Saints look to clinch NFC South with victory over Vikings

FILE – In this Sept. 21, 2020 file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, speak with quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas. This week, the Saints take on surging Minnesota and are favored by 7 points. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)

By BARRY WILNER
With the NFL opting not to play a Thursday game on Christmas Eve, it moved the prime-time showcase to late afternoon Friday and sent Minnesota down to New Orleans.

The game doesn’t have the same headline-grabbing potential with the Saints (10-4) unlikely to secure the NFC’s only playoff bye, which Green Bay currently owns, and the Vikings (6-8) not going anywhere. Still, it provides some noteworthy viewing appeal.

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara have had two of the most productive seasons of any running backs. Rookie receiver Justin Jefferson has been outstanding for the Vikings as the replacement for the traded Stefon Diggs.

The Saints have been staunch on defense much of the year, and they have quarterback Drew Brees back — and presumably not rusty like he was in his return last week against the Chiefs.

“You want to be playing your best football going into the playoffs,” Brees says, noting that the Saints still need to clinch the NFC South ahead of Tampa Bay (9-5) and can do so with a win. “The most important factor right now is for us to win and win the division, right? And then, continue to kind of build on and ascend, going into the playoffs.”

No. 18 Minnesota is a 7-point underdog at No. 4 New Orleans. Merry Christmas, Saints.

SAINTS, 27-16

KNOCKOUT POOL: The Titans kept us flowing with their romp past Detroit. Getting down to the end of available teams worth taking, but Pro Picks kept a good one: NEW ORLEANS.


No. 2 Buffalo (minus 5) at No. 19 New England, Monday night

The Bills’ chance to further erase some of that recent ugly history vs. the Patriots.

BEST BET: BILLS, 28-19


No. 22 (tie) Philadelphia (minus 1 1-2) at No. 24 Dallas

Both teams will be eliminated in NFC East if Washington wins.

UPSET SPECIAL: COWBOYS, 27-24


No. 27 Carolina (plus 2 1-2) at No. 16 Washington

How sweet for Ron Rivera, clinching the division against the team that fired him.

WASHINGTON, 17-16


No. 7 Indianapolis (minus 2 1-2) at No. 10 Pittsburgh

The sky is falling in Steel City.

COLTS, 19-17


No. 12 Los Angeles Rams (plus 1 1-2) at No. 6 Seattle

What was that last Sunday from the Rams? They will show up this time.

RAMS, 20-17


No. 5 Tennessee (plus 3 1-2) at No. 3 Green Bay

Lambeau in January? The Packers are having sweet dreams of staying home for the playoffs.

PACKERS, 26-24


No. 21 New York Giants (plus 11) at No. 9 Baltimore

Suddenly, the Ravens are rolling and look dangerous for January.

RAVENS, 30-16


No. 25 San Francisco (plus 5) at No. 14 Arizona, Saturday

The Cardinals are creeping closer to the postseason.

CARDINALS, 27-20


No. 13 Miami (minus 3) at No. 17 Las Vegas, Saturday

So are the Dolphins, maybe a year ahead of expectations.

DOLPHINS, 28-22


No. 11 Tampa Bay (minus 9 1-2) at No. 26 Detroit, Saturday

The Lions can score just enough to keep this close without winning.

BUCCANEERS, 27-20


No. 29 Atlanta (plus 12) at No. 1 Kansas City

The Falcons can score just enough to keep this close without winning.

CHIEFS, 33-23


No. 8 Cleveland (minus 9 1-2) at No. 31 New York Jets

Sorry, J-E-T-S, we’re just not buying another shocking victory.

BROWNS, 31-10


No. 30 Cincinnati (plus 8) at No. 28 Houston

Seems like a lot of points for such a weak team to lay, even against another tail-ender.

TEXANS, 22-16


No. 15 Chicago (minus 7 1-2) at No. 32 Jacksonville

Now that Trevor Lawrence can go house-hunting in Jacksonville …

BEARS, 22-13


No. 22 (tie) Denver (plus 3) at No. 20 Los Angeles Chargers

The QB choices alone, Justin Herbert and Drew Lock, have us leaning to …

CHARGERS, 33-18

___

2020 RECORD

Last Week: Straight up: 11-5. Against spread: 6-8-2

Season: Straight up: 147-75-1. Against spread: 109-98-7

Best Bet: Straight up: 11-4. Against spread: 7-8

Upset Special: Straight up: 6-9. Against spread: 6-7-2

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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