NFC Championship Game: Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Minnesota Vikings (13-4 SU, 10-6-1 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (14-3
SU, 9-8 ATS), 6:40 p.m. EST, Sunday, January 24, 2010, Louisiana
Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: FOX

by Badger of

Point Spread: Vikings +4/Saints -4
Over/Under: 52.5

The right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 44 will rightly come
down to one game pitting the conferences two most dominate teams all
season long, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.

Vikings rent-a-quarterback Brett Favre gets to travel back down south
to New Orleans to face his favorite team as a child when the top-
seeded Saints host the No. 2-seeded Vikings in the NFC Championship
game Sunday in the Superdome.

Both teams come into Sundays title tilt fresh off of lopsided divisional round victories, the Saints in a quick-kill, 45-14, track
meet over the Arizona Cardinals, and the Vikings off of the defensive
strangling of the Dallas Cowboys, 34-3.

One could argue that this is the way it should be, that the two favorites all season long get to decide the NFC title on the field
Sunday. Oh, the story lines Favre vs. Brees; the ole Mississippi
boy Favre, returning to the site of his one and only Super Bowl win,
the Superdome, blah, Favre, blah, gag; the Saints offensive line
versus the stout Viking defensive front seven; Adrian Peterson and
Reggie Bush dancing with the rock two teams worthy of their NFC
Championship game matchup.

With the opening point spread just barely over 24 hours old, the oddsmakers original number of Saints as 4-point favorites has held
firm through the early steam at the window. There are a few offshore
sportsbooks that have moved the number up to Saints minus -4.5 BoDog
and Superbook), but the action (or lack thereof) has yet to
cause any line movement off of -4 at any of the other sportsbooks
offshore or in Las Vegas.

The over/under total opened at 53 and has dropped anywhere from the hook to a full-point at most of the offshore sportsbooks, so shop
around and youll find 52 or 52.5, or even a few holdovers at the
original 53 total.

Offensively you know what youre getting with this game.

The Saints finished the year as the top-ranked unit in points scored
(31.9 ppg), Minnesota was No. 2 (29.4 ppg). New Orleans has a stable
of weapons for Brees to find favorable matchups, while the Vikings
and Favre have seen the emergence of Sidney Rice and tight end
Visanthe Shiancoe as the primary weapons in the passing game.

The big difference in this game is how each team uses their running game.

The Vikings use Peterson in classic between-the-tackles sets, with
most of his big runs coming off the left side behind guard Steve
Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie. Minnesota will run A.P. to set
up play-action, and spell him on third downs with Chester Taylor who
is a better screen/draw back.

The Saints run just enough to keep defenses honest, and because most
teams are scheming to stop the pass, it has worked wonders including
last week when they rushed for 171 yards against the Cardinals. If
Reggie Bush can recapture the shake he had last week against the
Cards he becomes a huge X factor, because the Vikings dont have
anyone on defense that can match his athleticism and speed.

Its no secret the Vikings defense relies on the front seven to put
pressure on the quarterback, it worked like a charm last week against
Tony Romo and the Cowboys. But Brees and Saints coach Sean Peyton are
also masters of using motion and multiple receiver formations to set
up mismatches on defense. With All-Pro corner Antoine Winfields foot
so sore hes been reduced to covering the slot receiver in nickel and
dime sets, you can bet the Saints will take a few shots with one of
their speed guys (name one, Colston, Meachem, Henderson) on the
outside versus Benny Sapp and Cedric Griffin.

The Saints defense sure looked speedy and strong against the
Cardinals last week, but they will face a different animal in the
Vikings than the one they beat last weekend. Peterson forces you to
stop the run, and the Cards Hightower busted a big one for 70 yards
last week before they blinked and were trailing by 14 and forced to
air it out, so the Saints front seven can be run on at times (122 ypg

The recent history between these two teams has been lopsided in favor
of the Vikings. Not only has Minnesota won four straight over the
Saints, including a 30-27 win over them the last time they met in
October of 2008 in the Superdome, but the also own a 4-0 ATS record
during the same stretch (dating back to 2002).

However, the Vikings are 1-4 ATS in their last five playoff road
games, and they also finished this season at 1-4 ATS in their last
five road games in the regular season.

The over has also cashed in all four of those games as well, and its
4-0-1 in the Saints last five playoff games overall. The over is 8-2
in the Vikings last 10 games as a road underdog, but its actually
the under that is a perfect 5-0-1 in the Vikings last six playoff games.

There are also no major injuries affecting this game much. Vikings defensive
end Ray Edwards and Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey both dinged up their
knees last week, but both are listed as questionable.

Badgers Pick: Theres no way the Vikings defense will hold the Saints offense down too long, unless they get an early lead and just
continuously pound Peterson on the ground and milk clock. But thats
easier said than done. When all is said and done though, Favre will
work some two-minute drill magic and Ryan Longwell will drill a game
winner to give the media their wet dream sending Favre back to the
Super Bowl. Take Minnesota plus the 4-points.