Tonight, the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints will begin their defense of the Lombardi trophy. Can they repeat? Down here in New Orleans, thirsting for a repeat championship, the Who Dat Nation have coined a new phrase.
Although the Saints have retained most of their players from last year's Super Bowl team, it is going to be difficult for them to win back to back championships. First, they have a tough schedule. And their first game is against the whinyMinnesota Vikings. Believe me. Fans down here in the Crescent City have a strong aversion to Brett Favre, Brad Childress, and the rest of the Vikings. Some Saints fans strongly believe the impetus for the new overtime playoff rule was a result of Favre not having an opportunity to touch the ball in the extra period. This coupled with Childress complaining about Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams tactics on abusing Favre. Clearly, these two teams do not like one another and it has invigorated a new rivalry in the NFL.
Despite dominating the NFC Championship game statistically, the Minnesota Vikings got careless with the football. If they did not turn the ball over FIVE times, the Vikings would have represented the NFC in Super Bowl XXLIV. After the game, Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson ruefully said, "We really gave those guys the game," said Peterson, who peeked at the rousing celebrations on the Superdome floor. "Too many turnovers. It's eating me up inside."
Turnovers were a major reason for the Saints success. In 2009, the Saints had 39 takeaways which placed them second in the league in this category. (The Packers had the most in the NFL with 40.) Is their defense good or opportunistic? NFL guru Gil Brandt pointed this out about the Saints defense. This is a defense which gave up 341 points last year. They got a lot of turnovers. But they need to cut down on the points allowed-while maintaining the turnovers-if they want to get back to the Super Bowl.
Evidently, maintaining the amount of turnovers is going to be an arduous task without the services of safety Darren Sharper. A wily veteran who tied for a league high NINE interceptions in 2009 will not be playing tonight. In the offseason, Sharper underwent microfracture knee surgery. Because he has not fully recovered, the Saints placed him on the PUP list. As a result, Sharper will miss six weeks. With Sharper out of the picture, this should help Favre and the Vikings. Well, Favre downplayed the absense of Sharper. Sharper's replacement is second year pro Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins, a former cornerback, has been converted to safety this preseason. Will he be aligned in the correct position? As Giants fans, we know there is a learning curve on playing this position. Like Jenkins, Aaron Ross a cornerback by trade struggled playing safety. Look for Favre to exploit Jenkins. Favre said this about Jenkins: From what he's seen on preseason film of Jenkins, though, Favre said he expects Jenkins to take more of a bend-but-don't-break approach in deep coverage.
If this is the case, Jenkins will be playing conservative. This is going to play into the hands of the Vikings. With Jenkins playing too deep in coverage, this will leave plenty of open space in the middle of the field. This is how head coach Childress will attack this Saints defense. Run the football. The Saints defense is very porous against the rush. Last year, the Saints were 21st in the NFL against the rush. They allowed an average of 122.2 yards per game. Additionally, the Saints are very weak at linebacker. With the exception of the talented and speedy Jonathan Vilma, the Saints do not match up well against the Vikings. Hence, Favre will throw short passes to the running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers.
Use ball control offense and do not give the potent Saints' offense a short field.
I predict the Vikings will win this game.
Vikings 24 and Saints 13