulses and does whatever it was that he did last week and the week before, and if Leslie Frazier has his defense anywhere near as ready to play this week as they were last week, this should be a fat Vikings' victory.
Prediction: Minnesota 34 over New Orleans 21