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New Orleans Saints First-and-10: Streak of parity in the NFC

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 in Local Issues, Sports

By Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune January 22, 2010, 5:05PM sainsts fan.JPGMichael Democker/The Times-PicayuneFirst (take) ... Regardless of who wins the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, it will extend a remarkable streak of parity in the conference. The Saints or Vikings will be the ninth different NFC team in a row to make the Super Bowl. The streak began in 2001 when the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXVI. Since then, in order, the Buccaneers, Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks, Bears, Giants and Cardinals have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. If you include the Falcons (1998) and Packers (1997), the NFC will have sent a remarkable 11 different teams to the Super Bowl in the past 13 years. That's in direct contrast to the AFC, which has sent just seven teams to the big game during the same span. New England, Pittsburgh and Denver have made multiple appearances since 1997. The Vikings have not been to the Super Bowl since 1977. They are winless in four appearances. The Saints, of course, have never been in the 43-year history of the franchise. So, one way or the other, a long drought will end on Sunday. But the NFC's string of remarkable parity will continue. ... And 10 (more observations) 1. Casual locker-room observation of the week: If the Saints are tight you sure couldn't tell it from the way the Saints conducted themselves in the locker room this week. They were extremely loose. On Friday Sedrick Ellis and Mike Bell waged an aerosol spray can war, which Ellis eventually won. The defeated Bell actually scaled the locker stalls along one side of the locker room to escape the deodorant drenching. On Thursday, Anthony Hargrove duct-taped assistant equipment manager Shaun Alfred and dumped him cold-water tub in the training room to the delight of several teammates. 2. Tweets of the week: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Jeremy Shockey, 2:57 p.m., Jan. 22. 3. Quote of the week: "They can fly you safely to your destination or they can take you right into a mountain." - Saints coach Sean Payton on the importance of quarterback play in the NFL postseason. 4. Didya notice of the week: Anthony Waters was the one Saint excused from practice this week. Waters missed Friday's practice to attend the funeral of former Clemson teammate Gaines Adams in Easley, S.C. Adams, a defensive end for the Chicago Bears, died Sunday of heart failure. He was 26. 5. Fact of the week: Thanks to his breakout performance last week, Reggie Bush now has three Saints postseason records for longest touchdowns. They are: the longest punt return TD (83 yards vs. Arizona); the longest rushing TD (46 yards vs. Arizona); and longest pass reception TD (88 yards vs. Chicago, 2007). Bush is only the second player in NFL history - and the first in more than 60 years - to produce touchdowns on a rushing play and a punt return in a postseason game. The only other player to do it was Hall-of-Famer Charlie Trippi, playing for the Chicago Cardinals in the 1947 NFL Championship Game. Playing against the Eagles, Trippi scored on a 44-yard run in the first quarter and on a 75-yard punt return in the third quarter. The Cardinals went on to win the game, 28-21, the only time in their history that they have won a league championship game. 6. Encouraging stat of the week: This from Yahoo.com's Jason Cole: In 18 home games during his two seasons with the Vikings, including two playoff games, Jared Allen has 21 sacks. By contrast, in 15 road games in two seasons, he has 11 sacks. Clearly Allen is a different player on the road than at home, where he can take advantage of the crowd noise at the Metrodome to get a jump on opposing offensive linemen. 7. Disturbing stat of the week: The Vikings have won their last three matchups in the Superdome against the Saints and are 2-0 against New Orleans in the postseason. Overall, they have won eight of the last 10 games in the season and 12 of the last 15, including the last four in a row. 8. Something I liked from the divisional round: The pass defense. As they've been all season in the Superdome, the Saints were tough on an opposing quarterback. Kurt Warner, who entered the game with the second highest passer efficiency rating in NFL postseason history, posted just a 73.4 rating. He's the third Super Bowl-winning quarterback that the Saints have shut down in the Dome this season. The collective passer efficiency ratings of Warner, Eli Manning and Tom Brady in their three games against the Saints this season was 55.9. 9. Something I didn't like from the divisional round: The shaky run defense early. Tim Hightower's 70-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage was the fourth long touchdown run the Saints have surrendered this season. They also gave up scoring runs of 68 yards to Ricky Williams, 66 yards to DeAngelo Williams and 67 yards to Jonathan Stewart. Each run came in the first quarter. In fact, Williams and Stewart's scores came on the second play from scrimmage. 10. Fearless prediction for the NFC Championship: The Vikings lost their final three road games of the season by a combined score of 92-54. Now they face their toughest road test of all. With the Saints hosting their first NFC title game ever, the atmosphere in the Superdome is certain to be electric. If the Vikings can't beat the Panthers or Bears on the road I can't see them putting together the kind of complete game it will take to win Sunday. The Saints have been at their best in big games this season and this one's the biggest of them all. If the Saints get off to a fast start, the Vikings could be in touble. My prediction: Saints 41, Vikings 20.

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