For nearly a decade the NFC has been inferior to the AFC. There have occasionally been some teams at the top with enough talent to beat the best teams in the AFC, but by the time we get to the NFC Championship Game only one of the two teams seems likely to be competitive in the Super Bowl.
This season the NFC really turned the corner, with a lot of high quality teams and each division containing at least one. The future looks bright for the Conference with a lot of good, young teams like the Falcons and Packers. The NFC East should continue to be solid with the Eagles seamlessly rebuilding, the Giants (if they get their defensive backfield healthy), the Cowboys (unless this year was a fluke, they seem to be on the upswing), and now with Mike Shanahan in Washington I wouldn’t be surprised to see things turn around.
What’s the point of all this? Well, for the first time in a long time, both teams playing in the NFC Championship are good enough to beat the AFC victor. If the Jets somehow beat the Colts either Minnesota or New Orleans should be favorite to win. Personally I think Indianapolis is going to bury New York but there’s always a chance.
To say that either of these teams could beat a team like Indianapolis is a big deal. We’re talking about a football team that probably would’ve went undefeated if they wanted to. Peyton Manning is the ultimate field general and doesn’t need a defense or running game to win but this year he has a little bit of both. In the entire NFL I think there are only two teams that I would give much of a chance against the Colts and it’s the Vikings and Saints. That is significant.
Road to the Championship Game: Minnesota Vikings
Would all the haters in the room please raise their hand? (My hand would be raised). I am just not a “Brett Favre Guy.” I think he’s a self-absorbed, egotistical sociopath. He gets way too much credit for things he doesn’t deserve and he gets a reputation for being so “clutch” in the playoffs despite all the evidence to the contrary. The man only has one Super Bowl victory to his credit and the MVP in that game was Desmond Mason, the KICK RETURNER. What I do remember seeing through the years is Brett trying to do too much and throwing idiotic interceptions that cost his team many, many times in the playoffs.
This year was a huge surprise to me. With all the hoopla surrounding him joining the team (all of it self-imposed) it appeared likely that the Vikings would self destruct at some point. Other than some late season difficulties the team played extremely well all season. What’s more surprising is that Favre didn’t try to force things too much in the offense. The result of that was arguably his best season ever at age 40. Even for a Favre hater like me that’s impressive.
If the Vikings pulled this victory out it’d be epic regardless of their performance in the Super Bowl. Favre’s lore and mystique would be further cemented in the annals of NFL history and many people (who aren’t too bright) would consider him without a doubt the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The Vikings may say that they would be disappointed with anything less than a Super Bowl win but just getting there would be a huge accomplishment.
From a football standpoint if you broke down each team there’s no doubt that Minnesota would be the most balanced. Offensively they have a line that provides great protection and opens holes in the running game. They have excellent receiver play due mostly to the emergence of Sidney Rice as an elite player. Brett Favre has had a lot to do with bringing him along this season and if he can play within himself he’s a huge positive for this team as well. Their defensive line presses the pocket in the passing game and shuts down lanes in the running game, particularly in the middle. Their defensive backfield is also extremely solid, boasting several playmakers. They aren’t quite as impressive at linebacker since E.J. Henderson went out. Overall, when you look at this football team they are just rock solid.
The most important thing for Minnesota coming in to this football game is coaching and game planning. I sort of like Brad Childress; he did a nice job in Philadelphia and is a cerebral leader, a poor man’s Bill Belichick you could even say. The task at hand in this game, however, is more difficult than anything they’ve faced all season.
Vikings Defensive Game Plan
The Saints are EXPLOSIVE unlike any other team in football. Worse yet they are nearly unstoppable at home in the dome. It helps the Vikings also playing in a dome because they’re used to the turf, the noise, etc. What Childress and his staff are going to have to decide is how to take on this offense. There are really two ways to defend them and the key will be to choose the correct strategy at the correct time.
As with any team the key is to get pressure on the quarterback. Drew Brees makes that more difficult than most due to his elusiveness and escapability. If you come after Brees the Saints can dump it off to Reggie Bush in the flat or look to use him in the screen game. If the Vikings come out aggressive that’s the route I expect Sean Payton to go. Bush is devastating in the passing game so Minnesota needs to know where he is at all times when they’re bringing pressure.
The other approach the Vikings might take is to only rush four or five guys up front and try to contain the big play. This is the “bend don’t break” method the Patriots have been so successful with for years. The Vikes have an advantage should they decide to go this route because their guys up front are so good at shedding blockers and getting to the quarterback. The downside to this when you’re playing the Saints is that trying not to give up big plays against them often causes you to do so. When Brees is able to take a seven step drop he finds receivers down the field for huge gains.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Personally I think you have to try and go after Brees because sitting back against him is death. The Vikings have the right mixture of personnel to pull this off. Although there’s no way to shut this offense down you can force them to turn the ball over with pressure and that’s what Brad Childress will probably try to do.
Vikings Plan of Attack on Offense
The Saints defense is respectable but the Vikings should be able to move the ball against them with relative ease. The key for them will be not turning the ball over by trying to force the issue. Favre needs to play within himself as he’s done all season and pick his spots. Adrian Peterson’s one bugaboo is that he doesn’t protect the football adequately while running and tends to put it on the ground too much. The one big strength of the Saints defense is they are extremely opportunistic and cause a lot of turnovers.
The Vikings don’t need any specific plan of attack against this defense. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to move the ball with relative ease, chew clock, and put points on the board. Expect a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson as usual. The only way they’ll struggle offensively is by beating themselves and handing the ball over to New Orleans. If that happens this game could get ugly fast.
So what are their chances of winning this game? I don’t think its 50-50 but they shouldn’t be a huge underdog. The Vikings have all the necessary pieces to beat this very solid football team. I won’t drum on about the implications too much because I did that already. As with any team that has a chance to go to the Super Bowl this is an ENORMOUS game.