When the NFL released its 2020 schedule, the Christmas Day game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints was a showcase matchup. With the two teams engaging in a trilogy of epic playoff performances, the Vikings and the Saints were sure to be in the hunt when this game hit the calendar, but that's not the case.
While the Saints are chasing the top seed in the NFC, Minnesota enters Friday's game with a two percent chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight. Such a matchup could make for a Christmas disaster in the bayou but also gives the Vikings a chance to play spoiler.
As the Vikings and Saints prepare to renew their acquaintances, we go over five questions that surround Friday's marquee game.
Can the Vikings stop the Saints' front seven?
Last week against the Bears, the Vikings were legitimately punched in the gut by Chicago's defensive line. With Akiem Hicks getting what he wanted in the middle and Khalil Mack flying in from everywhere, Kirk Cousins was pressured 17 times on 41 dropbacks which in turn sabotaged the Viking offense.
The task of keeping Cousins upright will not get easier this week as Minnesota goes up against New Orleans' front seven. In their loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Saints were able to pressure Patrick Mahomes a league-high 24 times in Week 15.
With Trey Hendrickson, Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and others looking to get in Cousins' face, this will have to be a banner performance by the Vikings' offensive line if they want to stand a chance.
Do the Vikings have an answer for Alvin Kamara?
If there's been one constant in the Vikings' performances against the Saints it's that Mike Zimmer has had an answer for Drew Brees. While a 98.9 passer rating in five career games against Zimmer isn't bad, the Saints have gone 2-3 in those games including a playoff loss last January, meaning someone else will have to step up.
The safest bet will be Alvin Kamara, who figures to be a nightmare for the beleaguered Vikings defense. While closing in on a career-high in scrimmage yards (1,516 entering Friday), Kamara is a threat not only on the ground but also in the passing game. The latter might be more important as the Vikings could be without Eric Kendricks for the third straight game leaving a gaping hole in coverage.
With Latavius Murray also lurking in the wings, the Saints rushing attack will be a problem for a defense that gave up 142 yards to David Montgomery last week. If Minnesota can't stop the run, it will be another long day for Zimmer's defense even if it contains Brees.
Will we see more from the Vikings' tight ends?
Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen have rightfully gotten the headlines, but the Vikings' tight ends have stepped up as defenses have keyed in on Minnesota's star receivers in recent weeks.
Even with Kyle Rudolph out with a foot injury, the performance of Irv Smith Jr. (seven catches, 100 yards, TD) and Tyler Conklin (eight catches, 97 yards, TD) has given the Vikings' a capable threat in the middle, which comes in handy against the Saints.
Rotoworld's C.D. Carter noted that only the Bears have given up a higher target share to tight ends than the Saints' 24.45 percent and if Thielen and Jefferson are snuffed out, it could lead to a big day in the middle of the field.
Who will show up for the Vikings?
This is the cringe-worthy question for blue (or purple?) collar Vikings fans, but it bares asking. With two games to go and a small chance of making the playoffs, there's a chance that some players may begin to check out and have their mindset on the 2021 season.
With this season also given the difficulties of the COVID-19 protocols and a 1-5 start, the main focus on the field will be toward those who want to earn a starting job or even a roster spot in 2021.
If some of the players decide they've had enough of Zimmer's ways, it's possible we could see something similar to the 2016 Christmas Eve game in Green Bay where the entire secondary went rouge. If that happens, it could put Zimmer's future job security into question.
Will the Vikings get eliminated on Christmas...again?
The last time the Vikings played on Christmas Day, it was 2005. The Vikings needed a win over Kyle Boller and the Baltimore Ravens to stay in playoff contention and a group led by Brad Johnson, Troy Williamson, and Mewelde Moore couldn't get the job done.
Just as a younger version of myself thought it was the worst Christmas ever, the Vikings may find a way to have history repeat itself on Friday.
The Saints are going to be motivated as they chase the Packers for the top seed in the NFC, but have added motivation after being bounced by the Vikings in excruciating fashion two of the past three seasons.
Sean Payton doesn't seem like someone who would forget those games and if his team is ready to go, the Vikings (and their fans) can expect a truckload of coal on Christmas.