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NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-4) at No. 1 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3)
Kickoff: Jan. 24, 6:40 PM EST
To the winner: A berth in the Super Bowl against the New York Jets (11-7) or Indianapolis Colts (15-2)
Players with Latin American ties : New Orleans: Jonathan Vilma. The linebacker, who is of Haitian decent, is a Pro Bowler and leads the defense. He had 110 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions during the regular season. Running back Pierre Thomas also is of Haitian decent, and he rushed for 793 yards and 6 touchdowns during the regular season. Minnesota: Anthony Herrera. The guard was born in Trinidad and Tobago, but has since become an American citizen. He’s helped pave the way for a running attack that scored 19 rushing touchdowns and averaged 119.9 rushing yards per game.
What you need to know: New Orleans: The Saints are the best offensive team in the league, finishing first in points per game (31.9) and yards per game (403.8). Minnesota: Everybody thinks of the Vikings and their potent offense led by quarterback Brett Favre, but the team led the league with 49 sacks during the regular season. The Vikings sacked Dallas’ Tony Romo a stunning six times last week.
Keep an eye on: New Orleans: Reggie Bush. He can do it all. The running back/kick returner had his best game in the NFL last week against the Cardinals, as he amassed 217 total yards and scored a rushing touchdown and returned a punt for another. Bush had 725 yards combined rushing and receiving to go along with eight touchdowns during the regular season. Minnesota: Adrian Peterson. The league’s best running back had 1,383 yards and 18 touchdowns during the regular season. However, he struggled against the Cowboys last week, rushing for just 63 yards on 26 carries. He must play better against the Saints.
The game likely comes down to: If the Vikings stay committed to the run. Arizona scored on a long run before abandoning the rushing game to focus on its passing attack – and ended up getting crushed, 45-14. But if Minnesota can keep giving the ball to Peterson, it should control the clock and keep New Orleans’ offense sidelined, enabling the Vikings to advance to their first Super Bowl since losing to Oakland in 1977.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 5 NEW YORK JETS (11-7) at No. 1 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (15-2)
Kickoff: Jan. 24, 3 PM EST
To the winner: A berth in the Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints (14-3) or Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
Players with Latin American ties: Indianapolis: Pierre Garçon. The receivers’ parents were born in Haiti, but moved to the United States shortly before his birth. He made 47 catches for 765 yards and 4 touchdowns during the regular season. New York: Mark Sánchez, a third-generation Mexican-American, leads the offense. The quarterback threw 12 touchdown passes against 20 interceptions during the regular season.
What you need to know: New York: The Jets just keep playing good defense. The team has allowed just four touchdowns in eight quarters this postseason. They also have been lucky, with opposing kickers missing all five field goal attempts against them.
Indianapolis: Peyton Manning. For the Colts, it still starts with three-time Most Valuable Player who threw 33 touchdowns against 16 interceptions during the regular season. Manning’s uncanny ability to throw pinpoint passes has enabled receivers Austin Collie and Garçon and rookie running back Donald Brown to emerge as major contributors.
Keep an eye on: New York: Braylon Edwards. The receiver is known for his propensity to drop the ball, so he needs to make a few big plays to get his team into scoring position. Edwards finished with 45 catches for 680 yards and 4 touchdowns during the regular season. Indianapolis: Dwight Freeney. It will be up to the pass rusher to generate pressure on Sánchez and shut down New York’s elite running game. The defensive end had four tackles last week and a staggering 13.5 sacks during the regular season.
The game likely comes down to: Experience. Manning and the Colts won the Super Bowl in 2007 and know what it takes to win in the postseason. They won’t get frustrated against the Jets, who defeated Indianapolis during the regular season. The Colts will do the little things to put the game away in the fourth quarter.