NFL Nation: 09 vikings-saints final word

AFC Championship: Graham | Kuharsky NFC Championship: Seifert | Yasinskas

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings (13-4) and the New Orleans Saints (14-3).


Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesA victory in the NFC Championship Game would be a signature win for quarterback Drew Brees.
1. This is Drew Brees' game. Yes, all the hype has been about Brett Favre. When a 40-year-old legend gets his team this far, that's expected. But I think this game is more about the legacy of Brees. For the past few years, he has put up numbers that put him in the conversation with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Favre as the league’s best quarterback. But the one thing Brees doesn’t have that they all do is a signature win. It might be time for Brees to sign his autograph.

2. Reggie Bush will be a huge factor. I wrote in this space a week ago that Bush would be a huge factor against the Cardinals -- and he was. My logic was simple. When you throw a bunch of good athletes on the field, the best athlete out there will rise up and make plays. Once again, I think Bush is the best athlete stepping onto the Superdome floor Sunday.

3. Matchup of the week? It seems like the ultimate mismatch with New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod going against Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen. On paper, it probably is. But let’s face it, the Saints aren’t going to leave Bushrod on an island by himself. They’ve been covering him up with help all season as he’s filled in for an injured Jammal Brown. Bushrod hasn’t really been exploited because the Saints help him and their offense is designed for Brees to get rid of the ball quickly. This matchup might not be as big a deal as many people think.

4. Payton’s big chance. We already mentioned how important this game is for Brees’ status. It’s kind of the same deal for his coach, Sean Payton. This will be two NFC Championship Games in four seasons. Win this one and Payton will go from being just a great offensive mind to being a great head coach.

5. Sharper image. We’ve heard all week about New Orleans safety Darren Sharper's familiarity with Favre. A lot of people have said that could work to the Saints’ advantage. But Payton has done his best to downplay that aspect and frequently said players going against former teams is overrated. I disagree. I think Sharper’s knowledge of Favre is important, and I’m guessing that the Saints have been tapping into it all week. But I think the real issue here isn’t so much what Sharper can tell his teammates. I think it’s whether Sharper can take all his knowledge of Favre and come up with an interception against his former teammate.

AFC Championship: Graham | Kuharsky NFC Championship: Seifert | Yasinskas

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings (13-4) and the New Orleans Saints (14-3).

1. Hopefully you’ve caught most of our preview work this week. If not, click here for a filtered refresher. New Orleans and Minnesota seem pretty evenly matched, but one fact seems clear: We’re guaranteed a fresh NFC storyline no matter who advances to the Super Bowl. The Vikings have lost in their past four appearances in the NFC Championship Game (1977, 1987, 1998 and 2000) and haven’t been in the Super Bowl since the 1976 season. The Saints, meanwhile, are making only their second appearance in this game. It’s the first time they’ve hosted it. If they win, the Saints will become the first team in NFL history to advance to the Super Bowl after losing its final three regular-season games.


AP Photo/Paul BattagliaThe Saints will want to put more than one person on Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen.
2. Recent Saints-Vikings games have been wild, and the circumstances of this game -- the teams ranked No. 1-2 in scoring this season -- promise another entertaining affair. There have been four other conference championship games that featured the regular season’s top two scoring teams. Seven of the eight participants scored at least 20 points in those games, and the winner has always scored at least 30 points. The only offense that went belly-up in that situation was the 1989 Los Angeles Rams, who lost 30-3 to San Francisco. So if you’re into the over-under, odds are you should take the over.

3. Defensive linemen Ray Edwards and Kevin Williams both are battling knee injuries and won’t be 100 percent for Sunday’s game. That will place even more emphasis on the matchup between Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen and New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod. It would make sense for the Saints to give Bushrod plenty of help, but they probably will balance it with their schematic desire to get tight ends and running backs into the pass routes. Allen has torn up most one-on-one matchups he’s faced this season and is fast enough to get to quarterback Drew Brees even on three-step drops.

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