After 19 weeks of play, the NFL season comes down to four teams competing for the right to play in Super Bowl XLIV. A month from now, most football fans will struggle to recall which two teams were the losers in these conference championship games.
None of the teams playing this weekend can play conservatively and expect to make it to the Super Bowl. With that in mind, here are 10 things to consider as you sit down and enjoy one great Sunday of football.
1. How big is homefield advantage?
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the home teams in the conference championship games are 52-26, and both conferences have the same record at 26-13.
In this year's playoffs, the road teams are 3-5.
2. Some tidbits
» In the last eight games, the Jets are allowing nine points a game.
» The Colts have scored 20 points or less in seven games this season.
» Austin Collie had six receptions in the previous matchup. The Jets are 10-0 when they win the turnover battle.
» The Saints possess the league's 21st-ranked run defense.
» Brett Favre has just nine turnovers (seven interceptions, two fumbles lost), as compared to 17 for Drew Brees (11 interceptions, six fumbles lost).
3. Hope these games don't come down to a field goal
The first four letters of the sport we love are "foot," but somehow it's hard to trust the guys who kick the ball this postseason. We are in the midst of one of the worst playoffs ever for field goal accuracy. So far in this postseason, kickers are just 15 of 26 (57.7 percent).
What's tough to understand is the fact that during the regular season, kickers were successful on 81.3 percent of field goal attempts. It's safe to say that fans better hope their team doesn't have to make a game-winner with no time on the clock.
4. A rookie head coach will advance
The AFC will be sending a rookie head coach to the Super Bowl. The Colts' Jim Caldwell and the Jets' Rex Ryan are both in their first season as the man in charge. The one who wins will be the fifth first-year coach to reach the Super Bowl.
Caldwell and Ryan bring two totally different styles to the sidelines. The humble Caldwell stands quietly on the sidelines with his arms folded, much like former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Ryan, meanwhile, has already proclaimed that his team is going to win and he's anything but quiet on the sidelines. This great contrast in styles has worked for both teams.
5. Jets would be in some elite company
The Jets are everyone's underdog as they face the top-seeded Colts. However, the Jets enter the game with the league's top-ranked defense and its No. 1 rushing attack. The 1985 Chicago Bears and 1972 Miami Dolphins each went on to win the Super Bowl after leading the NFL in those two categories. Keep in mind that the Jets have won seven of their last eight games and have beaten two division champions on the road in the last two weeks.
6. Favre on the road vs. Brees at home
Favre is having a season for all seasons. He has been a very dangerous quarterback on the road in years past, but the Vikings are 4-4 away from the Metrodome this year. Favre's road stats are different from those at home. He threw 25 touchdown passes at home and just 12 on the road. On the road, Favre completed 68 percent of his passes, averaged 236 yards and was sacked once every 12 pass attempts.
At the Superdome, Brees has 20 touchdown passes, four interceptions and was sacked just nine times. Favre is going to need one of those home-game performances on the road this week.
7. NFC is balanced, AFC is not
The Saints and Vikings are both committed to balanced offenses. Last week, the Saints had 34 runs and 32 passes, while the Vikings had 33 runs and 27 pass plays called. Look for both teams to run the ball on more than half of their first downs and establish the play-action pass.
The AFC is the total opposite. The Colts have the league's worst rushing attack and will throw the ball 70 percent of the time. The Jets want to avoid the passing game as much as possible and will run the ball 70 percent of the time.
8. Vikings need to come out running
The Saints gave up 689 yards rushing in their last five games. The Buccaneers beat them in overtime by feeding the ball to Cadillac Williams. This is the game in which Adrian Peterson must deliver. He will get his 25 carries, but can he beat the Saints defense's previous five-game average of 138 rushing yards allowed, and get into the end zone more than once? Peterson did have 18 rushing touchdowns this year and 11 were on the road.
9. Jets target is easy to see
The Jets' game plan is easy to understand ... run the ball inside behind Pro Bowl linemen Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold. The Colts defense is built for speed and will win whenever the Jets attempt to run outside. However, the inside power running game belongs to the Jets.
10. Matchups that will decide these games
The game within the game is always a critical factor. Here are the matchups that will make or break these teams.
Vikings DE Jared Allen vs. Saints LT Jermon Bushrod: When the Cowboys sacked Brees four times and defeated the Saints, Bushrod was beat up by DeMarcus Ware. Allen is capable of the same. Advantage: Allen.
Favre vs. Saints safety Darren Sharper: The Saints have made a living forcing turnovers, especially interceptions (26), and have scored eight defensive touchdowns. Sharper played with and against Favre and knows him well, but only has one pick in six games. Favre has thrown a pick once in every 52 pass attempts on the road this year. Advantage: Favre.
Colts WR Pierre Garcon vs. Jets CB Lito Sheppard: With Darrelle Revis matching up with Reggie Wayne and occassionally Dallas Clark, look for Manning to go after Sheppard. Whether it is Garcon or Collie matched up against Sheppard, this will be a critical matchup for the Jets' pressure defense. Advantage: Colts.