Brees-Keenum: Will playoff savvy prevail in Saints-Vikings?
By DAVE CAMPBELL
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Drew Brees will lead the New Orleans offense onto the field at Minnesota and commence the 13th postseason game of his stellar career, already armed with seven such victories and one Super Bowl ring for the Saints.
"I prepare for every game as if it's that magnitude," Brees said.
"When you're in games of that magnitude, it's as if you've been there and done it many times before, even if it was just in your mind."
For Case Keenum, it's truly all in his mind.
His first start in the NFL playoffs will come when the Vikings kick off their divisional round game on Sunday.
"I'm going to play like I know how to play. I don't have to be anybody but myself. Not more conservative or less conservative. Either way, I'm going to be me," said Keenum, whose successful takeover for the injured Sam Bradford helped lead the Vikings (13-3) to their best record in 19 years. "That's all I have to be. I've got a great squad in this room."
Solely measuring quarterback experience and accomplishment, the Saints have a clear advantage over the Vikings in this divisional round game to help determine the matchup in the NFC championship game. Keenum, though, has been overcoming the odds all season, let alone his career .
"I always root for guys like that. Kind of the undersized guy that is coming out and nobody wants to give him any credit and always plays with a chip on his shoulder," Brees said.
Though he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round in 2001 out of Purdue, with Keenum going undrafted out of Houston and needing the Texans practice squad to get his career going in 2012, Brees can relate. He's shorter than the NFL standard for their position, too. Oh, and they're both from Texas.
Brees added another highlight last week, with 376 passing yards to help the Saints (12-5) advance with a 31-26 victory over Carolina while the Vikings had a bye.
"Just a guy that I really admire in how he moves the ball down the field and how he operates, what kind of leader he is," Keenum said.
"I read his book a long time ago. I think he's someone to learn from. I try to watch all of the really good quarterbacks in the offseason and take little things to try to work on my game."
Here are some other angles to follow with the game:
SLOWED UP: The Pro Bowl pair of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara had the least productive combined performance for the Saints against Carolina, with just 68 total yards from scrimmage. They each had more than 1,500 total yards in 2017.
The Panthers brought one safety closer to the line of the scrimmage to spy on the running back, and it worked.
"This league is a copy-cat league so I wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota did it," Kamara said, expressing no concern about the strategy by pointing to Brees, whose passing yardage total against the Panthers was his second-highest of the season.
LINE ITEM: The Saints will be without starting left guard Andrus Peat, a versatile former first-round draft choice who also filled in for Terron Armstead at left tackle this season when he was injured. Peat broke his fibula against the Panthers.
Senio Kelemete, who has filled in at both guard spots and right tackle this season, is slated to start for Peat. Armstead, meanwhile, said he's never been close to 100 percent healthy this season.
"But it doesn't matter," Armstead said. "I'm willing and able to put my body on the line for an opportunity to play again next week."
ZONED OUT: New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen called for a relatively zone-heavy scheme in the opener, and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore recalled feeling "confused about everything" in his NFL debut other than the man-to-man coverage the Saints have been more inclined to let Lattimore play on top opposing receivers. He had five interceptions and was picked for the Pro Bowl.
"That was something that we felt like in that game was going to give us a chance to win the game, and obviously we didn't play as well as we needed to," Allen said of Minnesota's 29-19 victory fueled by a career-best 143.0 passer rating for Bradford . "Obviously, we've looked at that game and how we've changed and how we've evolved as a defense."
SUPER BOWL ENVY: New Orleans' bid for the Super Bowl this season and was considered a favorite given the city is celebrating its 300th anniversary and has long been a popular host for the NFL's marquee event. But Minnesota's bid, combining its new stadium and winter carnival approach to related festivities, won out.
Now the Vikings have an opportunity to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on home turf, a feat the Saints would be happy to deny.
"If we want to add a little underlying story to us trying to win this game, it would be nice to be able to do that," Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said.
"We've always talked about, `We want to start the season at Minnesota. We want to end the season in Minnesota,' and for us that means playing in the Super Bowl."
SITE MAP: The Saints are 1-6 in their history in the playoffs on the road, including 1-4 under coach Sean Payton. Their first and only such win came after the 2013 season, when they edged the Eagles in a wild-card round game in Philadelphia before losing the following week at Seattle.
One of those losses came in the 2000 divisional round at Minnesota. The Vikings are 13-8 in home playoff games in their history, including 6-4 indoors.
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Updated January 13, 2018