Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Monday he was already asleep by the time the Seahawks-49ers game ended Sunday night, solidifying the Vikings’ trip to New Orleans for the first round of the playoffs.
“Woke up in the middle of the night; got a text that said we’re playing New Orleans on Sunday,” Zimmer said.
What was his reaction? “Cool,” he said. “I went back to sleep.”
The sixth-seeded Vikings are 7½-point underdogs as they prepare to take on the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, and Zimmer grabbed opportunities Monday to both demystify the task at hand and use it as motivational fuel for his team. He referenced the game’s spread and a 60-second NFL playoff promo video that didn’t show a clip of either the Vikings or the fourth-seeded Eagles as evidence of outside skepticism the team can win on Sunday, while praising a 13-3 Saints team that came within Stefon Diggs’ infamous touchdown catch of beating the Vikings two years ago.
A Vikings team that didn’t beat an opponent with a winning record on the road this season will have to do it three times to reach the Super Bowl; no team has gone to the Super Bowl while getting its first road victory over a winning team in the playoffs since the 2008 Cardinals. If the Vikings are to be the next one to pull it off, they will have to bring the right mix of precision and panache to New Orleans on Sunday.
“I think we just have a really good locker room of guys that are giving everything they’ve got, every week,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “When you have that, you give your football team a chance to win games in tough situations, because we have a lot of guys that are going to fight and scratch and crawl and do what it takes to help this team win.”
The Saints, who have the NFL’s third-ranked offense, scored 34 or more points in all but one of their past six games, as 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees threw 19 touchdowns against one interception in that stretch. They have lost twice at home this season, but as they begin the playoffs at home after back-to-back postseason heartbreakers — the “Minneapolis Miracle” and the pass interference non-call that cost them a chance to win last year’s NFC Championship Game vs. the Rams — the Superdome figures to be a cauldron of emotion Sunday.
“I know the city shuts down for Saints games,” said Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr., who grew up in the city and played in the Sugar Bowl during his sophomore year at Alabama. “This playoff game, it’s going to be a big one.”
Had the Seahawks scored in the final seconds to beat the 49ers on Sunday night, the Vikings would be headed back to Seattle to face a team they led at halftime on Dec. 2, with a trip to Lambeau Field the following Sunday as the prize for winning. Instead, they will try and knock the Saints out, before heading to San Francisco a week from Saturday if they win their wild-card game.
Their path through the playoffs does them few favors; their first two games would be against two of the NFC’s three teams that won 13 games this year. They will try to handle it with a roster that’s two years removed from an NFC title game appearance, and with a handful of players preparing for their third postseason trip together. That, the Vikings believe, could be enough for them to make a run as the No. 6 seed.
“I think we like having an opportunity to play another week,” safety Anthony Harris said. “Guys like the preparation. They like competing. That’s our mind-set — get ready to go and compete.”