It's that time again football fans! Every year as the winter solstice packs its bags to leave us, the sun begins to warm the air as a new season is upon us. But not before one special event takes place. A special event that can almost be considered a holiday to some, and to others, another stepping stone for a different sport (Spring Training).
If you don't believe me that the Super Bowl should be posted on the calendar as a holiday, just hear me out.
I had spent 11 faithful years as a soldier in the U.S. Army as an engineer. I arrived to my first (active duty) unit in 2000. Around the January/February time frame, my unit was preparing for a field training exercise. As much as I don't want to talk about it, we trained for weapons excellence, basic soldiering skills, etc. I will never forget it. Then that one day came a long, and we were told we were packing early. I asked my leadership what for, and he looked at me as if I had a football growing out of my forehead. "It's the Super Bowl, man!" he exclaimed. Wow. The Army shuts down for football. And every year after that, the Army commanders in charge of us wiggled around Super Bowl Sunday. Yes, it's a big deal.
And now for the show.
Every year in the National Football League, two teams will become supreme warriors of their respective conferences...the champions of the National Football Conference, and the American Football Conference. Two teams will emerge as the victors of their territory. They will face off to the bitter end of four quarters of professional football to determine who is truly king of football in 2009.
This year we have two teams. One very tight race won in the end by the New Orleans Saints of the NFC. It wasn't too long ago in 2005 that the devastating natural disaster Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and left the coastal city of New Orleans in ruins. $81.5 billion dollars of damage had forced 26,000 people to the badly damaged Louisiana Superdome for refuge. Shortly thereafter, in the 2006 season, the Saints posted a decent 10-6 record after the hiring of former Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Sean Payton, the acquisition of free agent QB Drew Brees, and draft pick Reggie Bush (USC).
This should have been a sign. These boys are here to play. They're here to put New Orleans back on the map. They are here to bring back that fire in the eyes of every New Orlean and give them something to be proud of...give them something to take their minds off the disaster.
Of course, we all know that every warrior has a battle cry. And that battle cry is "Who Dat?" Often mistaken, argued, and criticized over the banter of the Cincinnati Bengals motto of "Who Dey? We Dey" from times past, we now scuttle on over to the S.S. Indianapolis and check out what's happening from the AFC.
The AFC. 1984. Welcome to Indianapolis, Indiana. Baltimore is reeling after the decision that leaves them with a football team no more. The Colts had won three NFL championships out of four appearances with Baltimore. And now this. After almost a decade of despair, the Colts had finally struck gold since the "glory" days. Gone was Johnny Unitas. Enter Peyton Manning.
Since the Colts drafted Manning in 1998, the team has had the highest conversion rate on third down (44.6 percent) and fourth down (61.1 percent) plays in the NFL. While leading the Colts to their Super Bowl victory in 2007 over the Chicago Bears, Manning helped the team to an NFL record by converting 56.1 percent of its third downs.
Manning is the typical hero. Attended the same college as his QB dad Archie, dons the good-ole mid-western boy look, rugged and handsome, and plays the game of football in a way that can be described only as elite. It doesn't matter who is coaching at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Tony Dungy or Jim Caldwell, Peyton is the man.
Since the previous NFL titles were only held by the Baltimore Colts, Indy can only claim one of them, and Peyton is hungry. Can Peyton keep up with pretty boy Drew Brees? Will the Saints defense be able to read Manning and put pressure on the elite QB to make for a closer show than we think? Will the New Orleans offense shred the battle-hardened Colts defense? Let's take a look at the tale of the tape.
Peyton Manning: Leads the NFL in passing yds but ranked only sixth overall with 33 TDs, 16 Ints, 4,500 yds, 99.9 QB rating.
Receiving: Colts second in receiving yds/4,605. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne. Clark with 1,106 yds and 10 TDs, and Wayne with 1,264 yds and 10 TDs.
Ninth in total offense: 26 PPG, 416 total points, 363 yds/game.
Rushing: Dead last at 32. 80 yds/game Joseph Addai puts up a modest 828 yds on the season with 3.8/carry and 10 TDs. 1,294 total yds rushing.
Defense: Ranked 18th with 19.2 pts allowed/game, 339.2 yds/game. Ranked 16th in sacks, and 15th in INTs.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees: Leads the NFL overall in QBs. 4,388yds, 34 TDs, 11 INTs, QB rating 109.6
Saints lead the league in total offense with 403 yds/game, 31.9 pts/game, and 510 total points.
Receiving: 7th overall in receiving with 4,490yds. Marques Colston with 1,074yds. Who is Brees passing to? Receivers by committee. Bush, Meacham, Thomas.
Rushing: Ranked sixth overall. This could be the equalizer. 2,103yds rushing. 1,000 more than Indy. Pierre Thomas had 793 yds rushing, Mike Bell 754, Reggie Bush 390.
Defense: Ranked 25th overall. Yowza. Another game breaker. 341 total points allowed, with 21.3 pts allowed and 357 yds/game. Ints? Sacks? On a 25th ranked defense, not even worth talking about.
So here we go. There's your tale of the tape and how each team sizes up against eachother. Shootout. That is all I can come to terms with.
Both teams are matching up well with each other in the offense categories, save NO's advantage in the run game. Neither team defense is very notable, and both QBs are fairly even in stats.
There is also one more factor we're talking about here. Mental. With Peyton Manning having played in the Super Bowl before and used to being a champion quarterback, it's pretty safe to say that Peyton will be Peyton.
The same cannot be said for pretty Drew Brees and his surfer look. This is the first big shot for Drew Brees, and he better be mentally fit. Drew is representing the city of New Orleans and the Saints franchise by setting records on the team and leading them to their first ever big game.
Let's not forget about that experience factor. Manning has a few years on Brees, and it makes me wonder. I understand Brees has been a QB for the Chargers before, and earned an AFC division title in 2004. Brees is not too unfamiliar with pressure, but still a little green.
Final......uhhh too close to call here. If I were a bettin' man, I would take a hike from this one and go ahead and bet on Pop Warner instead. I think it will make for a great show. Right now, Las Vegas seems to be favoring New Orleans. I wouldn't bet on it Vegas...
So until next time folks, keep your eyes on the tube because Feb. 7th is right around the corner.
*All stats were taken directly from NFL.com and in no way shape or form do I work directly for, take credit, or have any relation with the National Football League, its players, or subsidaries.