NFL Championship Games-An Inside Look

Scout.com's NFL insider breaks down both Championship games from a matchup standpoint.

Sunday's games present two intriguing matchups. You have the high-powered Colts' offense vs. Rex Ryan's vexing 3-4 defense. In the other matchup, you have two of the NFL's top gunslingers. How do the four teams match up in their games? Lets take a look.


New York Jets-Indianapolis Colts

The Matchup: It's not very hard to know how the Jets will approach this game on offense. It's really no different than any other game, however. Take the ball out of Mark Sanchez's hands and run the ball as much as possible. I've used the 25 attempts number as the mark for Sanchez to come in at. If he can throw the ball no more than 25 times, they have a pretty good chance to win. So far in his two playoff games, he's thrown the ball 38 times (19 per game average). You have to figure if he's throwing it so few times, the Jets should be in the game during the fourth quarter with a chance to win.

Against the Colts, the blueprint on how to win seems to control the clock by running the ball. By doing that, if gives Peyton Manning less possessions to work with. Of course, then it's up to the defense to keep him and the Colt offense out of the end zone when he has the ball--easier said than done.

Through 15 weeks of the regular season, when the Colts played most of their starters on defense, they gave up 104.6 rushing yards/game (4.25 yards/carry) on 24.6 attempts/game.

For the Jets to have any chance of winning this game, they have to run it probably at least 30 times between Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. Both backs have combined for 73 carries (36.5/game) through both playoff games.

Defensively, the front-seven needs to get to Manning early. They have to attack the Colts' offensive line as they've done in their first two playoff matchups. Make Manning uncomfortable. No quarterback can operate at a maximum level if he can't create functional space to throw the ball.

The Colts have a decent four-man rotation at defensive tackle with Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster, Daniel Muir, and veteran DT/DE Raheem Brock. The four of them will be challenged by the Jet offensive line, which has been getting off the ball quite well during the first two games.

For the Colts to win, their offensive line must hold up. Some of the pundits have said that Peyton Manning hasn't played well against 3-4 defenses in the past. What I would say is his offensive line hasn't always handled playing against those schemes well. What Rex Ryan does is throw in a lot of confusion pre and post snap movement by his defense. That seems to confuse offensive lines quite a bit. It's imperative that the Indianapolis offensive line handles their assignments and limits their mistakes. As Greg Cosell from NFL Films and the NFL Matchup Show on ESPN points out, Ryan is a master of bringing in less rushers, but gets a maximum result. He's able to do that by creating confusion from the pre-snap and post-snap phase within his scheme.

The other issue is how their run defense handles the Jets' running game. The Jets will attempt to run the ball at least 30 times in this game. They have to take the Jets out of their comfort zone. Make Sanchez a thrower in this game. If they do, the chances of them winning will increase significantly.

Prediction: Colts 23, Jets 13.


Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints

The Matchup: The Vikings have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to successfully challenge the New Orleans defense. However, that's if their offensive line plays at a high level. Last week, against Dallas, that wasn't the case. In fact, the Dallas front-seven dominated Minnesota's offensive line. If it wasn't for Brett Favre's seemingly super human performance, the Vikings probably wouldn't have posted half the point total that they wound up achieving.

The way teams have generally chosen to attack the Saints is on the ground. Before they limited or rested the starters in Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans run defense gave up 23.9 rushes/game, 106.9 yards on the ground/game (4.47 yards/carry). The Saints don't have a deep rotation at defensive tackle, so the Vikings can wear them down with their running game. By doing so, that would make New Orleans commit an extra defender against the run, leaving one-on-one matchups on the outside for the passing game.

What I would do is get Adrian Peterson involved early. There should be no reason why he gets less than 20 carries in this game. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, I see no reason why he won't have 25 carries or more. As Cosell pointed out this week during his coaching tape study, WLB Scott Shanle made some mistakes by overrunning plays during last week's game against the Arizona Cardinals. He did that in the redzone and in other areas on the field. That's a guy who should be attacked in the running game.

The previously injured Saints' secondary is about as healthy as it's been in several weeks. New Orleans did a decent job against the high-powered Arizona passing game last week. They were able to make Kurt Warner uncomfortable. Look for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to attack the edges of the Minnesota offensive line. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota decides to give their tackles help in this game. The tight ends struggled a bit in pass protection last week.

If rookie WR Percy Harvin's migraine headaches subside and he gets clearance to play, he could be a key to their passing game. He clearly has an advantage over veteran CB Randall Gay, who handles the nickel role for the Saints. Harvin is as physically gifted a receiver as I've seen in some time.

On the other side, New Orleans has to attack a very average Minnesota secondary. Had Dallas been able to protect QB Tony Romo well enough last week, they could have had their way in the passing game. Veteran CB Antoine Winfield is expected to see most of his playing time in a nickel role this week since his injured foot isn't close to 100 percent. He simply doesn't look the same as he has before he got hurt. Backup CB Benny Sapp looks to play outside when the base defense is on the field. Expect the Saints to attack him. He simply doesn't match up well against the New Orleans offense.

Minnesota was the fifth worst ranked team against tight ends this season. The Viking safeties struggle with consistency in coverage, so look for head coach Sean Payton to dial up plays that can exploit the starters, Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson.

The key for the New Orleans offense to operate at an optimum level is for their offensive line to handle the usually solid Minnesota pass rush. LT Jermon Bushrod has to control RDE Jared Allen. If he can't, Drew Brees could have some issues, as he did against Dallas during their Week 15 loss at home. LDE Ray Edwards most likely won't be close to 100 percent because a sprained knee, so RT Jon Stinchcomb might not need much help.

Prediction: Saints 33, Vikings 27.

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