Saints-Vikings preview by the numbers: Does QB experience matter?

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Case Keenum

As you know, the Saints and Minnesota Vikings face off Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium for the right to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Here’s a look behind some of the numbers in advance of Sunday’s 3:40 p.m. kickoff:

Experience Behind Center

Much has been made – not just in the Saints-Vikings matchup, but in all of this weekend’s games – of quarterback matchups pitting veterans against playoff newbies.

Look at this weekend’s four games. On one side will be a signal-caller with no fewer than nine postseason starts, including at least one Super Bowl. On the other side will be a starter with zero or one starts – none of them in the round of eight.

In Minneapolis, Drew Brees is making his 13th playoff start (his 12th as a Saint), while Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has never started a playoff game.

The last time a quarterback won in his playoff debut against a quarterback with 10 or more postseason starts was in 2011, when Tim Tebow-led Denver knocked off Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh.

Great Eight

With a win Sunday, Brees would become the 21st quarterback in NFL history with eight career playoff victories.

Of the 20 already on the eight-win list, six are still active: Tom Brady (25), Ben Roethlisberger (13), Joe Flacco (10), Aaron Rodgers (9), Eli Manning (8) and Russell Wilson (8). They’re also the only active quarterbacks other than Brees with at least 10 postseason starts – though Matt Ryan will join that club on Saturday.

Eleven of the 14 retired quarterbacks with eight or more postseason wins are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a 12th (Peyton Manning) will no doubt join them when he becomes eligible for Canton in 2021.

Road Success

On average, slightly fewer than three of four home teams win on Divisional weekend. Since 2010, home teams are 20-8 (.714) in the Divisional round, and since the NFL playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, home teams are 79-29 (.731).

Why Do Road Teams Win?

Some of the noteworthy numbers produced by victorious road teams in the postseason…

*Last weekend, Tennessee and Atlanta averaged 35 rushing attempts, while Kansas City and the L.A. Rams ran the ball 16 times each. Ten of the last 12 winning road teams have run it more than the home team.

*The eight road winners in the divisional round this decade have stayed clean in the passing game, with 17 touchdowns to only five interceptions. The losing home teams have had a TD-to-interception ratio of 14-10.

*Losing home teams in the divisional round since 2010 have accounted for a TOTAL of two rushing touchdowns in eight games, compared to nine rushing TDs for the victorious road teams.

*All eight divisional road winners since 2010 have converted at least 38 percent on third downs.

Stop The Run

Since defeating Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints are 3-3 in postseason play, and defining wins and losses could be as simple as stopping the opponents’ running game.

In the three wins, New Orleans has held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry (58 carries for 219 yards).

In the three losses, opponents have averaged 5.8 yards per carry (81 carries for 467 yards) and gained at least 143 total yards in each game.

Win the Turnover Battle?

In the opening weekend of the playoffs, winning the turnover battle was not necessarily a defining factor – the team with more turnovers actually won two of the four games, including the Saints.

However, recent history suggests it’s a good trend. Over the last two postseasons, teams with fewer turnovers went 15-2.

Bad Trend

According to NFL.com, this is the eighth time in the 12-team playoff era (since 1990) that an offense ranked in the top two in the regular season (the Saints finished No. 2 in total offense) will face a defense ranked in the top two (the Vikings finished No. 1 in total defense) in the playoffs.

In the previous seven meetings, the defense won out six times, with the trend-breaker in 1994, when the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.

Some Good Trends…

*The Saints are 4-0 in the postseason the Brees/Sean Payton era when it has 27 or more rushing attempts. Those games are also the only four times the Saints have rushed for 110 or more yards.

*Brees is 5-0 as a Saint with a passer rating above 100 in the postseason. However, none of those five have come in true road games, and ironically, his lowest passer rating (75.6) came in New Orleans’ only victory on another team’s home field, in January 2014 at Philadelphia.

*After just four total sacks in their first seven playoff games with Payton as coach, the Saints have 13 sacks in their last four games, including four last week against Carolina.

Research assistance courtesy Pro Football Reference.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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