Call it an NFC Nouth Division matchup, or maybe an NFC Sorth scrap.
The New Orleans Saints (5-1, first place in the NFC South) and Vikings (4-2-1, first in the NFC North) may not belong to the same division, but it seems that way. They've seen each other enough in the last in the last 14 months that their nationally televised, Sunday night game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis has a bit of that feel to it.
This will be the third time New Orleans will have played Minnesota in its last 25 games (including playoffs), and it'll be the third time the Vikings have looked across the field and seen the Saints in their last 26. The Saints opened and closed last year at U.S. Bank, with losses in the regular-season opener (29-19) and the NFC Divisional Playoff (29-24).
The teams may not be able to close their eyes and know what the other wants to do on offense and defense, but they probably have a solid notion.
"I do feel a little bit like it's a division game, relative to we played them twice last year, here they are on film, we've got all these different cut-ups, sources of information," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "There are some similarities that way, just because of the amount of times we've played them a season ago."
"Sometimes it feels that way," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "I remember when I was in Carolina, we had the same thing with Seattle. We played them three, four times in a two-year period. I feel like that's the same thing with Minnesota now, and I probably would put my money that we'll see them again next year, somehow. Or in the playoffs again. They're becoming very familiar."
That assists with the film study.
Not that the Vikings, or Saints, aren't capable of unveiling a new look or nuance to their respective repertoires. But the teams have gained a good understanding of each's personality and tendencies.
"Yeah, they are just so consistent," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of the Viking defense. "They are really good with the scheme that they run. (Minnesota coach) Mike Zimmer does a great job with those guys.
"They've got great players, too, just across the board. You have seven or eight Pro Bowlers on that defense so, obviously, they are very talented. They play very well together. Just an extremely solid defense."
The Vikings are the league's best third-down defense (23 percent conversion rate allowed) and have totaled 21 sacks. The unit likely will be bolstered by the return of defensive end Everson Griffen, an All-Pro last season and a three-time Pro Bowler. Griffen spent five weeks away from football dealing with personal issues related to mental health, returned to practice this week and likely will play Sunday night.
The offense also presents problems, with quarterback Kirk Cousins (2,162 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions) and receivers Adam Thielen (67 catches, 822 yards, five touchdowns) and Stefon Diggs (48-468-3) leading the way.
Even though Cousins is new to the Vikings, the offensive scheme didn't totally change.
"It helps (to have played them twice last season), but I know they'll have a flavor of the week," Klein said. "They'll give us something that either was carried over from last year, or something that we just haven't seen or something that we haven't done effectively in other games. This league is a copycat league, so it wouldn't surprise if we see some routes show up that we've struggled on the past few weeks."
The Saints are certain to present several twists, too. Every little bit helps against a "division" rival.