Bears Vikings Football

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) pressures Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Jim Mone

WHEN: 3:40 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

TV: Fox

RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en español: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9

RECORDS: New Orleans 12-5; Minnesota 13-3

COACHES: Saints, Sean Payton, 11th season, 105-71, 7-4 in playoffs; Vikings, Mike Zimmer, fourth season, 39-25, 0-1 in playoffs


LAST WEEK: Minnesota, the No. 2 seed in the NFC, watched the wild card round from home, rested up and got healthy after beating the Bengals, Packers and Bears to close out the regular season. 

OFFENSE: Case Keenum has been one of the feel-good stories of the NFL. Forced into action due to an injury to Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater's continued recovery, Keenum responded by completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Efficient has been the operative word with Keenum, who tied for 12th in the NFL in yards per attempt with 7.4, but he's also surprisingly nimble with his feet. Keenum averaged 4.0 yards per carry in picking up 160 rushing yards this season. His lack of playoff experience will be a talking point all week, but if there's a numerical concern with Keenum, it's that his yards per attempt was lower than 6.5 yards in three of Minnesota's past four games. His weapons are fantastic. Wide receivers Adam Thielen (91 catches, 1,276 yards, Pro Bowler) and Stefon Diggs (64 catches, 849 yards, eight touchdowns) are dynamic, and tight end Kyle Rudolph (57 catches, 532 yards, eight scores) will be a problem for a Saints defense that was dissected by Carolina's Greg Olsen last week. Minnesota might have lost Dalvin Cook, but the Vikings also have the kind of pass-catching running back — see McCaffrey, Christian — that has given New Orleans problems this season; Jerick McKinnon finished with 51 catches for 421 yards. With Cook down due to a torn ACL, the Vikings combined McKinnon and power back Latavius Murray to build the NFL's 7th-ranked rushing offense, but those numbers are inflated because Minnesota played with the lead so many times. Murray and McKinnon both average fewer than 4.0 yards per carry, and the Vikings ranked just 23rd in yards per rush. Minnesota's offensive line has been much better, but the Vikings were vulnerable down the stretch: Keenum took 13 of his 22 sacks in the final four games.

DEFENSE: Mike Zimmer has built the Vikings into the NFL's best defense, bar none. Minnesota finished first in yards (275.9 per game) and points (15.8), fifth in yards per carry allowed (3.7) and second against the pass (5.2 yards per attempt). The Vikings also ranked first in the NFL on third down, limiting opponents to an anemic 25.25 percent conversion rate, by far the best in the NFL and a bad sign for a Saints offense that has struggled on third down all year. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was named first team All-Pro after holding Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green to nine catches for 94 yards in four games going back to last season. Safety Harrison Smith joined Rhodes on the All-Pro first team after making five interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Defensive end Everson Griffen led the Vikings with 13 sacks, former LSU star Danielle Hunter added seven and veteran Brian Robison, the only Viking left from the 2009 NFC Championship Game, has four. Both of the linebackers, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, are terrific players who can run sideline to sideline. If there are chinks in the Minnesota armor, they are of the nit-picking variety: Minnesota finished with just 36 sacks and only came up with seven sacks in the final five games of the year. Minnesota, like any defense, has given up some big games this season, often to big-name quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford. From an injury standpoint, the Vikings have been remarkably healthy all season long; Minnesota still has all 11 starters who opened the regular season. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: New Orleans should have an advantage in the kicking game. Former Saint Kai Forbath has missed six field goals and five extra points, punter Ryan Quigley finished 34th in the NFL in gross punting and the Vikings' coverage units have struggled, ranking 22nd on punts and 25th on kicks. Minnesota does have a dangerous return game; the Vikings rank in the top 10 in both categories.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.