New Orleans-Indianapolis: Super Bowl XLIV Preview and Predictions

Jeff SmithCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2010

Super Bowl 44

Super Bowl 44 – New Orleans Saints (13-3) at Indianapolis Colts (14-2) in Super Bowl XLIV this Sunday night, Feb. 7 in a 6:00 PM start from Sun Life Stadium in Miami, FL. Each team comes in as the No. 1 seed in their conference and the current spread has the Colts favored by six points with the total line at 56.5 .

On the surface this game appears to be a battle of the quarterbacks as each team has one of the best in the league. New Orleans QB Drew Brees ended the regular season with the highest quarterback rating in the league with a 109.6. He completed over 70 percent of his passes, threw for 4,388 yards and a league high 34 TDs. In his two postseason games he has completed 40 of 63 attempts for 444 yards, six TDs, and no interceptions.

This season, Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning threw for 4,500 yards with a 68.8 percent completion percentage. His 33 TDs were second only to Brees. He also won an unprecedented fourth league MVP award for his performance this year. This postseason he has completed 56 of 83 attempts for 623 yards, five TDs, and one interception.

You would have to think that the entire defensive game plan would revolve around putting as much pressure as possible on the opposing team’s QB in an effort to keep these two from picking the secondary apart. The problem with this plan is that both of these guys know out to get rid of the ball very quickly and find the open man. Their true strength is the ability to spread the ball around to a number of different receivers.

One big advantage for the Saints is their running game. Their rushing offense finished the regular season ranked sixth while Indianapolis was ranked 32nd. In the postseason they are averaging 119.5 yards per game while the Colts are averaging 71.5.

If the Saints can find a way to effectively run the ball it will take a lot of pressure off of Brees, which should allow some things to open up for him downfield.

Indianapolis on the other hand will look to complete short passes to keep moving the chains as a way to compensate for their lack of a solid rushing attack. This plan worked to perfection in the second half of the conference title game against the Jets.

New Orleans has relied all year on their defense’s ability to create turnovers. They ended the season ranked 25th in total defense but their turnover ratio was plus-11. Guys like Darren Sharper and Tracy Porter will be flying all over the field trying to knock the ball loose or pick one off in an effort to come up with a big play.

For Indianapolis, the most pressing concern is the health of All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney. He injured his right ankle in the game against New York and while he is currently listed as questionable it is believed that the injury is much worse than first expected. If he cannot go on Sunday this would be a tremendous loss for the Colts as he led the team in sacks with 13.5.

With Freeney out of the lineup the pressure will be on their other DE Robert Mathis to pick up the slack.

All in all, this game will come down to which team’s QB can best execute the game plan. While the advantage would appear to go to Peyton Manning and the Colts, New Orleans has been able to find a way to keep games close even when they are not playing their best.

This game should be a shootout as everyone expects and go right down to the final minutes before the outcome is decided. With that in mind, I’m taking the Saints (+6 ) and the OVER on 56.5 .

Click Here For Super Bowl XLIV Handicapping Picks for the big game.