We’re going to learn a lot about the New Orleans Saints in their Week 10 game with the Minnesota Vikings — especially with both squads in the thick of a crowded NFC playoff picture. Both teams are 5-4. This is the type of opponent the Saints could expect to host in the first round of the playoffs, should they hold onto their lead in the NFC South.
If not the 5-4 Vikings, it could be the 5-3 Seattle Seahawks or 5-3 Dallas Cowboys coming to town. A good (not great) team presenting unique challenges with a competitive talent level. The Saints need to show they can take care of business and rise to the occasion after they fell down to the quality of their opponent last week in a tight win over a 2-7 Chicago Bears team.
And, critically for the Saints, this is the chance to get their first win over a team with a winning record this season. They’ve only
Tennessee Titans (3-5): Win
Carolina Panthers (1-7): Win
Green Bay Packers (3-5): Loss
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5): Loss
New England Patriots (2-7): Win
Houston Texans (4-4): Loss
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-2): Loss
Indianapolis Colts (4-5): Win
Chicago Bears (2-7): Win
Look at that again. Just one of the teams the Saints have played so far currently has a winning record, and New Orleans lost that game. The Jaguars are nipping on the heels of the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens (both 7-2) for the first seed in the AFC. They have different goals this season than the Saints.
To be frank, they’re a better-coached team than the Saints with greater aspirations. Jacksonville is a Super Bowl contender. The best the Saints can realistically hope for is a home playoff win and a dignified exit in the second round, which would be a better finish than anything fans have experienced in the last three or four years. At the same time, anything can happen in the postseason. We’ve certainly seen it all when the Saints and Vikings are matched up: a Super Bowl berth, a crushing last-second loss, and a stunning upset after a 13-win season.
Minnesota presents a team in similar circumstances with more-comparable goals. If the Saints can leave town with a clean win and improve to 6-4 before their bye week, fans should feel optimistic about what’s ahead for them. Proving they can hang with another team with a winning record would be highly encouraging. And look at the schedule ahead: just one of the seven games remaining after their bye week will be against a team that currently owns a winning record (the 6-2 Detroit Lions). 10 or 11 wins are very much in reach for this Saints team, but they must prove they’re up to the task against the Vikings on Sunday.