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Here we go again: Vikings big underdogs against 49ers

Minnesota is a big underdog despite plenty of evidence that they can hang with the 'Niners.
Author:
Anthony Barr

Overlooked again? It appears to be happening to the Vikings even though they sent a message to the rest of the NFL by beating the Saints in New Orleans. 

New Orleans is the first team to finish 13-3 and not make it out of wild-card weekend. That's because Minnesota held Drew Brees and Michael Thomas in check, and didn't let Alvin Kamara or Latavius Murray get going on the ground. The defensive effort was sensational despite playing without key slot corners Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander. 

It sets the stage for the Vikings and 49ers, and just as the past week unfolded, the entire world seems to be doubting Minnesota. Vegas has made the 49ers a 7-point favorite, the national media keeps downplaying the Vikings' win and claiming the NFL should've called offensive pass interference on Kyle Rudolph's game-winning touchdown. 

Did the national media see that outside of a short field that led to a field goal after an Adam Thielen fumble, the Saints only managed points on three of 11 offensive possessions? Think the Vikings couldn't have stopped the Saints again had pass interference been called, forcing Minnesota to kick a field goal and give the ball back to Brees?

And then there's a San Francisco newspaper downplaying the entire playoff field by saying the 49ers' path to the Super Bowl is paved in gold. What??

The columnist behind bold the Bay Area headline is Dieter Kurtenbach, whose tweets include cheap shots at quarterback Kirk Cousins, including one that says the Vikings are "everything but the quarterback." 

If the Vikings are everything but the quarterback with Cousins, who led the Vikings on a game-winning overtime drive in one of the loudest stadiums in the world, what does that make the 49ers? Their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, posted solid numbers but not as good as Cousins despite about 30 more pass attempts. 

  • Cousins: 3,603 yards, 26 TD, 6 INT, 107.4 passer rating, 69.1% completions
  • Garoppolo: 3,978 yards, 27 TD, 13 INT, 102.1 passer rating, 69.1% completions

Is now a good time to remind 49ers Nation that Garoppolo was intercepted three times by the 2018 Vikings? Reality check: That Vikings defense was pretty much identical to the one Garoppolo will see Saturday afternoon. 

If Mike Zimmer and Minnesota's defensive coaching staff was able to surprise Brees, just imagine what they might be able to do to a less experienced quarterback who has never been in the playoffs. 

Maybe it's just us frozen folks in Minnesota who see a trend, but once Zimmer's defense gets a grasp of an elite quarterback, it tends to shut them down on the regular. Just ask Brees or Aaron Rodgers, two of the best to ever do it, who rarely post big games against Minnesota. 

Which 49ers defense will show up?

What's more is that it's been a tale of two seasons for the 49ers, who went 5-3 in the final eight games after starting 8-0. Two of the losses were at home, to the Seahawks and Falcons. 

Perhaps the biggest key to Saturday's showdown is which 49ers defense shows up. Will it be the one that allowed a microscopic 134.3 passing yards per game the first 12 games of the season? Or the one that was chewed up for 274 passing yards on average over the final four games?

The 'Niners have also stopped forcing turnovers at an epic rate. In the first nine games of the season, they forced 20 turnovers. The last seven games they forced a total of seven. 

Let us also realize that while the 49ers had the No. 2 total defense this season, they actually allowed more points per game (19.4) than Minnesota (18.9). Just sayin'! 

Another goodie? Ok, here it is: For as fearsome as NFL wonks make Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and San Fran's pass rush sound, the 'Niners were 22nd in the NFL with 37 sacks this season. Minnesota had 50 sacks, good for third in the NFL. 

Vikings aware of past failures?

Naturally, Minnesota sports fans are waiting for the ultimate letdown and heartbreak. It could happen, but at the very least the Vikings are aware of past failures and not allowing themselves to ride too high the way they did after the Minneapolis Miracle in the 2017 playoffs. 

"The last time we won a big, emotional game in the playoffs on the last play, we went and laid an egg the following week," said tight end Kyle Rudolph, in an interview with Scott Van Pelt Sunday night. "We gotta come back on a short week and go play well in San Francisco again." 

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