In what many expect to be a high-scoring game, early momentum could be a key factor. When it comes to first-quarter offense and defense, the Vikings hold the advantage, which could be a necessity in dealing with the Superdome noise. We also get lengthy in the statistical comparisons and rankings of the two teams.
With only three games left in the 2009-10 NFL season, the analysis of the two conference championship games has been overwhelming. From the individual matchups to the history of both franchises, the game has been dissecting like a science-class frog. But perhaps the most crucial statistical matchup between the Vikings and Saints has been all but ignored – and it could go a very long way in determining who goes to the Super Bowl and who goes home.
It is the general consensus that the Vikings need to get off to a strong start and prevent the Saints from getting an early advantage in their game Sunday. If the season-long numbers for both teams are any indication, the Vikings hold a distinct advantage in getting off to an early, strong start.
For as dominant as the Saints were during the regular season, they were prone to getting off to slow starts. In the first quarter of games during the regular season, the Saints were outscored by their opponents 106-85. While that might not seem like a huge disparity, when you consider that from the start of the second quarter on New Orleans outscored their opponents 342-235, their early struggles come into better focus. The Saints were clearly a team that was built on momentum as their games wore on. They outscored opponents 176-93 in the second quarter, 107-91 in the third quarter and a whopping 139-48 in the fourth quarter. They were a team that closed out opponents with frightening regularity by pounding them into submission late, but struggled to open up huge early leads in the first quarter.
If that point total of 106 allowed in the first quarter seems high, it is. Only Tampa Bay (108) allowed more points in the first quarter than the Saints. If ever there was a team capable of getting burned early and potentially quieting down what is expected to be a raucous, noisy Superdome crowd, giving up an early touchdown would be just the ticket to accomplish that.
On the flip side were the Vikings. They outscored their opponents in every quarter during the season, but it was shutting teams down early and not allowing quick-strike points to get them in an early hole that was critical to their success. In the course of their 17 games this season, the Vikings have allowed just 29 points – only Dallas allowed fewer during the regular season (27) – but surrendered a touchdown to the Vikings in their divisional playoff game to give Minnesota the edge in that regard.
Over the span of 17 games, the Vikings allowed just two touchdowns in the first quarter – one to Green Bay at the Metrodome and one at Arizona. In five other games, they allowed field goals. Of their 17 games played, the Vikings trailed after one quarter just three times – all by scores of 3-0 at Detroit, at Pittsburgh and at Chicago. Of their 17 games played, the Vikings have been ahead after the first quarter in seven of them, tied in seven more and trailed in only three.
In a game where it will be imperative to not only score early, but to keep the Saints off the scoreboard as long as possible, this critical season-long stat may be the key to success for the Vikings. It won't guarantee that they will win, but it gives fans a lot of reasons for hope that the Vikings can counteract the Saints' home field advantage is history continues to repeat itself.
VIKINGS-SAINTS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings had the 5th-rated offense in the league in 2009 (13th rushing, 8th passing) and the 6th-ranked defense (2nd rushing, 19th passing). The Saints had the top-ranked offense (6th rushing, 4th passing) and the 25th-ranked defense (21st rushing, 26th passing).
The Vikings and Saints were the two highest scoring teams. The Saints led the league with 510 points and the Vikings finished second with 470 points.
The Saints finished third in the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio at plus-11 (39 takeaways, 28 giveaways). The Vikings finished tied for eighth at plus-6 (24 takeaways, 18 giveaways).
Only two teams had more interceptions than the 26 New Orleans had this year – Green Bay with 30 and Buffalo with 28.
No team had fewer interception giveaways than the Vikings with seven.
The Vikings were fifth in third-down offense, converting 100 of 223 chances (44.8 percent). The Saints were close behind in sixth place, making good on 88 of 197 chances (44.7 percent) The league average was 38.6 percent..
The Vikings defense was third in not allowing opponents to convert third downs, allowing them to convert on just 69 of 200 chances (34.5 percent). The Saints were 14th, allowing opponents to convert on 82 of 216 chances (38 percent).
The Saints were third in the league in defensive interception percentage, picking off 26 of 574 opponent passes. The Vikings were 27th, intercepting just 11 of 535 opponent passes.
The Vikings led the league in sacks with 48 and were second in sacks per pass play. The Saints were 21st in that category.
New Orleans was first in total offense, averaging 403.8 yards a game (272.2 yards passing, 131.6 yards rushing). The Vikings were fifth, averaging 379.6 yards a game (259.8 yards passing, 119.9 yards rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings were sixth in yards allowed with 305.5 a game (218.4 passing, 87.1 rushing). The Saints were 25th with an average of 357.8 yards allowed (235.6 passing, 122.2 rushing).
The Vikings red zone offense was third in the league, scoring touchdowns on 43 of 69 possessions (62.3 percent). The Saints were sixth at 57.7 percent, scoring TDs on 41 of 71 red zone chances.
The Saints offense was first in red zone opportunities with 71 and the Vikings were second with 69. The Vikings led the league in red zone touchdowns with 43, while the Saints were second with 41.
The Vikings defense was seventh in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on just 18 of 40 chances (45 percent). The Saints were second, allowing 22 touchdowns on 56 red zone possessions (39.3 percent).
The Vikings defense allowed opponents in the red zone just 40 times, which tied New England and Cincinnati for least allowed in the league.
Drew Brees has seven 300-yard passing games and three others in which he threw for 298, 298 and 296 yards. Brett Favre had six 300-yard passing games.
The Saints allowed four 300-yard passing days on defense, while the Vikings allowed just two.
Adrian Peterson had three 100-yard rushing games this year. The Saints had two – one each from Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell.
The Vikings have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the last three years. In 2009, the Saints allowed five 100-yard rushers.
The Vikings had five 100-yard receiving days – four from Sidney Rice and one from Percy Harvin. The Saints had six 100-yard receiving games – two each from Marques Colston and Devery Henderson and one each from Jeremy Shockey and Robert Meachem.
The Vikings defense allowed six 100-yard receivers, while the Saints defense allowed five.
Brees and Favre were the two highest rated quarterbacks in the NFL. Brees was 10th in attempts (514), tied for fourth in completions (363), first in completion percentage (70.6), sixth in yards (4,388), third in average gain (8.54 yards), first in touchdowns (34), first in touchdown percentage (6.6), tied for 11th in interceptions (11), sixth in interception percentage (2.1) and first in passer rating (109.6).
Favre was eighth in attempts (531), tied for fourth with Brees in completions (363), third in completion percentage (68.4), ninth in yards (4,202), tied for second in touchdowns (33), second in touchdown percentage (6.2), eighth in average gain (7.91 yards), tied for second in interceptions (7), second in interception percentage (1.3) and second in passer rating (107.2).
Both Brees and Favre were among the best fourth quarter passers in the league. Brees finished third in passer rating and Favre finished fourth. Those numbers are a bit misleading, because Shaun Hill of the 49ers, who threw just 42 fourth-quarter passes, finished second with a rating of 113.6.
Brees was fifth in third-down passer rating (101.9), while Favre was seventh at 94.3.
Adrian Peterson finished fifth in the league in rushing with 1,383 yards. Pierre Thomas led the Saints with 793 yards, good for a tie for 24th place.
Both teams spread the ball around extremely well. The Vikings had six receivers that caught 43 or more passers (an NFL record) – Rice (83), Harvin (60), Visanthe Shiancoe (56), Bernard Berrian (55), Chester Taylor (44) and Peterson (43). Not to be outdone, the Saints had seven players that caught 35 or more passes – Colston (70), Henderson (51), Shockey (48), Reggie Bush (47), Meachem (45), Pierre Thomas (39) and David Thomas (35).
Rice finished fourth in the league in receiving yards with 1,312 yards. Colston was 18th with 1,074 yards.
Peterson led all non-kickers in scoring with 108 points on 18 touchdowns. Shiancoe tied for 14th with 66 points (11 TDs), Colston finished tied for 26th with 54 points (nine touchdowns) and Bush, Harvin, Pierre Thomas and Rice finished tied for 31st place with 48 points (eight touchdowns).
Ryan Longwell finished third in the league among kickers with 132 points. The combination of John Carney and Garrett Hartley finished with a combined 126 points, which would have tied them for fifth among kickers.
Peterson finished third in total yards from scrimmage with 1,819 (1,339 rushing, 436 receiving). Rice was 19th with 1,312 (all receiving). Pierre Thomas led the Saints with 1,095 yards (793 rushing, 302 receiving) – good for 37th place. Colston finished in 40th place with 1,080 yards (1,074 receiving, 6 rushing).
Harvin finished fourth in the league in kickoff return average at 27.5 yards, which was just two yards more than Courtney Roby – who had the same number of returns and an identical 27.5-yard average.
Darren Sharper tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine, three of which he brought back for touchdowns. Cedric Griffin led the Vikings with four interceptions.
Jared Allen finished second in the league in sacks with 14.5. Will Smith of the Saints was fifth with 13. Ray Edwards finished tied for 18th place with 8.5 sacks.
Allen, Chad Greenway and Anthony Hargrove of the Saints all tied for third place with three defensive fumble recoveries.