New Orleans Saints vs San Francisco 49ers: The Real NFC Championship Game?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 8, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Mark Ingram #28 of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during their pre season game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Of all the matchups we'll see next week in the Divisional Round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs, the marquee game will be taking place in San Francisco, where the 49ers, the NFC's second seed, square off against the third-seeded New Orleans Saints. The winner is likely looking at an NFC Championship matchup at Lambeau Field against the top-seeded Packers.

This may seem blasphemous to Green Bay fans, but the game next week in the Bay Area may in fact be a de facto NFC title game, as both the 49ers and Saints are more than capable of ending Green Bay's dream season prematurely.

Should the Saints advance, it would set the stage for quite possibly the highest scoring NFC Championship game in history, with two prolific offenses meeting two not-so-stout defenses. As well as Aaron Rodgers has played this season right now, there's no hotter quarterback in the National Football League than Drew Brees.

And please, let's dispense with the "cold weather" nonsense. Yes, the Saints are an indoor team, but Brees played his college ball at Purdue, so I'm willing to guess he's been chilly on the football field at least once in his life.

If the 49ers move on to face the Packers, it would set up a very interesting matchup of contrasting styles. Not only did the 49ers possess the NFC's stingiest scoring defense in 2011, but they have a ball control offense that can function as a defense of sorts, as the Packers can't march up and down the field without the ball.

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This isn't to say that the Packers wouldn't be the favorite to win either of these games, or that Green Bay won't advance to their second straight Super Bowl. But to this point the playoffs haven't done the Pack any favors, and it certainly appears that they will have their hands full as they attempt to defend their title of world champions.

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