Super Bowl XLIV: The Preview and Prediction You Demanded

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Super Bowl XLIV: The Preview and Prediction You Demanded
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The pretenders have fallen away during the last five weeks, and two teams are left standing. From the 12 teams that made the playoffs, only the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts remain.

The Saints were able to use the Minnesota Vikings’ mistakes to defeat them in the NFC Championship Game. Even though the Vikings dominated nearly every statistical category, the Saints found a way to win.

The Colts spotted the New York Jets an early lead in the AFC Championship Game, but the Colts shut down the Jets in the second half—offensively and defensively.

The Saints and Colts were the two best teams in the regular season. They are the first No. 1 seeds to reach the Super Bowl from both conferences since 1993, when the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills accomplished the feat.

The Saints are the lovable underdogs, playing for the hopes and dreams of an entire region after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans has been dreadful for many years but now has a chance to turn around the thoughts of the franchise with a Super Bowl win.

History is on the side of the Colts in this Super Bowl. There have been 27 teams to make their first appearance in the Super Bowl, and 19 of them lost.

Indianapolis is playing in its second Super Bowl in four years. These Colts are looking to solidify their place in NFL history.

Peyton Manning, a native of New Orleans and son of one of the most beloved Saints, Archie Manning, must dash the hopes of his hometown team to cement his legacy. Manning is looking to join Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger by winning at least two Super Bowls.

His counterpart, Drew Brees, is looking to show everyone who ever doubted him that he can win despite the questions of his size and more. His teammate Reggie Bush is looking to prove that he really is worthy of the third overall pick the Saints used on him.

These story lines, as well as the injury to Dwight Freeney, sit against the back drop of Miami. The weather could play a part in this game in a city like Miami, which can be sunny and rainy in the same day.

Super Bowl XLIV will match up a team that ran from its first home in the middle of the night for a new home against a team that was forced from its home because of a natural disaster for a whole season.

On paper, this matchup seems to be very even in all three phases—although both teams have some advantages and disadvantages.

Here is a breakdown of each team's advantages and disadvantages and what they have to do to win this game.

Note: In these playoffs, no team has advanced when losing the turnover battle. Only two teams have won after losing the rushing battle. Teams that have been better at kicking are undefeated. 

 

 

Indianapolis Colts

 

Advantages

1. Peyton Manning: Colts' quarterback could be the best in the NFL at his position.

2. Matt Stover: Kicker with big-game experience.

3. Past Super Bowl experience: Colts have been here before.

 

Disadvantages

1. Lack of running game: Colts last in the NFL in rush yards per game.

2. Dwight Freeney: Colts' best pass rusher could miss game with injury.

3. Weight of favorites: Everyone expects the Colts to win. Can they handle the pressure?

 

What They Need To Do To Win

Indianapolis will need to do a couple of things on offense to win this game.

The first is to protect the ball. The Saints live and die off turnovers forced by their defense.

The Colts' offense cannot afford to lose the turnover battle. New Orleans typically makes teams pay when they get turnovers.

In their run to the Super Bowl, the Colts won the turnover battle against the Baltimore Ravens and tied the New York Jets with one apiece. This trend needs to continue if the Colts are going to win.

The second thing the Colts must do is run the ball. Indianapolis is the worst rushing team in the NFL but has found somewhat of a running game in the playoffs.

If the Colts are going to win, they have to at least make the Saints think they are going to run the ball. Indianapolis cannot afford to become one-dimensional on offense.

The running game will fall on the offensive line and running backs Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Mike Hart. Those players and Chad Simpson—if he gets a chance to run the ball—must make an impact either running the ball or pass blocking on blitzes.

Manning should get his passing yards, with the No. 2 passing game in the NFL. The Colts have enough skilled players to distribute the ball to.

There is no way the Saints can stop all of the Colts' weapons. Even if New Orleans takes Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark out of the game, they still will have to find away to stop Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and more.

As long as the Colts are physical on the offensive line and give Manning a clean pocket and time to pass, it will be only a matter of time before he picks the New Orleans defense apart. There is not any quarterback in the NFL that is better than Manning at reading defenses.

The offensive line has only allowed 10 sacks all season long. They have to keep that level of play for the Colts to have a chance.

As he has done throughout the playoffs, Manning must make the Saints pay for blitzing him. If he can do that, the Colts' offense should be in good shape, and the New Orleans defense will be in for a long day.

Indianapolis must make the most of their offensive drives if the Saints try to keep them off the field by running the ball. The Colts must convert third downs and score points on their offensive possessions.

On defense, the Colts will have a major X-factor in Raheem Brock if Freeney cannot play. Brock must be disruptive to the Saints' offense so the focus is not totally on Robert Mathis.

The Colts' defense has recorded 35 sacks and 16 interceptions. That shows that Indianapolis knows how to pressure the opposing team’s quarterback.

That is only one key to beating the Saints, but the biggest key will be limiting or stopping the running game for New Orleans. The Saints love to throw deep passes on play-action fakes, and stuffing the run makes those types of plays harder to execute.

If the Colts can stop the run, then they can focus on rushing Drew Brees. Like Manning, Brees has made blitzing defenses pay.

Indianapolis should blitz, but not as much as one would think. The best way to beat the Saints would be to rush only four to five and drop the rest of the defense back into pass coverage.

The Colts' defensive linemen must get their hands up in passing situations to deflect passes. Brees is listed at 6’0”, but that is only if he is standing on a stack of books.

Getting their hands up when rushing will cut down on throwing lanes for a short quarterback like Brees. Also by dropping six to seven players back into coverage will cut down on the throwing windows—decreasing the amount of space Brees has to drop passes to receivers.

While the Colts quarterback is not a threat to run, Brees is better at scrambling and getting a first down with his legs. Dropping extra players into coverage should make it harder for Brees to get yards on the ground.

Blitzing and trying to rush Brees does not mean he will throw interceptions or take sacks. By using this strategy, the Colts will get a chance to tip balls if they cannot reach Brees and make him have to be accurate on every throw.

Look for the Colts to play a lot of nickel and dime defense and limit the yards after catches by the Saints' receivers. If the Colts can get pressure with by rushing only four or five defenders and mixing up those defenders, they will have a good chance at getting New Orleans to punt.

Indianapolis must take good angles to make tackles and limit missed tackles. They must gang tackle and not let the Saints get easy yards on missed assignments.

The Saints will get points, but the Colts' defense must play as they have all season long —which is give, but do not break. Indianapolis can afford to give up some yards to New Orleans, but when they reach the 35-yard line, this unit must stiffen and force the Saints into field goal attempts.

If they can force the Saints to try for three points, that is a win for the Colts' defense. They know their offense can match the three points—or Manning will lead them to touchdowns.

On special teams, Indianapolis must cover kicks and either force fair catches or make quick tackles on kickoffs and punts. The Saints have several good returners, and if they get space, they can take a kick back for a touchdown quickly.

The Colts cannot afford to give up easy touchdowns on special teams if they want to win this game. Indianapolis cannot afford to turn the ball over either on kickoffs or punts.

Ball security on special teams is a must for the Colts. They do not need to muff punts or fumble kickoffs, and they need to make sure they do not put their offense in bad situations.

Indianapolis needs to try to block kicks, and if the Saints try long field goals, they need to pressure the kicker. The Colts must block well when they have to try field goals and kicks.

The Colts will be in trouble if they miss chances to put points on the scoreboard. Being sound in the kicking game is a must for Indianapolis.

Special teams and defense do not have to win the game for the Colts; they only have to play soundly and not make mistakes. The Colts' offense and Manning will win this game if it is close in the fourth quarter.

 

 

New Orleans Saints

 

Advantages

1. Saints secondary: 26 interceptions this season.

2. Role of underdog: Saints are not expected to win, should allow them to play loose.

3. Good Reggie Bush: Saints star is a threat to take the ball for six every time he touches it.

 

Disadvantages  

 

1. No championship history: The Saints have never been this far and do not know what it is like.

2. Weak defense: Saints' defense is ranked 26th overall.

3. Bad Reggie Bush: Saints star is a threat to drop passes and fumble the ball.

 

What They Need To Do To Win

The Saints find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. This city has not reached a sports championship game since 1968, when the New Orleans Buccaneers reached the finals of American Basketball Association. The Buccaneers lost that final 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Pipers.

While the Colts have found a way to win games without much of a running game, the Saints' offense struggles when they lack a running game. New Orleans must make a commitment to the running game if they are to win.

The Vikings proved the Saints are beatable if you limit their running game. The Saints need a big game on the ground from Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, and Mike Bell.

New Orleans has to be able to run the ball to stay in this game. They can use their running game to control time of possession and keep Manning on the sidelines.

Also, by running the ball, the Saints can wear down the Colts' defense. Neither defense is good against the run, but the Colts' defense is even worse against the run than the Saints.

Brees and the Saints receivers should have little trouble getting their yards. There is no way Indianapolis can stop all of New Orleans' skill players.

The Saints will be able to get the ball downfield, even if the Colts try to take Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson out of the game. They will still have Bush, Courtney Roby, Jeremy Shockey, and Lance Moore to throw the ball too.

The X-factor for the Saints is running back Bush—not only on offense, but also in the return game. Bush can be the biggest game-changer for the Saints—and that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Bush is capable of breaking a long run, making a move in the passing game for a big gain, or return a kickoff or a punt for a change in field position. Bush also can drop key passes, lose yardage trying to make plays in the rushing game, or fumble.

The Colts will focus on Bush to try to force him into mistakes by frustrating him. Bush must let the game come to him and not make a mistake by trying too hard to make a play.

New Orleans must get good offensive line play to protect Brees and open holes in the running game. The Saints' offensive line must play well—if Freeney plays or not.

On defense, the Saints need to look up the word insanity. They will find that the definition is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Why should New Orleans look up the definition of insanity? Because every team that has tried to blitz Manning in these playoffs has lost.

The Saints should not blitz Manning or try to get “remember me” hits on him. If they do, he will carve them up like a turkey on Thanksgiving. It only took Manning three drives to figure out what the best defense in the NFL was doing in the AFC Championship.

The Jets got out to an early lead, but Manning led the Colts to two field goals. And once he figured out what New York was trying to do, he blew them out. New Orleans would be wise to remember that fact.

The best defense against Manning is to try to rush only four or five and drop the rest into coverage. This way, Manning, who is not as accurate as Brees, has a much smaller window to throw the ball into.

The defensive linemen must get their hands up to try to deflect passes. Manning is 6’6” compared with Brees, but this will be harder to do. Also, choosing to play coverage could force Manning into his one weakness running the ball.

One has to figure that if Manning cannot find an open receiver at some point, the rush will get to him—even rushing four or five. By doing this, Manning will have to either throw the ball away, take sacks, or try to run.

As long as Manning does those three things, it is a win for the Saints defense. The Colts' linemen cannot block forever, so winning one-on-one matchups is a must for the New Orleans pass rushers.

The key will be to give Manning nowhere to throw the ball without blitzing him. New Orleans does not have to play this way every down, but it will make Manning have to think if the blitz is coming or if the Saints are playing coverage.

New Orleans would do well if they can pull off this strategy and play this way on defense in either dime or nickel. That way, they can blitz when they want or drop into coverage, as well.

The biggest key to this game for the New Orleans defense is turnovers. The defense is at its best when it forces the opponent into turning over the ball.

The Saints have lost every game in which they did not win the turnover battle. The best way to win the turnover battle is to force Manning to throw interceptions. Again, this is where dropping six to seven defenders into coverage plays into the game plan.

One of the Saints biggest strengths is their secondary and most importantly Darren Sharper, Tracy Porter, Randall Gay and more. These players have to be able to blitz Manning and make plays in coverage.

The key to this game will be if the Saints are smart enough not to blitz Manning but force him to be extremely accurate. New Orleans down fall will be hubris if they try to blitz Manning when it has been shown that is a bad idea.

On special teams the Saints need to provide good coverage on punts and kickoffs. New Orleans does not have too much to worry about with the Colts return game but that does not mean a letting them have a big play in the kicking game.

The Saints do an and edge in the return game if Reggie Bush and the other New Orleans return men do not fumble kickoffs or muff punts. New Orleans cannot afford to give the Colts a short field.

For the Saints their only X-factor is their kicker Garrett Hartley. The young kicker showed no nerves while kicking the game winning field goal in the NFC Championship game but he has never experienced Super Bowl pressure.

Hartley’s counterpart, Matt Stover, will be making his third Super Bowl appearance—and he has won one. There is a chance that Hartley could be like Stover or like Bills kicker Scott Norwood if the moment becomes too big for him.

 

 

Possible Super Bowl XLIV MVP’s

 

If the Colts' Manning, Wayne, or Clark and the Saints' Brees or Bush do not win the MVP, here are possible players for each team that could.

 

Colts

1. Dwight Freeney

2. Austin Collie

3. Pierre Garcon

4. Antoine Bethea

5. Jacob Lacey

 

Saints

1. Darren Shaper

2. Will Smith

3. Tracy Porter

4. Pierre Thomas

5. Mike Bell

 

 

The Pick  

 

The Saints will try to blitz Manning and will fail to either confuse him or get to him. The Colts quarterback will start out slow but will catch on to what New Orleans is trying to do.

This game will be close at halftime, but the worst thing for the Saints is that the Colts will not commit a lot of turnovers.  That allows the Colts' offense to score touchdowns, while the New Orleans offense will settle for field goals.

The Indianapolis defense will do as it has done all year long—and that is give up plays and yardage but stiffen in the red zone. New Orleans will find that the Colts hold on to the ball better than the Vikings did.

By the end of the third quarter, the Colts will be pulling away. Midway through the fourth quarter, Indianapolis will have this game well in hand.

 

Colts 38, Saints 22

 

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