NEW ORLEANS When Sunday rolls around in the Land of 10,000 (frozen) Lakes, it will be 125 days since the Minnesota Vikings humbled the New Orleans Saints on national TV.
It should be vastly different in the rematch when the NFC North and NFC South champions square off in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
For starters, Sunday’s forecast in Minneapolis calls for snow showers with temperatures ranging from single digits to a windchill below zero, some 75 degrees cooler than the night of Sept. 11. Fortunately, neither team nor fan base will have to brrrrrr-ave the elements since the game will be played in the toasty, temperature-controlled climate of U.S. Bank Stadium.
And secondly, the Saints are not the same team that took the field in Week 1. Not even close. OK, neither are the Vikings.
Suffice to say, neither team was being touted as a potential division champion, let alone league champion.
And, lo and behold, here we are four-plus months later and both teams, indeed, have what it takes to represent the NFC.
Part of me says the Vikings will be playing for the NFC championship Jan. 21, perhaps in their home venue, if No. 6 seed Atlanta goes to Philadelphia and clips the top-seeded Eagles on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
The other part of me says the Saints could be hosting the conference championship in an all-NFC South matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
All of me says the Eagles are fool’s gold with unproven quarterback Nick Foles under center playing in the absence of injured starter Carson Wentz.
Think about it. New Orleans opened the season 0-2 after yielding points and yards by the bushel to the Vikings and New England Patriots, and here they are in the NFC Final Four, packing a stout defense led by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan and Pro Bowl rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and a top-shelf offense led by quarterback Drew Brees and fellow Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas and Boom & Zoom running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Think about it: The Vikes are toying with football history. No team has ever played for the Lombardi Trophy in its home stadium, and they have positioned themselves to host the divisional round, the championship game and Super Bowl LII.
But they have the necessary elements to defy the odds, a capable quarterback in Case Keenum who’s playing at an elite level though this will be his first playoff appearance, a good running game led by Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon in the absence of injured rookie Dalvin Cook and the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
Plus they are playing at home where they are 7-1 this season, their only loss coming against Detroit in Week 4 when Keenum was still trying to find his niche after replacing injured starter Sam Bradford. Incidentally, it was Bradford who carved up a Saints’ defense that actually only had 10 players on the field for the season’s first play from scimmage.
Bradford took his cue, completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns for a gaudy 143.0 passer rating. Keenum eventually took the baton and ran with it, likely playing himself into a lucrative contract after the season, if not with the Vikings than elsewhere.
Minnesota and New Orleans are both approaching the intersection of Destiny & Fate on the road to Super Bowl LII.
Only one team will survive the collision.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.