The Saints need to get back to winning ways as they chase the Packers at the top of the NFC, writes Mark Kirwan...
"It wouldn't be fair to say Brees played a like a 41-year-old with a crushed ribcage, but he wasn't the surgical passer we're familiar with."
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
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Saints march halted
Drew Brees returned for New Orleans on Sunday and could've hardly asked for a tougher reintroduction to the Saints' Super Bowl effort than the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs.
Most QBs struggle to keep up with the 2018 league MVP when you're trying to do it following 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung you're asking a lot.
The Saints lost by just three points in the end, but the gap between the teams felt bigger during the game, a late TD cutting the KC winning margin.
Given he suffered the injury in Week 10 and Sean Payton's team won three of four with Taysom Hill deputising, you'd think they might give him a week off against the best team in the league.
But the sole loss, to the previously calamitous Eagles who were starting a divisive rookie QB in Jalen Hurts, forced the hand of the coach as the Saints try to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers in the race for the NFC's number one seeding.
It wouldn't be fair to say Brees played a like a 41-year-old with a crushed ribcage, but he wasn't the surgical passer we're familiar with. He finished with a 44% completion percentage, just the eighth time in his almost 20 year career he's made less than 50% of his passes.
Drew Brees has started the game 0/6 with an INT pic.twitter.com/kmKDk6LD3I? PFF (@PFF) December 20, 2020
New Orleans' gameplan was a factor in this - they needed huge plays against the Chiefs to have a hope - not just Brees physical state.
Part of the responsibility lies with his missing receivers too. Michael Thomas is on IR for the rest of the regular season. Deonte Harris was out as well, while Tre'quan Smith got hurt during the game.
You'd think that might mean Alvin Kamara would pass more catches to of the backfield, but his slide in the passing game continued against the Chiefs.
It meant the solid efforts of their defence against the league's most explosive offence went unexploited and gave the team their first back-to-back losses since 2017, a run they'll be keen to end on Thursday night.
Minnesota freezes over
The Vikings had seen their playoff hopes all but vanish earlier on Sunday as they allowed the Chicago Bears to win a crucial division match-up, 33-27.
That result means they've just a 2% chance of postseason football as they dropped to 6-8.
They come into this game with several 12 players listed on the injury report ahead of this short-week game. None is more significant than linebacker Eric Kendricks.
He's missed their last three games but still leads the team in tackles. Against a Saints team that'll run the ball and dink-n-dunk passes across the field, it'd really help if they could get him back in the line-up for this.
Should he play, it would give an offence that has relied on Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson a chance to make this a game.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has a reputation for playing it safe and failing to show up in primetime games, though that wasn't the case last season when the NFC North team upset the Saints in the playoffs in the Superdome.
Another effort like that could derail the Saints Super Bowl hopes again as it will likely mean any route to the Tampa showpiece in early February will have to travel through the frozen plains of Green Bay's Lambeau Field for the NFC title decider.
That shouldn't be an issue though. The Saints haven't lost three-straight games since the opening weeks of 2016. The Vikings have little to play for on a short week and plenty of banged-up players while their opponents know how much could ride on finishing the season strong, especially with just one bye-week available in each conference due to the 14-team playoff structure.
Brees will also benefit from the Chiefs experience. He admitted post-game that he'd been trying to force big plays too much against the champs. They should play more short passes and involve Kamara a lot against a defence that won't hold up to sustained pressure without Kendricks. I'd take the Saints -7 at home at 10/11, and if the line drops back to -6.5, all the better.
I'd lean towards the under on the total because of the Saints defence. It really made Mahomes and the Chiefs work - they still got their standard 30+ points, but it was harder than most weeks - and I don't see Minnesota moving the ball easily against them, though safety Marcus Williams would be a loss if he can't play. Either way, under 21.5 on the away team total at 5/6 looks a reasonable option to me.
For TD scorers, Alvin Kamara is the clearest option at 4/1 for the first scorer because he's the Saints' best player and is due a big game.
Taysom Hill looks like a worthwhile anytime option now he's reverted back tot he the all-action, every-position weapon having filled in for Brees at QB. At 5/2 he appeals, especially with the Saints shorthanded at receiver.