In the conference round of the playoffs we went 2 – 2 both straight up and against the spread which makes the playoff record 8 – 2 straight up and 7 – 3 against the spread. I only have one game to screw up at this point so it looks like I will be forced to end up with a winning record both ways so I am playing with house money. (Personally, I don’t believe in the concept of house money, once you win it is yours so you can only lose. This attitude probably explains why I do not bet on football; then again, I am a pessimist.)
The Saints come into the big game off an overtime win in the Championship game where they received the lion’s share of the breaks to get their first trip to the Super Bowl. The Saints have an explosive and diverse offensive; they are very talented at all of the skill positions. The offensive line is very good in the middle though the loss of Jammal Brown early in the season has made them a bit vulnerable at the tackle.
Statistically the Saints led the NFL offensively in points and yardage. Brees led the NFL in quarterback rating and completed over seventy per cent of his passes this season. While the passing game gets most of the attention, they run about forty-five percent of their plays and are very effective; sixth in rushing average at 4.5 yards/carry.
The defense has been up and down over the season; starting very strong but injuries created some issues. Gregg Williams became the defensive coordinator this season and the defense has scheme has become much more aggressive. They blitz aggressively and look to create turnover opportunities. They will give up yardage and points though when the gambles do not pay off.
For the Colts this is their second trip to the Super Bowl in the past four years. They have beaten two excellent defensive teams in rather convincing fashion rolling up 461 total yards of offense against the best defense in the league. The passing game ranked second in the league by yardage but the running game ranked last. Of course, they also had the second highest number of pass attempts (and most completions) and the second fewest rushing attempts. They run the ball just under forty percent of the time.
On the defensive time of the ball, the Colts had a number of injury issues throughout the season but were still, overall, an effective unit. The defense is small and undersized at most positions from the NFL norm, which may contribute to their injury rate. The key to this defense is speed; they swarm to the ball. They still are fundamentally a cover two defense but in this iteration; under Coyer, they are more aggressive than they have been in the past.
This Super Bowl is a rare matchup of number one seeds that feature explosive offenses. The general view is that this should be a high scoring game with multiple lead changes where the last team with the ball wins. It is a nice script and certainly possible but perhaps not as likely as it is being hyped up to be.
The Saints should be looking to their balance and establishing the running game to set up the pass. Despite the showing in the Conference round the Colts are not a team that has given up a lot of deep balls. Big receivers on underneath routes have been particularly successful. The Saints will likely look to setup their play action for any deep plays. The Colts really are not all that vertical of a passing team mostly because opponents do not give them much of an opportunity and Manning is very patient, taking what he is given. A fast pace is generally bad for both teams given the offenses because in that type of game the margin of error is going to be extremely small. Conservative game plans seem likely for both teams.
New Orleans may have a slight edge in overall offense because of their balance. Defensively the Colts have the advantage and it is bigger than it appears from a purely statistical point of view. The problems teams have with playing great offenses like these is that their defense just can not handle the number of weapons the other team can put on the field. However, the Colts have a number of talented defensive backs and do match up reasonably well across the field with the Saints receivers. The same is not true for the Saints, who do not match up well with the second, third, and fourth options of the Colts. The edge in special teams has to go to the Saints purely by virtue of having Reggie Bush as a returner; neither team is particularly strong in this area though.
Brees was statistically the best performer at quarterback in the NFL; Manning was the MVP. This makes sense when you consider that Manning makes everyone around him better and is one of the great students of the game. His games in the playoffs have been amazing not so much in a statistical sense but because he has been throwing the ball with uncanny accuracy, hitting receivers in small openings at the right time. He may have a bad game but that does not seem to be something to count on and as good as Brees is, Manning is better.
Much has been made out of Greg Williams stating that New Orleans would try to get some “remember-me shots” on Manning. He needs to remember that the NFL officials review game film also. The NFL has already noted that the officials missed roughing the passer calls in BOTH championship round games. This is a not so subtle way of reminding both teams that roughing the passer will be a “point of emphasis” in the officiating for the Super Bowl. Expect to see early flags on this, and because of Williams comment, probably the Saints will catch the first one. If Williams is smart, he is just trying to dupe the Colts and is planning to drop eight into coverage frequently.
The Colts have been there before and they are a very stable team with great leadership, this may be an advantage at the start of the game for them but the Colts generally start slow so this might be a wash. The Saints are at a disadvantage though if they fall behind early. While they are capable of staging a come back the Colts defense is at their best when the opponent becomes one-dimensional, Colts win 31 – 21.