The NFL’s best, and probably most-liked, player leads the team of the decade, in the last NFL season of the decade, against the team America has adopted as its own after Hurricane Katrina rattled a city that for too long has known failure on the field.
In the wake of the Haiti disaster, both teams have a Haitian-American player who played prominent roles in their teams' respective conference championship games.
The league’s two best offenses, led by the league’s two best quarterbacks, promise an exciting, must-see Super Bowl that could actually approach last season’s classic between the Steelers and Cardinals.
The NFL could not have picked a better Super Bowl matchup.
However, there is one bad thing about this year’s Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLIV will forever be used as the study case—read: excuse—for why teams should lay down and rest players at the end of the season once they have clinched a playoff spot and/or home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Let me remind you that the Saints and Colts were both 13-0 following Week 14 of the NFL season, but combined to go 1-5 in their final three games.
While not all five losses were the result of the Colts and Saints completely laying down, it is easy to argue that neither team was playing at 100 percent in most of the six games.
In fact, the Cowboys victory over the Saints in Week 15 is most likely the only game of the six in which the Colts or Saints legitimately got beat while playing at full strength. Sure, the Saints lost to the Bucs in Week 16, but anyone who watched the game knows that the Saints did not appear to be working at 100 percent.
So, why is laying down a bad thing? For one, it’s not fair to the fans who pay good money to attend the games. How would you feel if you dished out a few hundred dollars to see Curtis Painter blow the game, while Peyton watches like a statue from the sideline?
Also, as it did this season with the Jets, laying down can have playoff implications. While the Jets proved worthy of their playoff appearance by advancing to the AFC Championship Game, it is hard to deny that another team may have been robbed of a chance to play in the postseason after the Colts handed the Jets a victory in Week 16.
Lastly, laying down strongly decreases the possibility of a team completing a perfect 16-0 season, something fans want to see. Of course the possibility always exists that a team will refuse to lay down and finish the season 16-0 as the Patriots did in 2007. However, their Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and the Colts and Saints Super Bowl matchup, will only cause teams to further question the benefits of playing starters for the full 16-game schedule once the playoffs have been assured.
Am I blaming the Saints and Colts for laying down at the end of the season? Absolutely not. Both teams did what they thought was best for them in their quest to win the Super Bowl. However, that does not mean it’s right.
It’s up to the NFL to find a solution to the problem. Commissioner Roger Goodell has discussed possible solutions, such as rewarding teams with incentives like extra draft picks for not resting starters. The fact that Goodell is thinking and discussing the issue at all shows why he is perhaps the best commissioner in all of sports.
However, whatever the solution, Goodell needs to make solving the problem one of his priorities this offseason.