First of all, who would have guessed I'd be writing about big wins from Minnesota football teams two weeks in a row? A bowl win for the Gophers and a playoff win for the Vikings, just a few days apart, were not predicted.
I was watching the news on Channel 4 Monday night and switched over to the NFL channel during a commercial. And there were two guys — one who was apologizing to Kirk Cousins for dissing him the previous week — both of whom absolutely wouldn't give the Vikings credit for their win over New Orleans.
They couldn't understand why Drew Brees didn't do better (not noticing, I guess, that he was under duress most of the game), nor could they figure out why the Saints' running game wash't more effective. One of the two (I'd never seen them previously, and don't know their names ) said the return of Dalvin Cook was likely a reason for the Minnesota win.
Hey, wasn't New Orleans supposed to be great? They were a big favorite, just as San Francisco is this week. But Drew Brees and Tom Brady, two of the best ever in the NFL, are home for the winter and Kirk Cousins — you know, the guy who many said couldn't win a big game — played very well. Those last two passes in overtime on the 9-play, 75-yard drive that won the game were absolutely perfect.
I checked the New Orleans paper to see what the comments were there. Linebacker Demario Davis had this to say: "You have to give them credit. They made more plays than us." Offensive tackle Terron Armstead said this: "They came in with a good game plan." As I read other comments it was obvious that New Orleans players were stunned that they had lost to Minnesota.
The key to the game may have come in the opening minutes after Adam Thielen fumbled. New Orleans recovered and had the ball near the Minnesota goal line. The Vikings held the Saints to a field goal and that set the tone for the game.
It was the first game that Cook and Thielen had been in the lineup together since halfway through the season, Thielen out with a hamstring injury for quite a few games and Cook out recently with a shoulder injury. Thielen caught 7 passes for 129 yards in New Orleans and was a game-changer. The offense is so much better with those two both in the lineup. In fact, Cook had more rushing yards in the first half than any player had gained in a full game against New Orleans this season. That tells you how good the offense was with Cook in the lineup, and how good the New Orleans defense had been this season.
Few are giving the Vikings a chance to win at San Francisco tomorrow. The 49ers are 7-point favorites, just about the same spread as when Minnesota went to New Orleans last Sunday. The 49ers also have a very good defense. as did New Orleans, and an offense that is very dangerous. On paper it looks like a win for San Francisco and a match-up the following week against either Green Bay or Seattle, teams the Vikings were 0-3 against this season.
It will be an upset if Minnesota wins, no doubt. There is some conjecture this Friday morning about whether or not Thielen, injured at practice a couple days ago and with resulting stitches, will be able to play. It would be a big blow to the Minnesota offense if he can't. Cousins has to have a good game for the Vikings to win and the absence of Thielen would make his job a lot tougher.
Gregg Rosenthal, the editor of Around the NFL, was 165-94-1 (64%) in predicting NFL games this season. Last weekend he was 3-1 (75%) in his playoff predictions. And this week he has picked the Vikings to win, 30-27. "They're not your average No. 6 seed," he wrote. (Other Rosenthal picks: Baltimore 35, Tennessee 27; Green Bay 23, Seattle 20; Kansas City 37, Houston 30.) Just a few minutes ago two in-house predictors here at the Union-Times have the 49ers winning 37-19 and 44-14.
So, IF Thielen plays, IF Cousins has a good game, IF the Vikings win the turnover battle, and IF the Minnesota defense can slow down the San Francisco passing attack, the Vikings should have a good chance to win;
Are there too many IFs?