Over the course of the 2009 regular season, the New Orleans Saints became the most feared team in the NFL. They manhandled an undefeated New York Giants team, had a miraculous comeback against the Miami Dolphins, and on national television dominated the New England Patriots worse than any team had dominated the Patriots in a long, long time.
Then it looked as if the wheels were starting to come off. First, the Saints went to overtime with a weak Redskins team, then they let a Ryan/Turner-less Falcons team give them four quarters. Finally, the roof caved in against the Dallas Cowboys, who in week 15 handed New Orleans it's first loss. The Buccaneers would go on to embarrass a Saints team with everything to play, the next week the Saints would rest their starters and fall to the Panthers to end 2009 13-3, after starting 13-0.
If momentum and shifting identity was a question for one team entering the playoffs, it was the New Orleans Saints. The entire nation wondered aloud "what Saints team would we get on Saturday against Arizona?" After a 45-14 bruising of the Cardinals (and it could have been a lot worse if the Saints wanted it to be), the Saints shut up the momentum question.
But what about that identity question? Of the final four teams, the Saints are easily the scariest team remaining, mostly because opposing coaches don't know what team they'll get. Will they get the team that can run for over two hundred yards on you or the team that can pass for 500 on you? Will they be the defense that rattled Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Matt Ryan, or would they be the defense that allowed Dallas and Tampa Bay to have their way with them.
There's no denying the Saints have the potential to be a complete team, but it's also hard to argue the Saints as the most complete team in the playoffs. Actually it's a lot easier to discount the Jets passing offense woes and consider the Saints the least-balanced team remaining in the NFL playoffs.
The Vikings proved last week that they can rush the passer. If the Vikings can get pressure on Brees, and rattle the passing attack it's going to come down to the rushing attack of the Saints to win this game. Last week the Saints running game looked great against a weak Cardinals defense; meanwhile the Vikings run D looked pretty weak last week before the Cowboys offensive line imploded. In other words, going with the run against the Vikings may not be the worst tactic.
This weekends Saints-Vikings game is going to be decided in the first half, just like last weekends respective Saints and Vikings games. The play may be close, but the score probably won't be. The way both of these teams finished their seasons, it's hard to imagine both teams bringing their "A game" on Sunday. It's hard to trust Favre, but it's also hard to trust a team who flat out lost to the Buccaneers with home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line.
We'll find out Sunday afternoon.