The NFC Wildcard round starts with the 13-3 New Orleans Saints hosting the 10-6 Minnesota Vikings. Ben Steele thinks the Saints' stars will be the difference...
"As their outstanding December shows, New Orleans are one of the most dangerous offences in the NFL; and it is their versatility that is a major factor in that. Drew Brees is the ultimate conductor, leading his side up and down the field, relying on Michael Thomas, the best receiver around, and a talented supporting cast."
Brees looking for Minneapolis Miracle revenge
The last time the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints met in the playoffs we saw one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. With his team behind by a point, Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught a pass, dodged a tackle and took the ball 61 yards for a game winning touchdown as time expired. The first time this has happened in a playoff game in the 100 year history of the league. The Saints will be out to avenge that defeat and look in good shape to do so.
New Orleans are, arguably, the best wildcard team we've ever seen. A 13-3 record is usually more than enough to secure a first round bye but this season the NFC has seen some exceptional teams. The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers both matched the Saints and secured the top two seeds, despite an outstanding offensive display down the stretch from Sean Payton's men. In the month of December the NFC South winners scored 160 points (averaging 40 points per game) as quarterback Drew Brees threw 15 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Brees is a first ballot Hall of Famer, who has thrown 547 touchdown passes in his career, but this season saw him battling injury and starting to show sign of age. However, he appears to be back to his best and that doesn't bode well for Minnesota. Look for Brees to torch a disappointing Vikings secondary and throw for Over 310.5 yards as he leads New Orleans to the next round.
Versatile Saints have scoring options
As their outstanding December shows, New Orleans are one of the most dangerous offences in the NFL; and it is their versatility that is a major factor in that. Drew Brees is the ultimate conductor, leading his side up and down the field, relying on Michael Thomas, the best receiver around, and a talented supporting cast.
Thomas caught 149 passes this season, an NFL record, and was close to impossible to cover at times. The Saints will look to him with regularity on Sunday and he is a decent bet to have Over 104.5 receiving yards, but he won't be the only threat.
Third year running back Alvin Kamara has had a disappointing year but, like Brees, seems to be returning to form at just the right time. The 24-year-old score just six touchdowns this season but four of them have come in the last two weeks despite splitting time with Latavius Murray, I expect Kamara to continue his scoring streak. The final threat from New Orleans is Mr Versatile Taysom Hill, the quaterback/running back/wide receiver/return specialist. Hill, the ultimate utility player, found the endzone seven times this season, and a Same Game Multi of Hill and Kamara both to score a touchdown is worth a look.
Vikings need big names to step up
The Minnesota Vikings are, unsurprisingly, huge underdogs in this game but with a few big name offensive returning to injury they should be able to set up a shootout. Kirk Cousins quarterbacks an offence that has struggled for consistency this term as both star receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook have struggled to stay fit. Both men are now back up and running and that changes the offence in Minnesota.
Cook missed the last few games of the season with a shoulder problem, but now refreshed he will return to his role as the water-carrier for the Vikings. When healthy he has shown the ability to post solid numbers against some of the best defensive units around. This consistency will open up space in the passing game; and allow Thielen to team up with Saints tormentor Stefon Diggs to great effect. With a pair of great offences on show I'm backing over 49.5 points in the game.
Ben Steele NFL P/L:
Staked: 63 pts
Returned: 59.3 pts
P/L: -3.7 pts