The NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints was forecast way back in Week 6, when the Vikings and the Saints were still undefeated. Even when Minnesota stumbled against the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week (two defensive touchdowns killed the Vikings), the talk never really stopped because the Vikings would get to 10-1 before losing another game. At the same time the New Orleans Saints went to 13-0 before they ran into a determined Dallas Cowboys. Even though they went on to lose the next two games to finish the regular season at 13-3, they finished as the NFL’s highest scoring team and the top seed in the NFC.
Both teams, after a week off, demolished their opponents by 31 points in the Divisional Playoffs to get the NFC Championship Game.
The teams match up well on paper. Where the Saints lead in overall offensive yardage, passing yardage, and rushing yardage, their defense gives up more of same than does the Vikings defense. And while the New Orleans Saints march into the New Orleans Superdome for the NFC Championship Game with the NFL’s leading scoring offense (510 points), the Vikings come in as the second highest scoring offense in the NFL (470 points).
Drew Brees marshals the Saints as the NFL’s leading passer. Brett Favre has put up comparable numbers and comes in as the League’s second ranked passer. Favre has thrown only 7 interceptions this season, but the Saints have picked off 26 passes this year (3rd in the NFL), five of which they returned for touchdowns. In a game that could prove to be high scoring, Favre will have to be careful against that Saints secondary.
Minnesota has the League’s 6th ranked rusher in Adrian Peterson, pounding out nearly 1400 yards on the season. But New Orleans matches with a one-two punch in Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell in the backfield. The two have combined for over 1400 yards.
With such a close match-up in the offensive units, the game just might be decided on defense. With the Saints ranked at a lowly 25th in the NFL, it would seem that Minnesota just might have the best chance of stopping their opponent’s high-powered offense. The Vikings were ranked at #6 in overall defense on the year, giving up over 50 yards less per game than the Saints.
A good indicator of how the Vikings might handle the Saints came last week during their game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys scored only three points against the Vikings. By way of comparison, the Saints lost their first game against the Cowboys in Game 14. But is that telling? That is an unknown.
One thing is telling, though. The Minnesota Vikings were 4-4 on the road this season, which means that every game they lost was on the road.
But, then, the following game didn’t happen to be the Super Bowl, either.
The Saints are looking forward to a trip to Miami as well. They’re looking to add one more to the Vikings ‘L’ column.
The Minnesota Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans at 6:40 p.m. EST Sunday on Fox Television.
“Vikings-Saints Preview,” ESPN.go.com