The New Orleans Saints are two wins away from the Super Bowl.
Thanks to their emotional wild card win against the Carolina Panthers, this already qualifies as a happy new year.
But a win Sunday against the mighty Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional playoffs would kick-start our great city’s tri-centennial celebration. Bourbon Street would be a sea of Saints fans doing the Sean Payton.
Not even the most hardcore Who Dat expected the Saints to go this far this soon. After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, most Saints fans would have settled for a winning season as a totem of progress in the club’s rebuilding plan.
But here they are, two steps away from going somewhere they’ve been only once before in the franchise’s 51-year history.
And the most treacherous step in the journey occurs Sunday,
The Saints have played in only five of these games ever. They are difficult to reach and even more difficult to win, especially on the road. The Saints have never won a divisional playoff game outside the Superdome. They lost in Seattle (2013), San Francisco (2011) and in Minneapolis (2000).
The challenge is evident.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead unequivocally called the Vikings “our biggest challenge of the season” and he wasn’t simply toeing the company line.
By most accounts, the Vikings are the best team in the NFC and the most likely to represent the conference in Super Bowl LII. They went 13-3 this season, including a 29-19 victory against the Saints in the season opener Sept. 11. They have won seven of eight games at U.S. Bank Stadium and are 12-4 there since it opened in 2017.
Minnesota is motivated by history and opportunity. The Vikings’ infamous 0-4 record in the Super Bowl is tied with Buffalo for the worst in the NFL. Vikings fans have also suffered the heartbreak of losing not one but two conference championship games in overtime on sudden-death field goals.
If you thought being a Saints fan during the Mecom years was tough, think about our neighbors at the other end of the Mississippi River. At least, it’s warm in New Orleans.
Fate has alighted on the Vikings’ 2017-2018 season. Minneapolis is playing host to Super Bowl LII and the club’s best team in recent memory has earned a gilded path to it. No team in NFL history has ever played the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
“I know the history of the Vikings and trying to get to a Super Bowl and win a Super Bowl,” Morstead said. “I’m sure their fans are itching for a chance at that and the fact that they could host a Super Bowl themselves if they make it. I’m sure they feel great about where they sit.”
The Vikings aren’t the Falcons or Panthers. Yet, there’s plenty of history between these teams, and for the Saints, most of it isn’t pleasant.
The Vikings own a dominant 19-10 all-time record against the Saints, including a 13-3 mark in the Twin Cities. It’s the Saints’ lowest winning percentage against any NFC rival and in any NFC city.
The Saints did win the most significant matchup…