A ticket to the NFC Championship game will be punched and a trip to the Linc to face the top-seeded Eagles will be booked when the Minnesota Vikings host the New Orleans Saints this evening at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
NBC Sports Philadelphia's Derrick Gunn breaks down key points and matchups to watch for as the two teams battle for the right to face the Eagles with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line next Sunday.
• It all begins with the two head coaches. The Saints' Sean Payton and the Vikings' Mike Zimmer are longtime friends, having coached together on the Dallas Cowboys' staff from 2003-05. Payton was the offensive coordinator in Dallas while Zimmer was the defensive coordinator. Both are intense, creative and successful minds and have very similar styles of coaching. The difference: Payton is an offensive mastermind while Zimmer is a defensive guru. Zimmer's defense finished ranked No. 1 overall in the league this season. Payton's offense was No. 2 overall. Let the chess match begin.
• Keep an eye on the matchup between Minnesota all-pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas, in just his second year in the league out of Ohio State, finished sixth in the league in receiving with 1245 yards. Rhodes, Thomas' adversary Sunday, is one of the best cover corners in the game. He's got two picks and 44 total tackles on the season.
• Vikings wideout Adam Thielen finished fifth in the NFL during the regular season with 1276 receiving yards. There should be a really good battle between him and Saints' rookie first-round pick, cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore finished tied for fifth in the league with five interceptions this season.
• This game features three premiere edge-rushers. Minnesota's Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter teamed up for 20 sacks this season. Griffin finished tied for fourth in the league with 13 sacks, while Hunter supplied seven of his own. The Saints' Cameron Jordan also had 13 sacks this season. Drew Brees and Case Keenum are both pocket passers, but is any of those guys break into the pocket, look out.
• Keep an eye on the battle in the trenches between the Vikings' defensive line and the Saints' offensive line. Minnesota has a fierce pass rush, but New Orleans allowed just 20 sacks in the regular season, second fewest in the entire league.
• Which QB will do the best job of completing plays? Brees and Keenum, the latter of whom is an unlikely MVP candidate, have been two of the best this season at staying upright. Brees has been sacked just 20 times. Keenum has been sacked just 22 times. Both guys have an uncanny ability to keep plays alive and make something out of nothing.
For more analysis on the Eagles and their opponent in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game, tune into tonight's Mission Minneapolis playoff special on NBC Sports Philadelphia following the Saints-Vikings game.