Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees calls a timeout during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) ORG XMIT: MNCN1

Jim Mone

The New Orleans Saints are about to take their season back to where it started. 

New Orleans opened this season at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota, a Monday Night Football showcase the Saints lost, falling 29-19 in a game that felt even worse than the final score. 

Not a whole lot of what happened that night will matter when the two teams kick off again at 3:40 p.m. Sunday in the NFC divisional playoffs. 

"It's night and day," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "You're still trying to find yourself, you're still trying to establish your identity, so that feels like ages and ages ago."

Fourteen Saints and seven Vikings who were on the 53-man roster for that season opener are no longer part of their respective squads, either due to injury or roster decisions. 

New Orleans no longer has former Adrian Peterson returning to his old stomping grounds, or four of the defensive players on the field for the season's first snap. Minnesota has gone from Sam Bradford to Case Keenum at quarterback and Dalvin Cook to Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray at running back. 

But the Saints have undergone the larger transformation. 

"We didn’t know what we had in store when we came out of this deal at the beginning of the year," wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said. "We messed around with a lot of options and a lot of different players and different things like that. As the season went on, we kind of found our mojo and who we are."

Peterson is gone now, replaced by the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem that ended up being the most productive pair of running backs in NFL history.

A defense that gave up 470 yards has found itself, established an identity and reformed in the wake of a rash of injuries in the season's second half. 

“We are a lot more confident," Saints linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We have been playing together for a while now. We kind of know the strengths and the weaknesses. We know how to play together and where people are going to be."

Minnesota, despite its injury losses at quarterback and running back, has stuck to the same identity the Vikings established coming into the season. 

Led by the NFL's No. 1 defense, Minnesota has rallied around Case Keenum and produced the kind of offense the Vikings envisioned with Bradford and Cook.

"They are playing very well, and they are tops in most categories defensively. I think total defense, scoring defense, second in rush and second in pass," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Offensively, they have found great balance."

The two teams are so different now that the Saints coaching staff will likely spend very little time on the film of the season opener. 

An NFL team evolves over the course of a season — no fan base knows that better this year than the one in New Orleans — and the important lessons to be learned about Minnesota come from November and December. 

"It is a different type of team you’re preparing for now,' Payton said. "We’re spending a lot of time, we will all week, on the more recent games and quite honestly the games throughout the season."

Payton, Brees and the rest of the Saints now know what they have on their roster. 

And that means this playoff game is a rematch more in name than reality. 

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.