New Orleans Saints vs Indianapolis Colts
If you haven't already, expect to hear thousands of predictions and picks for this weekends game. Some predictions will be good, others will be awful, and some will be confusing. If you have followed this blog all season you understand that I put a lot of thought into each of my picks and I try to play it as even as I possibly can.
For that very reason I spent the bulk of the 2010 season considering the New Orleans Saints the best team in the NFL. This assessment was made absolutely clear after the post-Thanksgiving edition of Monday Night Football where the Saints ravaged a New England Patriots team that was healthy and holding on to Super Bowl aspirations. After that game the Saints began to look beatable, almost falling to the Redskins and Falcons before finally losing at home to the Cowboys and on the road to the Bucs. The Saints would also lose their final game of the regular season to the Panthers, but we can't count that game given the Saints starters were mostly on the bench. With those three loses aside, the Saints were able to dominate the NFC for most of the 2010 season, and in turn became America's darlings.
The Colts of 2009 entered the season disrespected by the media and continue to be just that. Entering the season questions surrounded the franchise and whether or not they could win without retired Head Coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison. After getting manhandled by the Dolphins on Monday Night but still coming up with the win the Colts were written off as a "second class" team in the AFC behind the Steelers, Chargers, and Patriots. When the Colts beat the Patriots on Sunday Night football excuses were made. When the Colts decided to give up on their perfect season and choose health over 16-0 they were ridiculed by their fans, and everyone else's fans alike, even after Anquan Boldin and Wes Welker got injured to the point where it cost their teams playoff longevity. Entering the divisional playoffs many suspected the Colts would again be "one and done," entering the AFC title game the media and the Jets fans alike spent an entire week bashing the Colts. But all the 2009 Colts have done is win every game that they have tried to; Which is why they're in the Super Bowl.
One group of people have backed the Colts for pretty much all of the 2009: the bookies of the United States of America. Outside of their week three showdown with the Cardinals, those who set the lines for gambling on the NFL have favored the Colts in every game they have played in this year, and there's a reason for that. Bookies aren't in the business of losing money. It sounds stupid, but these people know what they're getting into when they move a line from -3.5 to -6.
I know that pointing to the bookmakers is dumb, but a huge jump like that deserved at least a little attention.
If I really want to point out a dumb, inconsequential statistic for you, it would be the curse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it's relevance in this game. Since 1976, their first year a franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never beaten the eventual Super Bowl champion. As I said earlier in this post, the 2009 Buc's have defeated the 2009 New Orleans Saints. If the Saints win this game they will become the first team to ever lose to the Buccaneers and win the Super Bowl in the same season. Like the 2009 Saints, the 2001 Rams got to the Super Bowl this decade in a season where they lost to the Bucs, and we all know what happened in that game.
Okay, enough of the issues that have nothing to do with this game.
This game is going to be a real treat because it's the first time that this generation of players can claim an undisputed champion. This decade I have had little to no problem with the champion crowned every year, but there has always been the proclamation "well if this team had played such and such." You can't make that argument this year. The Colts are 16-0 in games they have tried to win, the Saints are 15-2 in games that they have tried to win. Combined these two teams started 2009 27-0. Both were one seeds in their conferences and for the first time since 1993 the two one seeds are squaring off in the Super Bowl. In other words; We're finally getting a titanic bout for the Super Bowl.
The Saints enter this game with the more "high powered" offense. Like the 2001 Rams or the Colts teams of the early part of the decade, the Saints entire game plan runs through their offense. Their defense isn't bad, but it relies on turnovers and the fact that opposing teams are often playing from behind. This strategy makes for a strong pass rush and turnover driven secondary.
The Saints biggest strength is also their biggest weakness entering this game; All Pro Quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is without a doubt one of the best QB's in the NFL, but he also hasn't exactly played his best football in big games. In the NFC Championship game, both in 2006 and 2009 Brees has looked shaky. Brees' size, though not always an issue, can hurt the quarterback going against a defense that has done well taking away the big passing play in 2009. Overall the Saints will need to rely on Brees this Sunday to bring the city of New Orleans it's first championship, and that's a lot of pressure.
The Colts are certainly a more balanced team than the Saints, though the statistics don't always prove it. Joseph Addai hasn't had a lights out season in 2009, but he has quietly been one of the most productive backs in the league, at times willing the Colts offense to success. I wholeheartedly believe that Addai will have a positive impact on this game for Indianapolis, and he will be a key to victory.
On defense the Colts just need to do what they do. The Saints can score, and they probably will score on Indianapolis, the Colts just need to make sure that they don't lose their composure. Since 2005 this Colts defense has gone into every game like a fighter ready to take punches. This team has done amazingly adjusting throughout games and forcing turnovers; like in the 2006 and 2009 AFC Championship games. It will be very important for this Colts team to keep their composure after 20 yard receptions or back to back 6 yard runs.
The final key to the Colts winning their second Super Bowl since 2006 is their four time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning. In Super Bowl XLI Manning was the games MVP, leading his team to victory over a very good Bears defense. Since then, Manning has been called one of the more undeserving Super Bowl MVP's of the decade, and you know that bothers the inner historian in Manning. Manning can't let this control him though, and I'm sure he won't. At the end of the day Manning knows the two rings is more important than great stats in the Super Bowl. In Kurt Warner's last two Super Bowl appearances he had amazing stats but no hardware. Manning would much rather be on the Ben Roethlisberger side of the fence with two average performance and two rings.
There has been a lot of talk about this game coming down to who has the ball last. Maybe it will, though I doubt it. I have a feeling that this game will be close early, but come celebration time, you'll be seeing a lot more Blue and White in Miami than you will Gold and Black.
I'm taking the Colts to win the Super Bowl