We saw why New Orleans and Minnesota were the top two seeds in the NFC this weekend, as each systematically took apart Arizona and Dallas, respectively, to earn a date in the conference championship on Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome.
This is the NFL's version of Mardi Gras: Brett Favre vs. Drew Brees, two potent offenses, two teams that have never won a Super Bowl -- and in the Saints' case, have never been to one.
1. Why have Brees and Favre been so efficient?
Brees and Favre -- who were 1-2 in the NFL in passer rating with 109.6 and 107.2 ratings, respectively -- have received adequate protection, and each has been getting rid of the ball before pressure arrives. As it pertains to this game, both have a plethora of receivers to bail them out. Favre leaned heavily on receiver Sidney Rice in the divisional round, but he could have some favorable matchups with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe against the Saints. Minnesota didn't allow Dallas to hit any big plays, but receiver Robert Meachem could emerge because Vikings defensive backs could be preoccupied with other primary threats (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush).
2. Will Saints struggle against Vikings' D line?
Vikings defensive ends Ray Edwards and Jared Allen will come after Brees, much like Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer did. Saints tackles Jermon Bushrod and Pro Bowler Jonathan Stinchomb will need help at times, but the key will be limiting the interior rush. The Vikings will try to keep Brees from rolling out, but if he is able to have passing lanes in the pocket, he'll be fine. If Pat and Kevin Williams can get in his face, Brees could have problems seeing his targets.
3. Can the Saints contain Rice?
The Saints kept Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check in the divisional round, but Rice poses a similar challenge.
Covering Rice may be difficult, but they could use some of the same type of bracket- and double-coverage techniques on Rice, who is tall and long like Fitzgerald. The Saints' secondary is much better with healthy corners Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer back on the field, especially Greer, who is strong in man coverage and has the type of ball skills to make Rice really compete if both of them are fighting for the ball.
4. Does Bush have a sequel in store?
Saints running back Reggie Bush showed toughness and outright star potential against the Cardinals. That's the sort of game-breaking ability many had been waiting to see from Bush. The bye week allowed him to heal up some of the nicks that always seem to be bothering him, which could be why he played like he did against Arizona.
New Orleans will get Bush the ball early to see if he is in the frame of mind to do similar damage. Bush gained confidence early when he bowled over sinewy Arizona cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Vikings have some of the surest and most physical tacklers in the NFL on defense and on their coverage teams. If Bush plans to bow up, he better bow up with a heightened sense of purpose.
5. Who was a better acquisition, Favre or Sharper?
The Saints and Vikings both acquired former Green Bay Packers in the offseason. Which was better, Favre or Darren Sharper? You'd immediately think Favre since he's had a Pro-Bowl year (33 regular-season touchdowns) and came up with a four-touchdown game against Dallas in the divisional playoffs.
Well, New Orleans' Sharper also had a Pro-Bowl season (nine interceptions, three returned for touchdowns) and came up big in the divisional playoffs, with a fumble recovery and interception against the Cardinals. Favre is going to have to account for Sharper at all times because Sharper plays a lot of center field and is great at jumping routes without tipping his move. Favre gets the edge because he's only thrown seven picks all year, but should he happen to get careless, his former teammate could be lurking to make him pay.