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NFC, AFC matchups now complete

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2010

The Saints' offense and Vikings' defense dominated in the divisional playoffs to set up a tantalizing matchup in the NFC championship game.

New Orleans' defense and Minnesota's offense didn't look too bad, either. Maybe these teams will give fans a more competitive affair than the first three games of this weekend, when the conferences' top clubs reminded everybody why they ruled all year before late-season skids.

Brett Favre is headed to New Orleans to try to return to the Super Bowl at age 40, 12 years after his last appearance. Two downtrodden fan bases will watch as the top-seeded Saints host the NFC title game for the first time, less than five years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans. Minnesota hasn't gone to the Super Bowl since 1977; New Orleans has never been.

The Vikings routed the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 on Sunday to set up the NFC championship showdown. Favre threw four touchdown passes, while the defense sacked Tony Romo six times and forced him into three turnovers.

"To win the way that we did doesn't mean anything going into next week," Favre said.

A day earlier, the Saints trounced the Arizona Cardinals 45-14. Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes and Reggie Bush scored on an 83-yard punt return and a spectacular 46-yard run.

The Jets upset the second-seeded Chargers 17-14 on Sunday to fill out the last spot in the NFL's final four. New York goes back to Indianapolis, where the top-seeded Colts showed no signs of rust in beating Baltimore 20-3 on Saturday to reach the AFC title game.

The Jets handed the Colts their first loss of the season, 29-15, on Dec. 27 in Indianapolis. Of course, the Colts had already clinched home-field advantage by then, and coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and other starters early in the second half before New York rallied.

"A matchup that probably nobody wanted, but too bad," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Here we come!"

Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller three plays into the fourth quarter Sunday, then Shonn Greene gave the Jets breathing room with a 53-yard scoring run on their next possession.

The upstart Jets (11-7), who have won seven of their last eight, advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1999.

The Chargers (13-4) not only saw their 11-game winning streak end, but endured yet another playoff meltdown after earning the AFC's No. 2 seed.

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