At the beginning of the playoffs, experts predicted anyone coming out of the NFC to play in the Super Bowl. The six teams were all equally matched, with high-power offenses and less-than-stellar defenses.
The first defense that really steps up will win the game. Arizona stepped up against Green Bay, ending the game on a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Dallas's defense just stuffed Philadelphia the first week of playoffs.
Last week, Minnesota's defense took it to Dallas, having six sacks as a team and keeping Tony Romo under constant pressure. New Orleans did not need much of a defense, but had one sack, one forced fumble, one interception, seven passes defensed, and a killer hit on Kurt Warner.
This week, Minnesota heads down south to face New Orleans. The number one offense against the number five offense. This is the fifth time two top scoring teams in the league will meet in the Conference Championship Game.
What defense will step up? Or, will this be a "whoever has the ball last wins" type of game? Here are each team's keys to victory, along with a prediction at the end.
Minnesota is 2-0 against New Orleans all-time in the postseason. They had a few key players missing practice time this week in DT Kevin Williams, DE Ray Edwards, and WR Percy Harvin.
Brett Favre has to protect the ball this week. The Saints have the 26th ranked pass defense. Favre cannot give them any sort of freebie or short field.
The Vikings have to be able to rush the ball and use that as their first offensive attack. The Saints have given up 689 yards and seven rushing touchdowns their past five games. Peterson should have no problems against this rush defense.
Jared Allen and Ray Edwards need to pressure Drew Brees. They combined for four sacks and two forced fumbles last week against Dallas. Edwards has a knee injury. If he does not play, this is bad news for the Vikings.
Last week, Brees had free-reign to throw the ball against Arizona. Arizona had no sacks and barely pressured Brees.
Minnesota's defense has to really step up this week. They need to put constant pressure on Brees and not give up any huge plays. The Saints are explosive—they can strike at any moment.
The Minnesota secondary needs to bump receivers and keep tight coverage. Let Brees have the dump passes but nothing for a big gain.
New Orleans Saints
Let's face it: The Saints have the best offense in the league. They need to continue exploding this week. They need big plays from Drew Brees and Reggie Bush.
Brees needs to keep spreading the ball around to keep Minnesota on their toes. Last week, Brees threw to six different receivers. The Saints activated Adrian Arrington from the practice squad, so this adds another potential receiver.
Reggie Bush needs to have a big play early in the game this week. He had a punt return for a touchdown last week, but it was when Arizona was already down 24 points.
The Saints need to use their homefield advantage. Keep the noise level up and the crowd in the game. They need to score early and often.
The Saints' offensive line needs to protect Brees. The Minnesota defensive line is a scary bunch. In their first loss this season, the Saints gave up four sacks. The less pressure on Brees, the better.
The biggest factor in the game will be the Saints defense. Last week, they only allowed 14 points, but did not have very impressive stats.
Darren Sharper needs to step up and pick off a couple Favre passes.
So far, the NFC playoff games have been much more exciting than the AFC games. This game will be no exception.
New Orleans has homefield advantage, the No. 1 offense in the league, and multiple weapons. They also have the 25th-ranked defense and a lack of rush defense right now.
Minnesota has Brett Favre with tons of experience, AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, and Adrian Peterson. They have a defensive line that is coming off a six-sack performance.
Both teams are pretty similar, with the defensive edge definetly going to Minnesota. They both have explosive offenses and an X-factor in Harvin and Bush. Whoever makes the last big play will win.
New Orleans is playing at home. They have only reached the NFC Championship Game twice in history. The last time, they lost on the road to the Chicago Bears.
Minnesota has Favre, who is not done. He will not retire until he has a Super Bowl victory. This could be his best chance with all the weapons.
The edge will go to New Orleans for playing at home. Minnesota will get their pressure and two sacks, but Brees will still throw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Reggie Bush will have at least one explosive punt return to give the Saints great field position.
Minnesota will match New Orleans all game point for point. In the late third quarter or early fourth quarter, Favre will make a mistake, leading to a Darren Sharper interception.
This will give the Saints great field position, leading to a touchdown and kill any momentum for the Vikings.
Bottom line, the Saints will win 45 - 42.