2009 NFL Playoffs - Conference Championship Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2009 NFL Playoffs - Conference Championship Preview

Boxscores, stats and predictions for every 2009 NFL conference championship playoff game
By Eric Schmoldt, WhatIfSports.com
January 19, 2010

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Each Tuesday morning, we preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. All of our NFL content, including our year end NFL power rankings and links to the 2009 NFL pre-season preview are located here.

To see how far each team will go in the 2009 NFL Playoffs and who we predict has the best shot at winning SuperBowl XLIV, see our 2009 NFL Playoff Preview.

The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see our season-to-date performance, click here.

Conference Championship Matchups

Who is going to the Super Bowl?

The conferences’ top seeds, Indianapolis and New Olreans, who caught flak for resting up in the final weeks? The ageless one Brett Favre and the Vikings? Or how about the underdog New York Jets, who “weren’t even supposed to be in the playoffs to begin with?”

It all shakes out with Sunday’s conference championships as we figure out who will play in Super Bowl XLIV.

AFC Conference Championship: NY Jets 22 @ Colts 21

Rex Ryan doesn’t expect a second consecutive Christmas present.

He might not need one.

The Indianapolis Colts rolled over in the second half during a Week 16 matchup with the New York Jets, taking out their starters and drawing the ire of a nation by giving up on a 19-0 record. Thomas Jones ran for more than 100 yards and the Jets ran for more than 200, scoring 26 second-half points against the Colts’ B squad to win 29-15.

Less than a month later, the Jets will have to go four quarters against Indianapolis’ best, but there are numbers that indicate they just might pull off their third upset in a row.

By now it’s no secret that New York has the league’s top defense as they’ve shown it off in the first two weeks of the playoffs. On the season, they gave up just 4.2 yards per play, more than half a yard better than the next best defense. They also had the league’s fourth-best rushing defense, allowing less than four yards per play. That number will be key in making the Colts a one-dimensional team, which teams have been able to do this season as Indy has just the 30th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL.

The Colts will have to make up for it with their passing game, which, behind star quarterback Peyton Manning, did rank in the top 10 this year. That said, the Jets bring the No. 1 passing defense in with them as well.

If anyone is going to stop Indianapolis’ vaunted offense, it’s likely the Jets. But whether they can they keep their ground game rolling to score enough points to beat the Colts is another question.

The Jets ranked fifth in the regular season at 4.5 yards per carry. That number has shrunk slightly to 4.3 in the postseason, but you probably didn’t notice that as rookie Shonn Greene has bolstered New York’s rushing attack, giving them a two-headed monster with Jones. Indianapolis’ rushing defense was merely middle of the pack during the regular season, even if the 200-plus yards in Week 16 wasn’t necessarily indicative.

The question for New York continues to be rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Can the guy who couldn’t even slide right in the middle of the season make it all the way to the Super Bowl?

Splitting time, neither Greene or Jones reaches the century mark, but either or both could find the end zone. And while Sanchez throws an interception nearly every time in 10,001 simulations, the Jets’ vaunted passing defense finds a way to limit Manning as New York advances to the Super Bowl 52.9% of the time by a score of 22-21.

NFC Conference Championship: Vikings 26 @ Saints 29

While defense might lead to a championship in the AFC, the NFC may have an offensive slugfest on its hands in the title game.

The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings didn’t meet up in the regular season, but there are plenty of intriguing matchups, particularly on the offensive sides of the ball. One of the best quarterbacks of all time, Favre, will match up with perhaps the best quarterback this season, Drew Brees. Ever-explosive Adrian Peterson will lock horns with Divisional Playoff star Reggie Bush. And on the defensive side, Saints cornerback Darren Sharper takes on his old team.

The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship by waxing the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and they did it mostly through the air. The Vikings had the seventh-best passing offense during the regular season, averaging 8 yards per pass attempt, but they’ll likely need to get back to a more balanced approach on Sunday. They also had the 13th-ranked rushing offense in the regular season, but averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in their victory over Dallas.

The Saints ranked just 24th against the run during the regular season, which should allow Peterson and Chester Taylor a little more breathing room. Whether the same will go for Favre against his former Packers teammate Sharper and the Saints secondary might be another story. They put the clamps on the Cardinals last week - mostly by taking Kurt Warner out of the game, literally - and did have a pass defense that ranked in the top half of the league.

While the Vikings are capable of putting up points, if there’s one team that most opponents wouldn’t want to get into a shootout with, it would most likely be the Saints.

New Orleans tied for the league lead during the regular season at 6.3 yards per play, thanks mostly to the arm of Brees, who led the Saints to the third-best passing attack at 8.3 yards per attempt. A bit more quietly though, they also had the sixth-best rushing attack in terms of yards per carry and ran for five yards per touch against the Cardinals in the last round.

The Vikings defensive line, led by Jared Allen, will likely need to get to Brees early and often to give Minnesota a shot. The Vikings were simply middle of the road on defense this year, giving up just over five yards per play, but found a way to rattle Tony Romo last week. If Brees has time to throw, Minnesota is in trouble as it brings just the 20th-ranked passing defense. Even if their top-five rushing defense stops Bush and Pierre Thomas, Brees could be in for a big day.

In 10,001 simulations, he averages 265 yards per game and a pair of touchdowns, but is matches almost step for step by Favre. And even though Peterson tops the century mark and finds the end zone in nearly every simulation, the Saints run for more yards per carry and seem to be just a tiny bit more efficient. And in an offensive battle, New Orleans comes out on top 54.2% of the time but a score of 29-26.

A Jets-Saints Super Bowl? The computer liked that matchup when the playoffs began. And it’s not backing off now.

NFL Conference Championships
MatchupWin%Avg Score
Minnesota Vikings45.826Boxscore
@ New Orleans Saints54.229Simulate Game
New York Jets52.922Boxscore
@ Indianapolis Colts47.121Simulate Game

WhatIfSports.com is a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, we can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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