This season, the Saints have discovered a consistent winning formula.
Now, they play a team who knows that formula, too, and does it a little better.
The Minnesota Vikings have the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
They allow only 15.8 points and 275.9 yards per game. That defense has allowed them to overcome the loss of starting quarterback Sam Bradford and the season-ending injury of first-round draft choice, running back Dalvin Cook.
Play great defense, run the ball. And, whatever you do, hold on to the football.
The Vikings have won with a journeyman at quarterback.
Case Keenum has been cut twice and traded for a seventh-round draft choice. He was a Texas high school football star, much like the quarterback he will oppose in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The comparative numbers between the two are eerily similar. Drew Brees has thrown 23 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions in 536 regular-season attempts. Keenum has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions in 481 regular-season attempts.
In the season opener, on a Monday night in Minnesota, the Vikings beat the Saints, 29-19. The 19 points scored by the Saints was the most allowed at home by Minnesota all season.
Brees was queried about the game after the playoff win over the Panthers.
“That seems like a year ago,” said Brees.
Last week, the scene at the Superdome was special. Many of the 2009 Super Bowl Saints were at practice Saturday, and led by Reggie Bush, those Super Bowl alumni led a boisterous crowd in the pre-game “Who Dat” cheer.
On the giant video boards in each end zone, various Saints players and even head coach Sean Payton were superimposed waving white towels, urging Saints fans to yell even louder. They, of course, complied.
This week, indoors at Minnesota, the roles are reversed.
For the Saints, the challenge of winning at Minnesota are significant. If the Saints win, it would be a victory dripping with irony.
Four years ago, Minnesota pulled the upset on New Orleans, winning the right to host Super Bowl LII. Minnesota had the carrot dangling that the NFL always bites – a new domed stadium.
New Orleans, celebrating its 300th anniversary, was the odds-on favorite. Rod West, co-presenter of the New Orleans bid, was more than mildly surprised.
“I am in shock,” West told Times-Picayune reporter Jeff Duncan.
Almost four years later, maybe the football gods are paying attention.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.