(Note: Before you read this in the NFC Playoffs in past articles I am 2-2 picking the winners of the playoff games. The two games I picked incorrectly were Green Bay when their defense did not show up against Arizona and Dallas when their offensive line and defense did not show up against Minnesota. You can read link one and link two to see my past picks)
The story line in the NFC Championship Game featuring Minnesota and New Orleans could be the city versus the man. The Saints lead the hopes of an entire city after the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina and the Vikings can take the legend of Brett Favre to a whole new level.
New Orleans has slowly risen from the ashes like the phoenix and carries the hopes of not just Louisiana, but the entire Gulf Coast. Mississippi, also devastated by Katrina, will root for the Saints just as much as the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.
Speaking of the state of Mississippi, it will be torn between its love of the Saints and the love of its native son Brett Favre. The former Southern Miss star and Kiln native will draw as many cheers as the Saints themselves.
This game gives the long downtrodden Saints a chance to advance to their first Super Bowl. In their second NFC Championship Game and first time hosting, New Orleans has a chance to get rid of the ill fortune that has plagued the franchise since its founding.
While the Saints are playing for their city and the gulf coast region, Brett Favre is playing for a John Elway-like ending to his career. Favre saw how Elway ended his career on top with two straight Super Bowl victories before he retired.
Favre, no matter what he says, might also be playing for a chance to prove the Green Bay Packers wrong for forcing him to retire two years ago. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy of the Packers organization might see themselves hanged for not letting Favre comeback.
The main question could be how much change will come to Green Bay. That is if Packers fans watch the first quarterback since Bart Starr bring a championship to Title Town, USA does so for a hated division rival.
As far as this game goes, both teams will have similar game plans for earning a spot in the Super Bowl. The winner will be the team that executes the game plan better.
Both teams will look to run the ball, rush the quarterback, and try to limit the other team's big play capability. Whichever team can do these three things and more at the best level will win the NFC Championship.
(Note: In every playoff game, the winner has won the turnover battle and has not missed a field goal attempt. Also, winners of every playoff game but one, the Indianapolis Colts, have out rushed their opponent. Expect the winner of this game to keep at least two of those three trends alive, if not all three.)
What the New Orleans Saints need to do to win the NFC Championship Game
The Saints will look to rush the ball with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and company to set up the passing game. The problem is, they will have to find a way to rush for yardage against the number two rush defense in the NFL but New Orleans does have the sixth ranked rush attack.
New Orleans has plenty of weapons on offense even if some players are injured and are ineffective or do not play. The key to this offensive attack is Drew Brees, how well he plays, and if he can get the ball to go to big play receiver Marques Colston.
The Saints cannot afford to become a one dimensional offense and abandon the run. If they do, Brees will end up like Tony Romo last week: on his back most of the day.
On defense New Orleans will try to stop the Vikings running game and pressure Favre into bad plays in the passing game. The key to pressuring Favre will fall on Will Smith and the rest of the defensive line.
The Saints will try to pressure with their front seven and let the secondary led by Darren Sharper be the beneficiary of throws Favre tries to force. New Orleans has to get pressure on Favre like they did against Kurt Warren in the divisional round.
On special teams, there are two wild cards for the Saints. The first is Reggie Bush in the return game. Bush can do some very special things when he returns the ball. Look for New Orleans to put him on both the punt and kickoff return to help Bush get more touches.
The other, and more importantly, could be Saints field goal kicker Garrett Hartley. New Orleans has struggled to make field goals at points and times this season. If they miss some against the Vikings, it could cost them this game.
New Orleans can take heart knowing that the Vikings' four losses all came on the road. The Saints will have the home field advantage and expect to have a loud and raucous crowd.
Look for the Saints to use a similar game plan to that used by the Cardinals and the Panthers. That game plan entailed stopping the run and putting a ton of pressure on Favre.
To win this game the Saints must out rush the Vikings and play sound in the kicking game. New Orleans also must win the turnover battle and make their field goal attempts. The Saints cannot afford to lose these three parts of the game.
What the Minnesota Vikings need to do to win the NFC Championship Game
The Vikings' game plan will be very similar to that of the Saints. The question is, who can execute the game plan better? The key for both teams could come down to who can run the ball the best and who can get the most pressure on the quarterback.
Minnesota will try to run the ball with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and the Vikings' 13th ranked rushing attack. The good thing is, the Vikings will be going against the Saints' 21st rush defense.
The Vikings can ease the pressure on Favre if they can run the ball effectively. The Saints will have to play run first and open the play action passing attack for the Vikings.
The key to the offense will be Favre. If he can keep his mistakes down and not have a game where he throws interceptions in bunches, the Vikings will be in this game.
Favre is likely to throw to any receiver but wide out Sidney Rice is the deep threat and go to receiver he likes to look for most. Expect Favre to try to get the ball to Rice and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
The offensive line for Minnesota must play well in run blocking and pass protection for the Vikings to have a chance to win this game. Being on the road, this line must be disciplined and not have too many pre-snap penalties.
Defensively look for the Vikings to play the Saints much like the Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers did. That game plan was to stuff the run and put massive amounts of pressure on Brees, and that starts with Jared Allen and company on the front four.
The x-factor in this game will be Percy Harvin on offense and special teams. If Harvin can play well, he can cancel out Reggie Bush for the Saints. Both players give their teams much the same type of plays.
On special teams, the Vikings are more than happy with field goal kicker Ryan Longwell. Minnesota has only missed two field goals all season long. This could be huge if the game is close.
Again, it will be which team can run the best and which can stuff the run. Special teams play could decide this game.
Do not be surprised if this game changes on a big turnover in the passing game or a fumble by a running back. Minnesota has had trouble holding on to the ball, in particular Peterson.
The Vikings cannot afford to give Brees a short field, just like the Saints cannot afford to give Favre a short field. Ball security is a must for a Minnesota victory.
Who will win the NFC Championship Game
Look for this game to be very close unless one team is plagued by turnovers. The Saints are playing for their city and region and will be tough to beat at home.
The Vikings look to be charmed this season after they added Favre. This team has been through plenty of adversity and questioned by the media all season.
If Favre does not turnover the ball and Peterson can find running room against the Saints' weak rushing defense, the Vikings should have no problem winning.
This game will come down to the fourth quarter; but I think it will not be Favre who wins it, but a field goal made or missed. I am taking the Vikings in an extremely close game.
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