There are a lot of numbers to digest when previewing two teams. What matters most to the Vikings is their record compared to the NFC North, but we also go deep into the statistics and rankings of the Vikings and Saints.
The Vikings enter tonight game with the New Orleans Saints
knowing that, with a win, they can pull into a tie with the Packers and, despite having a 2-3 record, would be just one game out of first place in the NFC North behind Chicago.
The Packers' loss at home to Atlanta was a sign of the times for a Green Bay team that has lost three straight after getting off to a 2-0 start. The Bears' 34-7 dismantling of the Lions Sunday may be more of a testament to how brutal Detroit is than how impressive the Bears are. However, with wins on the road at Indianapolis and at home vs. Philadelphia, the Bears might be more "for real" than a lot of people think.
The Vikings will have a chance to find out exactly where they stand within the division. After tonight's game, they will play both the Lions and Bears prior to their bye week and then get Houston and Green Bay at home following the bye. The Vikings should be favored in three of those four games.
With teams from the NFC East and NFC South pulling away from the pack, it would appear at this early stage that the only playoff berth coming out of the NFC North and West will be their division champions – making a win tonight even more vital to the Vikings' chances of making the playoffs this year – which seemed like a forgone conclusion at the start of the season.
VIKINGS-SAINTS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 14th-rated offense in the league (6th rushing, 19th passing) and the 6th-rated defense (3rd rushing, 17th passing).
The Saints have the 3rd-ranked offense (tied for 25th rushing, 1st passing) and the 27th-ranked defense (20th rushing, 29th passing).
The Saints are 31st in the league in average yards per rushing attempt (3.4 yards a carry). Only Arizona (3.2 yards) is worse.
The Vikings are 18th in third-down conversion percentage (35.7), while the Saints are fourth (45.6).
Defensively, both the Vikings and Saints are better than the league average on stopping opponents on third down (37.4 percent conversion leaguewide). The Vikings allow 35.8 percent of third downs to be converted, while the Saints allow 32.6 percent conversions.
The Vikings are 29th in punt return average; the Saints lead the league in that category.
Defensively, the Vikings are second in the league in yards per rushing attempt (2.9 yards). Only the Eagles are better (2.6), but after allowing Clinton Portis to run wild Sunday, that will change. The Saints are 30th in the league in that respect (5.2 yards), ahead of only Kansas City (5.3) and Detroit (5.6).
Despite having one of the best defensive lines in the league, the Vikings are tied for 22nd in sacks.
The Vikings' special teams have been anything but special in return coverage. The Vikings are 31st in opponent punt return average and 27th in kick return average.
The Saints are tied for 15th in giveaway/takeaway ratio at even (seven giveaways, seven takeaways). The Vikings are tied for 21st at minus-2 (seven giveaways, five takeaways).
The Saints average more than 90 yards a game more (414 yards per game) on offense than the Vikings (323).
The Vikings are averaging 143 yards a game rushing as opposed to just 87 yards a game for the Saints, but New Orleans has averaged 327 yards a game passing to just 182 for the Vikings.
The Vikings have completed 55 percent of their pass attempts, while Drew Brees has completed 72.3 percent of his pass attempts – best in the league.
Vikings quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times in four games, as opposed to just four for the Saints.
Both teams have had an edge in time of possession – the Vikings average 31:57 and the Saints average 30:45.
The Saints have 14 touchdowns (five rushing, eight passing, one return), while the Vikings have just six (three rushing, two passing, one return).
The Saints allow almost 100 yards more per game defensively (372) than the Vikings (279).
New Orleans has made much more of its offensive opportunities in the red zone. The Saints are fifth in the league in TD percentage in the red zone (63.6) – scoring seven TDs in 11 red zone opportunities. The Vikings are dead last at 22.2 percent, having scored just two TDs on nine red zone possessions.
Defensively, the Saints are also better in the red zone. Opponents have scored six touchdowns on 18 red zone possessions, while the Vikings have allowed seven TDs on just 11 red zone possessions.
Only San Diego (19) and the Jets (22) have allowed opponents in the red zone more often than the Saints.
The league average for yards gained on first down is 5.05. The Saints are sixth in the league with a 5.64-yard average, while the Vikings are 20th. Defensively, both teams are near the bottom – the Saints at No. 24 with 5.44 yards allowed on first down and the Vikings at No. 26 at 5.53 yards.
Of the top 10 passing days in the league through four games, Brees has three of them. Both the Vikings and Saints have allowed one 300-yard passer.
The Saints have allowed three receivers to top 100 yards in four games, while the Vikings have allowed just one. The only 100-yard receivers for either team are Reggie Bush, who had 112 yards vs. Tampa Bay, and Lance Moore, who had 101 yards vs. San Francisco.
Adrian Peterson has two 100-yard rushing games. The Saints have yet to have a 100-yard runner.
Neither the Vikings nor the Saints have allowed a 100-yard rusher.
Brees is third in the league in passer rating with a 106.9 rating. Gus Frerotte is 25th with a rating of 70.7.
Entering play this weekend, Brees led the league in completions, completion percentage and yards thrown and was second in attempts and average gain per pass.
Brees is strong in the fourth quarter. His passer rating in the final quarter is 100.4. Frerotte's is just 40.1 – more than 25 rating points less than Tarvaris Jackson.
Brees has the best third-down passer rating in the league at 129.1. Frerotte is 23rd with a 64.8 rating.
Adrian Peterson entered play this weekend second in the league in rushing with 420 yards, just two yards behind Michael Turner of Atlanta. Bush entered play at 31st with 183 yards rushing.
Bobby Wade is tied for 51st in the league with 13 receptions to lead the Vikings. Bush was tied for first with 31 receptions.
Bush leads all running backs with 257 yards receiving, which ranks him 17th among all players. The top Vikings receiver in terms of yards is Bernard Berrian with 195 yards (38th in the league). In all, four Saints – Bush, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Moore – have more receiving yards than Berrian.
Bush is tied for seventh in the league with four touchdowns scored. Peterson is tied for 16th with three.
Ryan Longwell entered the weekend tied for seventh in scoring among kickers with 35 points. Martin Gramatica of the Saints was tied for 21st with 25 points.
Peterson was fifth in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 472 (420 rushing, 52 receiving), while Bush was seventh with 440 yards (183 rushing, 257 receiving).
Bush was second in the league in first downs with plays that have moved the chains 23 times. Peterson is tied for 12th with 18 first downs.
Chris Kluwe is fourth in the league in gross punt average at 48.4 yard per kick. But thanks to sub-par coverage, he is 20th in net average (36.9 yards).