Mike Zimmer asked, “Why not us?”
After being matched with the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first round of the playoffs, the Vikings’ proper motto might be, “Why us?”
The Vikings drew the worst possible matchup in the first round of the playoffs — a 13-3 team with a pronounced home-field advantage, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the most prolific receiver in the league, most of its key players healthy and an offense capable of highlighting Minnesota’s greatest weaknesses.
It is theoretically possible to walk down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and not wind up with beads around your neck, and it is theoretically possible for the Vikings to beat the Saints in the Superdome in the playoffs Sunday, but both experiences are likely to lead to visitors feeling terrible Monday morning.
The San Francisco 49ers might be the best team in the NFL, and they earned the first seed in the NFC. But they haven’t played in a playoff game since 2013. The playoffs will be a new experience for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and most of the roster. They are good, but are they ready?
The Green Bay Packers earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but if you could get every member of the Vikings organization to testify under oath, most would probably say they would rather play Green Bay than any other team in the playoffs.
The Seattle Seahawks lack the kind of dynamic receivers destined to torch the struggling Vikings cornerbacks. When the Vikings lost in Seattle 37-30 on Dec. 2, they did so largely because of miscommunications in the secondary, and that was when the Seahawks had Josh Gordon as a receiving option and had their top running backs — Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny — healthy. The current Seahawks are battered and reliant on magic from quarterback Russell Wilson.
Instead of one of those matchups, the Vikings earned a trip to New Orleans, against the best, most innovative and most intricate passing game in the conference, in what might be the loudest stadium in the NFL.
“All we wanted at the beginning of the season was a chance,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “And that’s what we’ve got.”
The Vikings might need to score 30 or more points to win. Perhaps the best sign for them Monday was that Thielen and Dalvin Cook, both hampered by injuries of late, talked eagerly about the game. “I’m ready to go,” Cook said.
The Vikings will blast noise during practices this week in the indoor practice facility to simulate the din inside the Superdome.
“It’s crazy,” Thielen said. “I’ve never played a regular-season game there, but the time I played a preseason game there it was loud. So I can imagine that it will be pretty loud, especially in a playoff atmosphere with how well they’ve done this year. It’s going to be crazy in there, but that’s exciting.”
What they will have trouble replicating this week in practice is the wizardry of Drew Brees, the reliability of Thomas and the unpredictability of Sean Payton’s play-calling.
Monday afternoon, Zimmer played a familiar card, saying that nobody outside the Vikings’ building believes his team can beat the Saints.
That’s usually a cheap stratagem, trying to pretend that nobody believes in your team, but in this case he’s right. Nobody with an objective perspective would pick the sixth-seeded, 10-win, banged-up Vikings to beat the third-seeded, 13-win, healthy-and-at-home Saints.
“It’s going to be crazy in there but that’s exciting,” Thielen said. “That’s playoff football. That’s why you play this game, is to go play in hostile environments and play against good football teams.
“We knew whoever we played was going to be a good football team. I think top to bottom they’re all really good teams.”
The bottom team has a lot to prove, with the toughest draw in the playoffs.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org