Saints-Vikings Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 14, 2011
Given their lackluster road record, it's no surprise the New Orleans Saints are extra focused on securing at least one home game in the playoffs. Trying to move a step closer to that goal, the Saints could be in position to secure the NFC South title Sunday with a win over the Minnesota Vikings, who might have Adrian Peterson back from an ankle injury. New Orleans (10-3) is tied with San Francisco in the race for the NFC's No. 2 seed, but the 49ers have the inside track because of an 8-2 conference record. The Saints are 6-3 in NFC games. "There's some (scoreboard watching) because that two-seed would be important. Having been in that position before we know how valuable it is," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. New Orleans will be able to clinch its third division title in six seasons by beating Minnesota if Atlanta loses to Jacksonville on Thursday night. The Saints, riding a five-game winning streak, would appear to have a good shot to clinch if the Falcons lose with the Vikings (2-11), losers of five straight, up next. New Orleans, though, is 4-3 away from home and needed a late comeback to beat Tennessee 22-17 last week. Drew Brees rallied his team with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Marques Colston, and the Saints held the Titans at the 5-yard line over the game's final two plays. New Orleans clinched a team record-tying third straight playoff berth with the win and Chicago's overtime loss in Denver later that day. "It was a gut-check win for us," coach Sean Payton said. "A lot of things early on didn't go our way. We had some calls that could have went either way. We just kept fighting and won a good game on the road against a good team." Brees, the NFL leader with 4,368 passing yards and director of the league's top offense (447.8 yards per game), has thrown for a touchdown in 40 consecutive contests, seven shy of tying Johnny Unitas' league mark. He is also riding an NFL-record streak of 33 games with 20 or more completions. He'll get the chance to extend those runs when he makes his NFL Metrodome debut against the league's 26th-ranked pass defense, which is allowing 248.8 yards per game. The Vikings gave up a pair of touchdowns through the air and Christian Ponder committed two costly turnovers in the first 18 minutes of a 34-28 loss in Detroit last week. Minnesota nearly completed a spectacular comeback from a 21-point deficit behind Joe Webb, who replaced Ponder in the third quarter following three interceptions and a fumble that was recovered in the end zone. Webb guided the Vikings to the 1-yard line in the final seconds but fumbled on the final play as referees failed to catch Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy's facemask penalty. With Peterson out for a third straight game, Webb provided a lift to the ground attack with 109 yards on seven carries - most of that coming on a 65-yard scoring sprint in the third quarter. He also threw a short TD pass to running back Toby Gerhart in the final period. Despite that performance, coach Leslie Frazier indicated Ponder will start Sunday if healthy. The rookie has been dealing with a hip pointer and was questionable for last week's game. "The hip is getting better. I've got to go out and practice even harder this week," Ponder said. "I need to show improvement not only myself but for my team." Ponder might have some help with Frazier optimistic that Peterson could return this week. "He's a great player, arguably our best player. To have him back gives everybody a jolt," Frazier said. "I can't wait to have him back on the field in a ball game." Even with Peterson on the field, Minnesota couldn't beat the Saints in the last two meetings. He had 87 yards on 19 carries during a 14-9 loss in last season's opener at the Superdome on Sept. 9. That was a rematch of the 2009 NFC championship, won 31-28 in overtime by New Orleans as the Saints went on to their first Super Bowl title. Peterson had 122 yards and three TDs in that game, but Brees threw for three scores. Before that, though, Minnesota had won four straight in the series and eight of nine, including playoffs. The Saints are 2-12 all-time in Minnesota and have lost five in a row there, including postseason. Brees' only game at the Metrodome came in 1999, when he led Purdue to a 33-28 win over the University of Minnesota.
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