Contrary to popular opinion, the New Orleans Saints do not own the Minnesota Vikings. Since besting Brett Favre and Co. in the 2009 NFC Championship Game and kicking off a four-game win streak against Minnesota, the Saints have dropped three of their last four to Mike Zimmer's squad, including 2019's Wild Card matchup and 2018's Minneapolis Miracle. There will be plenty on the line when the two sides meet again for a Christmas Day special, with the Saints (10-4) looking to remain atop the NFC South and the Vikings (6-8) fighting to stay alive in the NFC playoff race.
Both teams are desperate for a victory, too. After starting 10-2 and looking like locks to win the South, if not challenge for the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Saints have lost two straight, falling to the Jalen Hurts-led Eagles in Week 14 and then coming up short against the Chiefs on Sunday. The Vikings, meanwhile, clawed back to .500 early this month thanks to five wins in a six-game stretch, but they've crumbled the last two weeks, missing a chance to upset the Buccaneers in Week 14 and then falling to the rival Bears on Sunday. New Orleans needs a "W" to stay ahead of the Bucs, and the Vikings need a "W" -- and help -- to remain a Wild Card contender.
As we look ahead to Friday afternoon's anticipated NFC showdown, who actually has the edge this time around? Let's take a look.
How to watch
When the Vikings have the ball
This is going to sound obvious because it's essentially the Vikings' preferred formula for winning games anyway, but they must stick to the ground and get the ball out quickly. Minnesota has the NFL's fifth-best rushing attack because of how often they (rightfully) lean on Dalvin Cook. The Saints will present problems there, boasting a top-four rush "D" and some of the league's nastiest front-four defenders. But this cannot be a game where the Vikings leave it up to Kirk Cousins to routinely throw from behind. As best they can, they need to control the clock, control the pace and march methodically.
If that means feeding Cook 30-plus carries, even at a 3.5-yards-per-carry clip, then so be it. Because keeping the Saints honest up front is key to opening holes in the quick-strike passing game. Cousins has play-makers and route-runners on the outside; both Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are capable of beating New Orleans' stingy secondary. But Cousins also can't afford to sit around in the pocket, where he's been under far too much duress lately and will now be up against a fearsome Saints front.
Run the ball. Run it some more. Pass it quickly. Let your play-makers do their thing. The Vikings have the weapons to strike on a big play if they need to, but they can't expect to win a shootout considering the Saints' defense. This is a winnable game, but it's going to take precision and, more so, patience from Minnesota's offensive unit.
When the Saints have the ball
Two words: Alvin Kamara. The Saints have won without Michael Thomas before, but there's no doubt his absence is a big break for the Vikings' young secondary. There's no question, however, that Kamara should be the focal point of their attack now that the pass-catching options have been limited once again. The star running back would be getting legitimate MVP buzz if not for this year's bevy of elite QB performances, and he's got the skill set to give the Vikings trouble both on the ground and as a receiver.
This is in part because Drew Brees is still working his way back from a serious injury. No. 9 was solid, if less efficient than usual, in his anticipated Week 15 return. What better way to further acclimate him than by making Kamara the unquestioned centerpiece of their attack, whether through screens, reverses, pitches -- anything to keep the ball in his hands. This may end up mimicking the Vikings' own offensive approach -- lots of running back touches in lots of different ways, with an eye on long, steady drives. But that works even more in New Orleans' favor because they have such a defensive advantage.
Even without Thomas, the Saints are straight-up the better team. So this will come down to playing smart and executing.
Whenever we count the Vikings out against the Saints, they show up. This particular Minnesota team has also been unpredictable this year, at some points flaunting a confident Kirk Cousins and at others looking like a club worthy of a top-five draft pick. On the flip side, the Saints are going to benefit from playing at home on a short week, and as long as they don't stumble into multiple turnovers, they have the talent to win the Vikings' kind of football game. It'll be closer than people think, but New Orleans is too good to overlook.
Prediction: Saints 29, Vikings 26