Revenge can be overrated but it's a real factor this week for the Saints against the Vikings

Sean Payton and Drew Brees have revenge on their minds.

Jeff Diamond
October 24, 2018 - 3:43 pm

(Photo by Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

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By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM, hosts The Players Show with Mike Max and Harrison Smith or Dalvin Cook live Mondays 5:30 at the Lone Oak Grill in Eagan. Listen on 830 AM WCCO, register on Facebook to attend in person or subscribe via Google Play, Stitcher or iTunes.  The show is presented by the Select Minnesota Buick GMC Dealers.

We're hearing a lot this week about the revenge factor in Sunday night's meeting of division leaders with the Saints supposedly coming to U.S. Bank Stadium seeking to even the score after last January's stunning finish to the divisional playoff game.

Players, coaches and fans of the Vikings and Saints will never forget the 61-yard pass play from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs that was dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle. It was the play of the year in the NFL and in Vikings history and it finished off an up and down thriller that saw the Saints come roaring back from a 17-0 halftime deficit behind Drew Brees' sensational second half. There were four lead changes in the final three minutes before Diggs broke the Saints hearts, helped by safety Marcus Williams' incredible whiffed tackle.

But do professional athletes, their coaches and team execs really think about avenging a heartbreaking loss the next time the two teams meet?

As a longtime NFL exec, I'd say it depends on the specific game and the nature of the rivalry. In the case of the toughest loss of my NFL career--the 1998 NFC title game win in overtime by the Falcons over our Vikings--I didn't feel animosity towards Atlanta and I don't think our players or coaches did as we did not have a rivalry with the Falcons and we knew there were plenty of opportunities to win that game beyond the Gary Anderson missed field goal.

But when my top-seeded Titans team was knocked out of the playoffs by a talkative Ravens team in 2000, we felt a strong revenge factor when we beat them in Baltimore in the 2003 playoffs (even though it was three years later) on the same Gary Anderson's 41 yard field goal against the wind with one minute left (that was the day I finally was able to forgive Gary for missing the potential game-clincher in the '98 title game...just kidding, I never blamed Gary for that loss even though the entire state of Minnesota did).

Back to the Saints mindset coming into Sunday night's exciting matchup of two of the NFL's top passing offenses, I believe that Saints Coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates who were there last January definitely have revenge on their minds. They believe that they had the playoff game won (remember Payton mocking the Minnesota home crowd by imitating the Skol clap after the Saints took a 24-23 lead). The Saints surely feel that the Vikings' miracle finish may well have robbed them of a second Super Bowl title.

Granted there are a dozen or so players on each team that weren't involved last time. But with this game being in Week 8 of the following season and in the same stadium, it's a fresh scab for the returning Saints players and coaches and that group includes their main cast of characters--Payton, Brees (leading the NFL in passer rating and has 13 TD passes and no interceptions thus far), star running back Alvin Kamara (725 combined yards rushing/receiving and 7 TDs), top receiver Michael Thomas (53 catches), great pass rusher Cam Jordan (five sacks for the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan) and kicker Wil Lutz whose 43 yard field goal gave the Saints a one-point lead with 25 seconds remaining.  

Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer will remind his defensive players of Brees' dominant second half when he threw for 177 yards and three TDs. And he'll tell his team to expect an emotional Saints team.

"The Saints will come in with a chip on their shoulder because that's who they are," Zimmer said.

There's a lot at stake for both teams who are clinging to first place in their tight division races. The Vikings at 4-2-1 are in an NFC North where none of the teams has a losing record and the Packers are just a half game back (but have a tough game at the undefeated Rams on Sunday). The Saints at 5-1 have the Panthers one game back.

Another factor on both coaches' minds is that the winner of this game stands a better chance of gaining one of the NFC's top two seeds for home-field advantage at least through the divisional round if they go on to win their divisions. Certainly, Payton would rather see the Vikings in New Orleans come playoff time than face another trip to noisy U.S. Bank Stadium.

If the Vikings have most of their injured players back (they were missing eight starters at the end of the Jets game), I like their chances to beat the Saints in a high scoring game with the dynamic trio of Kirk Cousins, record-breaking Adam Thielen and Diggs making the difference (plus Kyle Rudolph has not caught a TD pass the past four games so it could be his time).

Both defenses are excellent against the run so it will be interesting to see if either offense can make any headway on the ground to provide some balance to help their quarterback and the passing game.  

If Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph can't play or aren't 100%, it could be a rough night for the Purple against the NFL's leading passer in the ageless Brees so keep an eye on the Minnesota injury reports.

One thing is for sure--NBC will lead off the telecast with the 10,000th replay of the Minneapolis Miracle finish.

Around the NFL observations:

1. Is it time to push the panic button for last year's Super Bowl champs in Philly (after blowing a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead at home in their loss to Carolina)? Not yet since the NFC East can still be had. And how about the AFC runner-up Jaguars who benched QB Blake Bortles and seem to have a lot of internal issues. But again, the AFC South is no powerhouse division with Houston leading at 4-3. The Eagles and Jags meet in London this week so one of these 3-4 teams will get back to .500 (unless they tie).  

2. Watch out for Detroit...the Lions have won three of their last four including home wins over New England and Green Bay as they have rebounded from their 0-2 start that included an embarrassing opening night home loss to the Jets. The Vikings have a home date with the Lions next week.

3. The Bears are a dropped interception against Green Bay and a Hail Mary that fell one yard short against the Patriots from possibly being 5-1. They have lost two straight but the Jets visit to Soldier Field this week should get them back on the winning track.