Five reasons why the conference championship games will make for the most competitive and compelling round of the NFL playoffs:
The scoring defenses. When points are down, games are close. The Jets (first), Colts (eighth) and Vikings (10th) all allowed an average of fewer than 20 points per game, and along with the Saints, they combined to limit the weekend’s four losers to 34 total points. All the defenses tackle well and force key takeaways.
The quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez might not seem to belong in a final four with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Brett Favre, but like the others he is doing what he needs to win: Protect the ball and make good decisions. Don’t expect any of these quarterback to melt under the heat.
The tight ends. When everything breaks down, the quarterbacks all have a trusty friend to turn to. Dallas Clark, Dustin Keller, Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe are great safety nets.
The great minds. Some of the smartest people in the NFL are left in the draw. It starts with Manning and continues with some brilliant schemers: Rex Ryan, Sean Payton and Brad Childress. All four teams will go in well schooled and prepared.
The domes. For the first time, the elements won’t be a factor in either title game. The Saints and Colts play home games indoors, but don’t expect that to intimidate the visitors much. The Vikings are used to dome noise, and the Jets have been physical road warriors through two rounds.