For all the talk about the importance of home-field advantage in the playoffs, the cruel truth for top-seeded teams is this: The last time both of them made the Super Bowl was 1993.
The Colts and Saints can’t like hearing that. Plus, both of them lost at home late in the season, albeit not in critical games.
Then again, there is the history — or lack thereof — for these franchises in conference title games. The Saints are 0-1, a 39-14 loss at Chicago three years ago. The Jets, going back to the AFL days, are 1-2, the last a 23-10 defeat at Denver in January 1999.
Minnesota has won four NFC championships, but also has lost four, and surely wants to forget the 2000 NFC title contest, a 41-0 rout at the hands of the Giants.
Indianapolis beat New England 38-34 in an AFC championship classic three years ago, then took the Bears to win the Super Bowl — in Miami, where this year’s big game will be played.
But since moving to Indy in 1984, the Colts are 1-2 in conference title games.
The oddsmakers believe the Jets have run out of miracles and made them 7-point underdogs, while the Vikings are 4 1/2-point dogs at New Orleans.
NY Jets (plus 7) at Indianapolis
Rex Ryan has the Jets believing they can achieve anything, and so far they have. Since he mentioned they were out of playoff contention after a Game 14 loss to Atlanta, the Jets have won four straight, twice on the road in the postseason.
In their 29-15 win at Lucas Oil Stadium to snap the Colts’ record 23-game regular-season winning string — including the first 14 this season — they benefited greatly from Peyton Manning sitting out much of the second half. Ryan knows his top-ranked defense will see plenty of Manning on Sunday.
With all the blitzing they do, the Jets are not great at sacking quarterbacks. They won’t likely rattle the four-time league MVP, and his supporting cast is deep and talented. While Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is the best cover man in football and will be charged with shutting down Reggie Wayne, look for Manning to find other targets. Frequently.
New York’s best chance is for its No. 1-rated rushing game to dominate the ball and the clock. It could happen behind a superb offensive line, but the Colts shut down Baltimore’s staunch running game last week. If rookie QB Mark Sanchez has to win this game for the Jets, simply put, they won’t win.
New York’s impressive run figures to end here, but if the Jets are close in the fourth quarter, don’t count them out.
Minnesota (plus 4 1/2) at New Orleans
The Vikings were a great team at home, a mediocre one on the road. Not that Brett Favre will be uncomfortable in the Superdome, where he earned his only Super Bowl victory and which the team he rooted for as a youngster growing up in Mississippi calls home.
Favre picked apart the Cowboys last week, and Dallas has a much better defense than New Orleans. The Saints, though, are very opportunistic, and will seize on any mistakes or bad decisions Favre makes.
Of course, if Adrian Peterson gets the running game going, it will open up the entire field for Favre, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shancoe and Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin.
Minnesota will need lots of offense against the potent Saints, whose receiving corps is deeper than even the Vikings’. Although New Orleans doesn’t have a match for Peterson, it has three solid running backs in Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. How sensational was a finally healthy Bush last week?
The matchup of Favre against Drew Brees is as spicy as a French Quarter etouffee. Both should find the end zone a few times.
The Vikes have a big edge on the defensive line, particularly with end Jared Allen, who had just one of the team’s six sacks against Dallas, but cleared the way for others to get to Tony Romo.
Winning in New Orleans isn’t an absurd idea for the Vikings. But the Saints’ saga deserves a Super ending.
Versus spread, 1-3 (108-133-3 season); Straight up, 1-3 (171-83 season)
Best Bet: 6-13
Upset Special: 10-9
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees runs off the field after their NFL football divisional playoff game in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 45-14 to advance to the NFC conference championship. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning waves as he walks off the field after the NFL divisional football playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Colts won 20 – 3. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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