Before you get ready to click to the Saints message board and go talk trash, you might want to look a little further than just the Vikings' 34-16 win over New Orleans in last year's NFC Divisional playoffs. Or at least look a little harder at that game.
While it was a relatively easy win for the Vikings last year, it wasn't against a talent-laden Saints offense, certainly not the squad with "the big knockers" they bring into their own dome on Sunday. In last year's playoff game, the following lineup changes were necessary:
At QB -- Saints quarterback Jeff Blake, who was expected to be the starter all of last season, was replaced in the lineup midstream by Aaron Brooks. When Blake suffered a fractured and dislocated foot in the 11th game, Brooks was called upon to lead the rest of the way. While Brooks has proven to be the better choice, he had a lot of learning and maturing to do in his first year and was playing in his first road playoff game. With the Saints trailing most of the way, he was 30-for-48 for 295 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
At RB -- The Saints' 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams started against Minnesota in the playoffs, but it was his first game back after a broken ankle and he was clearly rushed into action before he was ready. He missed games 11-16 last year and the Saints' first playoff game but had already gained 1,000 yards before the injury. Williams rushed six times for 14 yards in the Metrodome before coach Jim Haslett pulled the plug and went with Terry Allen. While Williams is again banged up entering this game, he should be in better condition and New Orleans' backup in Deuce McAllister is better than Allen.
At WR -- New Orleans was also missing their best wide receiver, Joe Horn, who was inactive with a sprained ankle. Horn had a breakout year in 2000, gaining 1,340 yards on 94 catches.
All of these players are expected to play tomorrow, along with guard Chris Naeole and tight end Cam Cleeland, who were both listed on the injury report. That means the Saints are brining a nearly full-strength squad to the Superdome for a tell-tale matchup.
* The Vikings are looking to continue their success over the Saints. In the history of the matchup, the Vikings are 16-6 vs. New Orleans with a 5-1 record under Dennis Green -- including last year's playoff win.
* Bad news for Vikings fans was Friday's announcement that RB Ricky Williams was healthy enough to pratice and will start Sunday. Williams was injured in practice Thursday when he strained his AC joint -- where the collarbone and shoulder blade meet. However, he showed few ill-effects of the injury Friday and was listed as the starter.
* Sunday will be the Saints first home game of the 2001 season. Only three other teams -- Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Detroit -- have yet to play home games and all of them will be at home Sunday or Monday.
* The big matchup of the game would appear to be the Vikings 6th ranked offense against the Saints 6th ranked defense. Despite a seemingly slow start for the offense, the Vikings are still rated No. 5 in passing in the NFL, while the Saints bring the No. 1 pass defense to the table in a battle of strength on strength.
* Kenny Wright was awfully angry after Sunday's game with Tampa Bay after being flagged for taunting Tampa Bay wideout Keyshawn Johnson. His anger intensified Thursday when he was made aware that he was fined $5,000 for what he believes was a non-incident and a bad call. VU has been told Wright intends to appeal the fine.
* Randy Moss and Cris Carter have 11 receptions each, which currently has them tied for fourth place on the team, behind Byron Chamberlain (16 catches), Michael Bennett (13) and Jim Kleinsasser (13).
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