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Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints Prediction: The NFL Returns to London

NFC playoff hopefuls look to pick up a key win across the pond.

The 2022 NFL International Series gets started with the Minnesota Vikings taking on the New Orleans Saints in London's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. This Week 4 matchup is one of three games that will be played in London this season (New York Giants-Green Bay in Week 5, Denver-Jacksonville in Week 8), along with games in Mexico City (San Francisco-Arizona in Week 11), and, for the first time, Munich, Germany (Seattle-Tampa Bay in Week 10).

The Vikings (2-1) come into this game after orchestrating a fourth-quarter rally that erased a 10-point deficit at home against Detroit and set the stage for Kirk Cousins' game-winning touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn with less than a minute on the clock. The 28-24 victory gave Minnesota its second in NFC North play after beating Green Bay 23-7 in Week 1.

The Saints (1-2) weren't as fortunate, as their offense flopped through three scoreless quarters on the road against Carolina. New Orleans scored two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, but Jameis Winston also threw two drive-killing interceptions as the Panthers won 22-14.

Related: NFL Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

The Vikings lead the all-time series 23-13 with the team splitting the four most recent matchups. During this span, the Saints won the two regular-season games with Minnesota coming out on top in the playoffs.

Both teams are 2-0 in games played in London. The Vikings defeated the Steelers in 2013 and the Browns in 2017. The Saints beat the Chargers in 2008 and the Dolphins in 2017.

NFL International Series: Minnesota (2-1) vs. New Orleans (1-2)

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 9:30 a.m. ET
Where: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (London)
TV: NFL Network
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Vikings -2.5
Tickets: As low as $135 on SITickets.com

Three Things to Watch

1. Saints' rushing attack vs. Vikings' run defense
New Orleans is averaging 111.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 17th in the NFL. Alvin Kamara, despite missing the Week 2 game against Tampa Bay, leads the team in both carries and rushing yards (100), although he's yet to score a touchdown. Mark Ingram II is second with 98 yards on 19 attempts. Taysom Hill, who is still involved in the running game even though he's switched to tight end (and part-time Wildcat QB), has chipped in 95 yards on seven carries. Hill and Ingram also have a rushing touchdown. 

But a closer look at the numbers provides some reasons to be concerned. In Week 1 the Saints ran for a season-best 151 yards. This total is skewed by two big plays  a 57-yard gain and an 11-yard TD run  by Hill. Atlanta made some second-half adjustments to counter Hill when he lined up at quarterback, and he managed just 13 more rushing yards on two other carries.

Additionally, ball security has been an issue in the backfield. Against the Falcons, Ingram fumbled after a catch, which Atlanta recovered. It gave the Falcons the ball at the Saints' 36-yard line — although Marcus Mariota coughed it up five plays later with New Orleans recovering at its own 5-yard line, so no harm no foul. But the next week, Ingram fumbled it in the red zone (after a nine-yard gain), taking away any chance the Saints had at breaking a 3-3 stalemate late in the third quarter. Last Sunday, it was Kamara who coughed up the ball, and his fumble was returned 44 yards for a touchdown and the first score of the game.

Minnesota is giving up 137.7 rushing yards per game, which places them 24th in the league. In Week 1, Green Bay averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Philadelphia (163 yds.) and Detroit (139) also had success on the ground. The Vikings have given up five rushing touchdowns, but it's not like they are getting gashed by one player either. Only one individual has gone for more than 80 yards thus far  Detroit's Jamaal Williams had 87 yards on 20 carries last week. So while New Orleans may be able to move the ball on the ground against Minnesota, don't count on this being a breakout game for Kamara.

2. Vikings' wide receivers vs. the Saints' secondary
Justin Jefferson's contributions have diminished over the course of the season. In Week 1, he hauled in nine of 11 targets for 184 yards and two touchdowns. In the next game at Philadelphia, he caught six of 12 for 48 yards. Last Sunday, his receptions and targets both were cut in half, resulting in just receiving 14 yards on three receptions.

Fortunately for Minnesota, while Jefferson's production has decreased, Adam Thielen's has gone the other direction. After catching three passes (on four targets) for 36 yards in the opener, Thielen and Cousins hooked up four times (seven targets) for 52 yards in Week 2. Last week, it was six grabs (eight targets) for 61 yards and a touchdown.

Wide receiver production is even more important with running back Dalvin Cook dealing with a shoulder injury. Cook did take part in practice this week, but he reportedly may play with a brace on his shoulder, so he likely won't see his usual workload on Sunday.

New Orleans' passing defense has steadily improved even if it hasn't shown up in the win-loss column. in Week 1, Mariota finished with 215 passing yards and wasn't sacked. Against Tampa Bay, Tom Brady went for 188 yards through the air and was sacked once. Last week, the Saints got to Carolina's Baker Mayfield three times and limited him to 148 passing yards. The defense also is still looking for its first interception of the season.

So which trend will continue or be reversed? Can Jefferson get back to his All-Pro production level or will Thielen continue to be Cousins' top target? Will New Orleans be able to limit Cousins' numbers while getting consistent pressure on him and halt his decline while Thielen continues his upward trajectory? Will the Saints keep reducing the number of passing yards allowed while increasing the number of sacks and interceptions?

3. Has Winston become more of a liability than an asset?
For a moment last season, it seemed like Winston had turned the page on his wild passing days. In seven starts, he had 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. But through three games this season, he has four TDs to a league-high five picks.

There are myriad reasons for his struggles. A porous offensive line that contributed to 11 sacks — matching last year's total — hasn't helped. And Winston has also be dealing with four fractures in his back, which has limited his mobility and will sideline him for Sunday's game.

In his stead, the Saints will turn to backup Andy Dalton, who will be seeing his first action with New Orleans after signing in free agency. Could that actually be a good thing, considering Winston's play this year? That remains to be seen. His 3-3 record with the Bears, before Justin Fields took over, belie disappointing stats. He had career lows in QBR (33.6), yards per attempt (6.4), interception rate (3.8 percent), and sack rate (7.1 percent). Dalton has much better weapons to work with in New Orleans than he had in Chicago, but his numbers aren't encouraging.

Final Analysis

Minnesota has sandwiched two wins against NFC North foes at home in between a blowout MFN loss at Philadelphia. Now the Vikings need to show that they can compete and win on the road, or in this case, overseas.

New Orleans has stumbled to a 1-2 start with all of those games coming against the NFC South. The Saints need this game to avoid falling into deep of a hole. Both teams have injury issues, but it seems like New Orleans' are a little bigger right now and that could be enough to tilt this game in favor of Minnesota.

Prediction: Vikings 23, Saints 20

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridiron-connoisseur.com and on YouTube.

*Price as of publication.