Home Featured Teams New Orleans Saints Saints Enter Playoffs Fueled with Motivation and Momentum

Saints Enter Playoffs Fueled with Motivation and Momentum

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Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert and New Orleans Saints

Riding a three-game winning streak, the No. 3 seed Saints (13-3) host the No. 6 seed Vikings (10-6) on Sunday (12:05 p.m. CST) in an NFC Wild Card game.

By virtue of victories by the 49ers (13-3) and Packers (13-3) last week, the Saints lost out in the tiebreaker scenario and weren’t able to secure a first-round bye.

However, that doesn’t diminish the Saints’ morale; instead it serves as more inspiration for a team that has dealt with adversity all season. The Saints have been plagued by injuries but showed the resolve to emerge as NFC South champions for the third consecutive season.

The Saints defeated the Colts, Titans and Panthers to close out the regular season. The Vikings fell to the Packers and Bears in their last two games. Locked into their seed, the Vikings rested their starters vs. the Bears.

The Saints seek to avenge the heartbreaking ending of the past two postseasons.

This will be a rematch of the divisional round loss two seasons ago in Minnesota. Stefan Diggs shook free for a 61-yard touchdown as the Vikings defeated the Saints on the final play of the game.

Last season, the Saints fell victim of a blown pass interference call (prompting new replay changes) and lost to the visiting Rams in the conference championship game.

Who Dat Nation hopes the third time is the charm as the Saints seek the second Super Bowl title in franchise history. Coincidentally, a decade later, the site of this year’s Super Bowl (Miami) is the same as where the Saints hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after the 2009 season.

Saints coach Sean Payton believes this season’s squad can build off the recent past and finish the job. Fan favorites such as Teddy Bridgewater (1,384 passing yards, 9 touchdown passes) and Taysom Hill (six touchdown receptions, one rushing touchdown) admirably stepped up to fill the void.

“It’s unique. I would say we’ve dealt with some adversity this year, maybe a little more so than other years. We’ve had a lot of guys injured throughout the year at a lot of different positions and I think we added some depth and guys that were able to step in and do a good job, good enough for us to win,” Payton said. “I think this season was different that way. There’s a lot of similar faces on this roster relative to the last two years. That would be the comparison.”

The Vikings are sixth in rushing yards (133.3) and tied for fifth in points allowed (18.9). Dalvin Cook has rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns. Danielle Hunter has amassed 14.5 sacks, Eric Kendricks has tallied 110 tackles, and Anthony Harris has snared 6 interceptions.

“We know this, there are some similarities in their structure defensively. (Mike) Zimmer has been there that whole time and actively involved in what they do defensively. I am sure there’s some nuances offensively (that are different with a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanaski),” Payton said. “I felt they have rushed the ball real well this year and there is all the tape from this season, (and) last season and (you can) go back as far as you want to. And a lot of it is just a matter of the plan that you are putting in place for this game. But, it does feel like a team we played pretty regularly.”

Anchored by quarterback Drew Brees (2,979 yards, 27 touchdowns) and wide receiver Michael Thomas (NFL-record 149 receptions, 1,725 yards, 9 touchdowns), the Saints are fourth in points per game (28.5) and seventh in passing yards per game (265.3).

If the Saints beat the Vikings, they would travel for a rematch against the 49ers in the divisional round. The 49ers edged the Saints 48-46 on Dec. 8 in New Orleans.

With the win-or-go home nature of the playoffs, the Saints have to bring their A-game four times to capture a Super Bowl title. After everything they’ve been through since that postseason loss to the Vikings, the Saints humbly embrace the challenge and are driven to return to the sport’s mountaintop.

“I think overall the team kind of heads into this postseason with some confidence based on how we’ve been playing,” Payton said. And yet I think they understand the type of tournament this is.”