The NFC Conference Championship Game comes down to the two teams that everyone thought would be in the game for most of the season, the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints rolled to 13 straight wins to start the year before dropping three straight games to finish out the regular season. They were impressive last week though, rolling the Arizona Cardinals 45-14.
The Vikings finished the regular season 12-4 and carried that momentum into last week’s divisional round match-up by handing the Cowboys a 34-3 defeat.
FOR VIKINGS TO WIN: Minnesota needs to take the raucous crowd out of the game and try to slow down the Saints’ high-powered, quick scoring offense. It will be tough for the Vikings to win a shootout on the road. The best cure is to get Adrian Peterson involved early and often. The team’s leading rusher has failed to hit the century mark in eight straight and 10 of his last 11 games. New Orleans can be run on and if the Vikings are going to come out on top Peterson needs to be a major factor in this ballgame.
FOR SAINTS TO WIN: The key to victory for New Orleans is keeping the pressure off of Drew Brees. The Pro Bowl quarterback has been rock solid at home this season throwing 23 touchdowns and turning the ball over just four times in nine games at the Superdome. If the Vikings can approach the six sacks they had on Tony Romo last week this time around, they will throw a wrench into the Saints’ passing attack and force them to win the game on the ground. Statistically, the Saints have had success on the ground moving the ball for most of the season, but the Vikings are amongst the league’s best at plugging up the run.
KEY INJURIES: SAINTS – WR Robert Meachem (ankle, probabale), TE Jeremy Shockey (knee, questionable), CB Malcom Jenkins (hamstring, questionable); VIKINGS – WR Percy Harvin (migraines, questionable), DE Ray Edwards (knee, questionable), DT Pat Williams (ankle/foot, questionable), DT Kevin Williams (knee, questionable).
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Minnesota has a 18-7 lead in its all-time regular season series with New Orleans, and extended its winning streak over the Saints to four with a 30-27 road win in Week 5 of the 2008 season. Minnesota has won three straight at the Superdome since the Saints were 28-15 winners in a 2001 contest, a game that also marks New Orleans' most recent victory in the series.
WHAT VEGAS SAYS: The line opened with the Saints -4 and quickly moved up to -4 ½. It stayed there for only a day before its descent to -4, then -3 ½, all due to early Vikings action and no early Saints money. The total hasn't budged from opening 53.
FINAL TAKE: Flip a coin. As much as I like the Saints’ homefield advantage, I still think the Vikings have better overall talent. While much has been made over the Drew Brees vs. Brett Favre match-up, and rightfully so, I am still banking on this game coming down to which running back steps up. I still see that being Adrian Peterson, who is due for a big game.
MY PICK: VIKINGS 30, SAINTS 26