Going into Week 19, doubt surrounded a couple of teams that remained in the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers, for one, were not able to rely on their defense to have a chance of winning on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints.
The other, the New York Giants were facing off against a team with the best record in football, the Green Bay Packers. They had Rodgers, who is most likely to be this year's MVP.
But, with it being the playoffs, nothing goes as planned. Especially this year in the NFC.
49ers vs. Saints
Fans had to be surprised when the 49ers started their home game versus the Saints with 17 unanswered points. QB Alex Smith was doing his best Drew Brees impression by throwing two TD in the first quarter.
But the high couldn't last long. Drew Brees took control of the rest of the half, countering with 14 unanswered points to bring the Saints within three points of a tie.
The 49ers wasted no time. They scored on the first possession of the second half with a 41-yard field goal from David Akers. This would also be the only scoring drive of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with the teams swapping field goal scores, keeping San Francisco ahead by six. The third quarter field goal would be the start of five consecutive scoring drives.
Brees scored on the following drive by throwing a TD to Sproles and gave the Saints their first lead of the game.
Alex Smith responded by bringing the 49ers 85 yards down the field. The drive culminated with Smith rushing 28 yards to score the touchdown himself. The 49ers went for the two-point conversion, but the attempt failed, leaving the 49ers up by five.
Brees responded with a passing touchdown, and his attempt at a two-point conversion was good, bringing the Saints ahead by three.
Which performance was more disappointing?
With 1:37 left on the clock, the 49ers needed at least a field goal to tie the game for a potential trip to overtime. Alex Smith didn't care for that scenario, so he instead led the 49ers down the field and threw an amazing TD to Vernon Davis.
Combined with a David Akers extra point, the 49ers were up by four with 0:09 left on the clock. Brees would not respond to this score, leaving the 49ers with an upset win over the Saints.
While the Saints and 49ers kept it relatively close throughout the game, the same could not be said about the Giants and Packers game.
Giants vs. Packers
The Giants travelled to Lambeau Field, home of the 15-1 Packers. The game started out with the two teams each scoring a field goal with the first 10 minutes.
Eli then marched the Giants offense down the field for 80 yards in under two minutes. The end result was a 66-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks for a TD.
The Packers returned the favor with a scoring drive at the beginning of the second quarter. Rodgers connecting to John Kuhn for an eight-yard TD. This would be the last scoring we would see from Rodgers and the Packers in the half, but the same could not be said for the Giants.
The Giants would put 10 more points on the board, including a second TD pass to Nicks. That gave the Giants a 10-point lead going into halftime.
The second half started a bit slow. In the five drives of the third quarter, only Green Bay scored with a Mason Crosby 35-yard field goal. Crosby's field goal would bring the game within one score going into the fourth quarter.
It wouldn't matter though, as the fourth quarter belonged to the Giants. While the Giants were able to score two more touchdowns and a field goal, it seemed that the Packers couldn't keep up.
The Packers fourth quarter involved one touchdown (Rodgers to Donald Driver), an Aaron Rodgers sack and interception, a fumble and a failed on-side kick.
The Giants not only took the win away from the Packers—favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs—but did so by beating them by three scores in Lambeau Field.
Who will win the NFC Championship?
The MVPs Were Outplayed
So what caused the upset of both games on the NFC side of the playoff matchups?
For starters, MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were both outplayed by the opposing quarterback. Brees completed 40 of 63 passes for 462 yards, accompanied by four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Alex Smith did not throw any interceptions, but did complete 24 of 42 passes for 299 yards and three TDs. The other touchdown the 49ers scored? Oh, that was ran in by Alex Smith too.
At the beginning of the season, both the Manning brothers brought attention to themselves and their gameplay. Peyton underwent three surgeries, went from being out a few weeks to a few months, and finally was out for the whole 2011 season.
His brother, Eli, spent the beginning of the season stating that he should be considered amongst the elite quarterbacks of the league. And boy, did Eli prove his case. He grew into his own while not having to be in his brother's shadow.
This continued throughout the playoffs and, more importantly, this game. Eli completed 21 of 33 passes for 330 yards, scoring a trio of TD and throwing one interception. Eli averaged 10 yards per completion, which trumped Aaron Rodgers's 5.7.
Rodgers final stat line read 26 of 46 for 264 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and one interception. Aaron Rodgers lit up the 2011 season for the Packers, but failed to translate this in the playoffs, at home.
But it's true what they say. Defenses decide games. If you don't believe it, re-watch both of these games, and you will see how they handled Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
It will be another battle of the defenses next week in the NFC Championship.