MINNEAPOLIS — The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have been much closer in their epic NFC title game showdown on Jan. 24, 2010, an overtime thriller that Drew Brees and the Saints barely survived on their way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
Less than two years later, the two franchises could hardly be further apart.
The Saints (10-3) roll into the Metrodome today as one of the model teams in the NFC, an organization with a rock-solid foundation at the three most important positions: front office, coach and quarterback.
By no coincidence, the Saints are in first place in the NFC South, two games ahead of the Atlanta Falcons and tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the second-best record in the NFC. Even with the Green Bay Packers looking like the class of the league, the Saints still have a realistic shot at a return trip to the big game.
“We’re a veteran team that’s been through a lot,” Brees said. “We’ve kind of learned the formula for winning and sustaining success.”
The Vikings (2-11), meanwhile, have fallen off the cliff ever since Garrett Hartley’s 40-yard field goal split the uprights to end Minnesota’s hopes of their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1978. Brett Favre returned for one more ill-fated run the next year, a long, miserable 6-10 season in which coach Brad Childress was fired, Favre was embroiled in a texting scandal, Randy Moss came and went in about four weeks and the Dome’s roof collapsed.
“You really can’t explain it,” Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “It’s crazy. The Saints, they’re still a really good football team. Drew Brees still down there, working hard, making plays. I really don’t know what’s going on. We really can’t put our finger on it.”
The Vikings have lost five games in a row, but they will get star running back Adrian Peterson back today.
STEELERS: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger practiced Saturday but remains questionable for Monday night’s game at San Francisco.
Roethlisberger sprained his left ankle during a 14-3 win over Cleveland on Dec. 8. Guard Ramon Foster said Roethlisberger didn’t move around much during practice but had no problem throwing the ball.
Veteran Charlie Batch will get the start if Roethlisberger can’t play.
Safety Troy Polamalu (right hamstring) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (left hamstring) are probable, but the Steelers will be without center Maurkice Pouncey (left ankle sprain) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (sprained right foot).
Doug Legursky will start at center in place of Pouncey, while Trai Essex will take Legursky’s spot at left guard.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (illness) and wide receiver Arnaz Battle (hamstring) are questionable.
BILLS: Signed defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert.
Gilbert has been on the Jets practice squad.