NFC scouting report

January 17, 1999|By Vito Stellino

Vikings run offense vs. Falcons run defense -- This could be the best matchup of the game. The Vikings have a solid 1-2 punch in Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard running behind a good offensive line. But the strength of the Falcons' defense is their ability to stop the run. They're not big, but they're very active and can give teams fits if opponents don't sustain their blocks. They were second to San Diego against the run and should be able to contain the Vikings' running game. -- EDGE -- Vikings

Vikings pass offense vs. Falcons pass defense -- The passing game is the reason the Vikings are the highest-scoring team in NFL history, and it's difficult to figure out how the Falcons are going to stop them. Veteran Ray Buchanan is adequate at one corner, but he'll have a tough time against Randy Moss, and Cris Carter should be able to torch Ronnie Bradford and Michael Booker. Free safety Eugene Robinson can help out only on one side. Unless quarterback Randall Cunningham makes some ill-advised throws, the Vikings should have a big day throwing the ball. -- EDGE -- Falcons

Falcons run offense vs. Vikings run defense -- This is where the Falcons have a chance to pull an upset. Jamal Anderson, who carried 30 or more times six times this season, needs at least 30 attempts if the Falcons are to control the ball and keep the Vikings' offense off the field. The Falcons don't have a first-rate offensive line, but Anderson still manages to find holes. They'll be helped by the fact that John Randle, listed as probable, has a knee injury and could be a nonfactor. -- EDGE -- Vikings

Falcons pass offense vs. Vikings pass defense -- The Falcons' passing game has been overshadowed by Anderson's running, but that's what makes it dangerous. Once the running game gets cranked up and the safeties start to cheat, quarterback Chris Chandler can get the ball deep to Tony Martin and Terance Mathis. They should be able to beat cornerbacks Corey Fuller and Jimmy Hitchcock if they get isolated one-on-one. The Falcons actually had a better average per completion than the Vikings -- 15.8 yards to 13.7. -- EDGE -- Vikings

Special teams -- Kickers Gary Anderson of Minnesota and Morten Andersen of Atlanta stand 1-2 on the all-time field goal list. Minnesota's David Palmer is a dangerous return man, but Atlanta punter Dan Stryzinski tends to make high kicks that lead to fair catches. Minnesota's Mitch Berger specializes in kickoffs to the end zone that result in touchbacks and should keep the Falcons from getting good field position. -- EDGE --EVEN

Key matchup -- Moss vs. Buchanan. Moss has the knack for coming up with big catches when Cunningham throws it up for grabs. Since Moss usually lines up on the right side, Buchanan has the unenviable assignment of trying to contain him. The Falcons need to help him out with a pass rush. -- EDGE -- Falcons

Intangibles -- Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who recently had heart surgery, seems to have inspired the Falcons, who have never been this close to the Super Bowl. But the Vikings haven't been there in 22 years, have the home-field edge and are the better team. For the Falcons, just getting this far makes it a successful season. The Vikings' definition of success is the Super Bowl. -- EDGE -- Falcons

Prediction -- In the playoffs, the better team usually wins, especially when it is at home. The Vikings' passing game will be too much for the Falcons. Vikings, 38-17. -- EDGE -- Falcons

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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