New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings: Hosts too good for troubled Saints

Sinner turned Saint: Adrian Peterson takes on his former club Minnesota
Sinner turned Saint: Adrian Peterson takes on his former club Minnesota

Do Drew Brees and New Orleans have the firepower to blow away the Vikings' rugged defense? Neil Harvey looks ahead to the first Monday Night Football game of the NFL season...


"With linebackers who fail to pressure the opposing QB, and a secondary that's all too inviting, a lack of signings means the Saints defense once again looks there for the taking."

New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings
Start-time: Tuesday 12 September, 00:10 BST
TV: Live on Sky Sports


Defense still a problem


Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and yet the Saints keep losing. They've finished with a 7-9 record in four of the last five years. And that's despite Brees averaging more than 5,000 yards a season. Last year, nobody - not Aaron Rodgers, not Tom Brady - threw for more regular season yards than Drew Brees. And yet it still wasn't enough.

So with a quarterback that good, just how bad must the New Orleans defense be? Well, the answer is very bad, and not getting any better. Last year, New Orleans gave up the second highest number of points per game, 28. And they ranked worst in the league at stopping the pass. With linebackers who fail to pressure the opposing QB, and a secondary that's all too inviting, a lack of signings means the Saints defense once again looks there for the taking.


Key players missing


And worryingly for Saints fans, while their defense appears stagnant, the offense might even regress. The departure of Brandin Cooks to New England is a big loss. With eight TDs and more than a thousand yards receiving, Cooks gave the Saints a home-run option. He's replaced by Carolina's Ted Ginn Jr, who has similar pace but frequently suffers drops, and who'll need time to settle. Meanwhile Willie Snead is suspended for three games. And that all puts huge pressure on Michael Thomas, the team's breakout receiver with nine TDs last year, to lead the way.


AP to the rescue?


The signing of Adrian Peterson might prove a good one. But only if New Orleans bought a time machine to go with him. It's five years since AP had his best season. And the reality is, the 32 year old has missed far more games through injury than he's actually played over the last three years. Don't get me wrong, Peterson could impress early season. He'll certainly be helped by a very good offensive line, that's been further strengthened by the arrival of first round pick Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle. But the prospect of a timeshare with Mark Ingram, the potential for re-injury, and the inevitable abandoning of the run when the Saints defense implodes, all serve to dampen AP's long term prospects.


Sure and steady wins the day


So can Minnesota take advantage of this vulnerable Saints defense? Well, the Vikings don't exactly leap off the page in terms of household names on their roster. But this isn't a team of superstars. It's very much the opposite, a side made up of veterans with low profiles. Take Sam Bradford, an unspectacular quarterback, but one whose ratio of four TDS to one interception last year helped Minnesota to an 8-8 record. Receivers like Adam Thielen go almost unnoticed. But combine his efforts with those of tight end Kyle Rudolph and suddenly you have 12 touchdowns to throw into the pot. The Vikings offense isn't great, but it's deceptively effective, and will have only improved with the drafting of rookie rusher Dalvin Cook.


Game Picks


The Minnesota defense will once again be expected to be the team's driving force and that's a job it knows well. Ranked third best in the NFL last year, both overall and against the pass, the Vikings D can disrupt the flow of a Saints passing unit that's missing key personnel. Meanwhile the home team's mediocre but professional offense should have one of its easiest outings of the year against New Orleans' porous D, making them my call for an easy win to get their campaign underway.

Recommended Bets:

3pts Minnesota (-3.5) to win @ 2.111/10


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