In the end, it didn't matter how the Vikings got the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. All that matters is that they got it. But, the way things turned out, both the Vikings and the Saints may have been able to get about as good a scouting report on the other four playoff teams than they could have imagined.
The team that seems to be scaring the most people right now is Dallas, which, after a pair of close losses to the Giants and Chargers, made things right by knocking New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten and closed out the regular season with shutout wins over Washington and Philadelphia to win the NFC East, lock down the No. 3 seed and, if they win this weekend, assure themselves of coming to the Metrodome in two weeks to play the Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 17 at noon.
By virtue of scheduling quirks, both of the Week 17 matchups that finalized the NFC playoff seedings – Green Bay at Arizona and Philadelphia at Dallas – will be repeated this weekend. In the case of the Packers and Cardinals, Arizona knew its postseason positioning by the time they started playing – the Vikings win guaranteed that they would be playing wild card weekend – so the Cardinals didn't necessarily put their best foot forward in trying to defend their home field. That will change this week, as the Cardinals go up against a Packers team that is very similar to the Vikings offense. They run most plays out of the same general formations with the same personnel groups.
The same is true for the Cowboys. The Eagles gave their top effort (although it may not have appeared that way) in their battle Sunday and, despite getting waxed 24-0, have a chance for a do-over Saturday when the teams meet for the second time in six days. Like Green Bay, many of the offensive formations and player packages are identical. While they don't have the same sort of run-pass distribution, what is important is getting a pre-snap look at what kind of defenses the Cowboys employ against a specific look.
Considering that if Dallas wins they automatically draw the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs, having recent film against a team like Philly (much less their last two games) that operates an offense almost identical to that the Vikings employ, is a huge advantage. The Vikings don't need to run the same plays the Eagles do, but having the benefit of seeing how the Cowboys will line up when they see a certain formation or personnel grouping will be an invaluable tool when the Vikings begin to gameplan for Dallas.
To a lesser extent, the same will be true with Arizona, which will be hosting Green Bay for a second time. If Dallas should lose to Philadelphia, the Eagles will automatically play the Saints and the Vikings will draw the Cardinals-Packers winner. Here, too, they will have what could be considered a minor advantage – having played both teams this season and having the chance to watch film of them playing each other twice. Like the Cowboys, the Cardinals defense will be lining up against a Packers offense that bears some striking similarities to that of the Vikings.
A case can be made for each of the six teams in the NFC playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl next month. But thanks to the repeat matchups from Week 17 into the wild card playoffs, the Vikings and Saints may have a much bigger advantage than meets the eye.
Vikings to get good advanced scouting
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