Nearly seven months ago, 32 NFL organizations embarked on the annual ritual we know as training camp. Thousands of players and wannabes flocked to team facilities all across the country, filled with hope and anticipation.
They worked like dogs and sweat like horses in the summer heat as they vied for a limited number of jobs. Some were locks, some were likely, and many more were on their knees, praying for work. Others were just on their knees.
A few weeks later, the preseason began, an opportunity for veterans to shake off the rust and for some rookies and bubble players to say, hell yes, I can play at this level.
Some of those fringe types are probably flipping burgers at Mickey D’s by now, hopes dashed and hearts broken. For all we know, some of them might have been good players who were simply overlooked. Others should have stayed in school and finished that degree.
As coaches carved out their final rosters, we as fans prepared to be entertained, surprised, satisfied, or humiliated, depending on the performances of our respective teams.
Disappointment and heartache annually rain down on fans throughout the NFL. Two teams are in Miami today, enjoying the glitz and glamour and all the interviews and photo ops that go with making it to the Super Bowl. The rest can only look forward to next year.
Now we are concerned only with the talented players who not only made the rosters of their respective teams but managed to bring those organizations to the height of success. Their months of hard work have brought them to the ultimate showdown in American football.
In the end, the cream has risen to the top. As for the rest of us—fans from Pittsburgh, San Diego, Arizona, Dallas, New York, New England and so many others—we all have one thing in common: we are on the outside looking in.
Finally, Super Bowl XLIV is only two days away, the culmination of all the months of hard work, high hopes, on-field heroics, and off-field tweeting.
Who will win? For the 21st time since early September, we are here to put forth our best efforts to answer that question. Joining me in this endeavor I am happy to present the opinions of my steadfast compatriots: Doug Baker , Glenn Card , EA , and Steve Frith .
For the final time this season, let’s get this party started.
Super Bowl XLIV: Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints
Glenn Card sees it this way:
Who to choose, the Colts with quarterback Peyton Manning having awe inspiring numbers and accolades this year or the Saints with an equally inspiring leader in Drew Brees? Both of these teams seem to have the ability to score at will.
We’ve seen the Colts rally in a number of fourth quarter comebacks this year. They always seem to get a slow start but when the adjustments are made there is little a defense can do to slow those Colts down. In their last outing against the Jets, the defense showed up big time as well. They really looked a whole lot more convincing in that win for the AFC title.
The Saints seem to be, well...blessed. They too have been strong all season on both sides of the ball. Lost a couple of games which made you scratch your head but otherwise have won their games fairly convincingly.
I mentioned the Colts first in my opening paragraph only because of alphabetical placement. The Saints will come out No. 1 by the end of this Super Bowl game.
And this from EA :
Super Bowl winner: New Orleans Saints. WHO DAT?! With all due respect to the Indianapolis Colts, whom I will admit are the better team, I am taking the Saints over them for a few reasons.
First is remembering Hurricane Katrina.
The aftermath of that disaster may be forgotten by the rest of us since it had no real impact on us, but I'm sure the impact is still fresh in the heads of southern Louisiana residents, especially the Saints, who for so long have been the laughingstock of the NFL. They almost made it all the way in 2006 when the Katrina thing was more relevant, but neither the Saints nor their fans have forgotten.
This is, without a doubt, the best team the New Orleans Saints have fielded in their team's history. They have an explosive, dynamic quarterback in Drew Brees, one of the league's best. Their running game is every bit as dynamic as Brees, and you never know just what they'll throw at you.
Pierre Thomas is a bruiser who can run up and down the field, and Reggie Bush is so quick and elusive, if you blink you'll miss him bust off a 20-yard run.
With two solid defenses with their share of defensive holes, this game has all the makings of a shootout between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Each secondary is good enough to take away one, maybe two guys from each side, letting them pick their poison. Manning's top targets, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Pierre Garcon will be very hard to contain.
However, the task becomes easier for New Orleans seeing as how the Colts don't have as much as a running game, whereas the Colts have to try and shut down Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and Jeremy Shockey, while also keeping Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, and Pierre Thomas honest.
Even though it's the Colts, for some reason I'm not going to be rabidly cheering against them. I think on paper, Indy has the better team, but what it all comes down to is that Drew Brees has more toys to tinker with on offense and, playing in Miami, there is somewhat of a home turf advantage.
Since 'Nawlins' is in closer proximity to Miami, I expect them to have more fans in attendance than the Colts. Remembering Hurricane Katrina and all the adversity to the city of New Orleans that came with it, I think the Saints will be the more popular team among fans with no emotional ties to either team playing in this game.
Taking this all into consideration, I see the Saints winning their first Super Bowl this Sunday.
Steve Frith has a lot to say, as always:
Simply put: the Saints. Yes, the Saints. I can sum this up quickly, and if you've watched the playoffs, you'll understand my reasoning. Remember how quickly Peyton went down when he thought he was going to get sacked?
Ok...now, with that in mind, remember how many times the Saints' defense knocked (poor) Brett Favre on his ass? Right...you're starting to get it now. The Saints will bring unbelievable pressure on Peyton Manning. By the end of the first half, Manning’s ass will be iced when he's not on the field just to help keep the swelling down.
Here's what you can expect from the Saints' defense: pressure, and lots of it. The Colts will answer by trying to create quick, short passes to the either the tight ends or the wide receivers running quick, short routes.
Of course, the Saints will try to stop these passes, most likely by man to man coverage and really bumping the WR's at the start of their route to disrupt the timing of them. If this works as planned, it will truly screw up Manning.
Not for nothing, Peyton is a great QB. He knows the game inside and out, and is second only to Tom "Terrific" Brady (c'mon, you saw that coming!), and he is a master of throwing the ball and having his receivers turn and immediately have the ball right there.
The receivers know when they need to turn to make the catch, and Manning throws it right where it needs to be, right when it needs to be. He's that good. However, when their routes are messed up, what will this do to Peyton’s timing with his throws? Will he hold it and take the sack? Will he throw elsewhere? Will he try to make the throw risking an interception? I'm guessing he'll throw at least two interceptions. At least.
Have you seen the accuracy of Brees? Booya. Booya indeed. I don't think that the Colts defense can contain the Saints offense...oh, and Dwight Freeney has missed practice everyday this week (I wrote this Wednesday night), and "limped" into the press meeting stating that's he's "hopeful" to play in the Super Bowl.
This is a huge blow to the Colts defense. Can they get by without him? Sure they can. When they get behind, will the defense be saying "Man, if Freeney was playing, it'd be different"? Sure they will. If Freeney plays, will he be a game changing influence? Nope. With him hurting, they won't have to double team him, and the Saints can exploit him and his sore ankle.
On to Brees. If any one QB is more accurate than Peyton, then Brees may very well be second on the list only behind Brady (now I know you saw that one coming, too).
Brees is deadly accurate. His arm is as strong as they come in the NFL. He knows how to win, how to come back, and he can thread a needle with a football. He's made throws this season (and his whole career some could argue) that just "WOW" everyone and leave them wondering how he made that throw? How'd he sneak that ball in there?
Also, as far as mobility goes, I'd give the advantage to Brees.
Everyone keeps saying how Manning and the Colts have been at the Super Bowl "just" two years ago. That doesn't really hold a lot of water. Different teams, different players, different everything. The Pats won 18 games in a row. Then they lost one. See what I mean? Just because you've been somewhere and done something before, it doesn't really mean didly squat.
The Saints are playing for their first Super Bowl victory. What more motivation could you ask for?
So, in short, the Saints will take this one. Peyton will try to manage a comeback but will fail. Miserably.
I'm hoping the Saints take this one not only so that they'll take their first Lombardi trophy home, but so that I won't have to hear (and read) about how "great" Peyton Manning is for the next year. He's still second to Brady. Don't believe me?
Let’s say that the Colts win this Sunday. How many Super Bowl rings will he have? Okay, and how many will Brady still have? Right. Thanks.
Doug Baker weighs in:
If you consider the entire history of the Super Bowl, most of the games have been duds and have not lived up to their hype. This past decade, however, we have seen some of the most exciting, closely contested games in the marquee matchup in American sports.
Super Bowl XLIII promises to be one of the best. Whether it lives up to that hype remains to be seen. But with the New Orleans Saints versus the Indianapolis Colts, you have one of the most exciting matchups ever.
First, you have the two best teams in the regular season from the AFC and NFC in the game. That does not happen very often. Second, you have two of the best quarterbacks in the league with a number of excellent receivers to throw to. Drew Brees has been fabulous this season, and Peyton Manning as played as well this season as any quarterback I have ever seen in my lifetime.
Third, with those outstanding quarterbacks you have two of the most prolific offenses in the league. And fourth, need I say, you have two defenses that are better than they have been in the past, but are mid-tier NFL defenses that are vulnerable? It could be one of the highest scoring games in Super Bowl history if these two offenses start sprinting up and down the field on each other.
So picking a winner is very hard. Will the Saints get to Peyton Manning and batter him like they did Brett Favre in their NFC Championship win over the Minnesota Vikings? The Colts offense line has played well this year, but they have been known for lapses in the playoffs against aggressive teams like the Greg Williams run Saints.
Will Dwight Freeney, the pass rushing machine of the Colts be healthy enough to get pressure on Drew Brees, and if he is ineffective, will the rest of the defensive line be effective without his presence? The Colts have a vulnerable secondary that has been protected by the great offense of the Colts, able to play with leads and play the pass.
It really is a tough game to call. They are both great teams, the best in the league.
But at the end of the day who am I picking? Peyton Manning has been a magician this year. He has avoided the annual choke job the Colts often put up in the playoffs. I’m going with the best quarterback.
The Colts will win the Super Bowl 42-34.
And of course, TR has an opinion too:
It’s difficult to pick against Peyton Manning. As much as I don’t like the guy, I have to give him his props. His arm has taken the Colts exactly where they want to be. The statistics, the accolades, and the adoration all speak for themselves, so there is no need to get into it here.
The Saints finally have emerged from the shadows to become one of the most well-balanced teams in football. Drew Brees finished the regular season with a QB ranking of 109.6, almost ten points better than the esteemed Mr. Manning. In the postseason, he has only improved on that statistic.
While Manning has a terrific arsenal of receivers, Brees has more. During the regular season, he was able to hit 10 different receivers for touchdowns, while Manning had to make do with five.
Offensively, the Saints have one thing going for them that the Colts do not: a running game. New Orleans has had three rushing touchdowns in the postseason, and the Colts have had none. For that matter, the Colts had one of the NFL's least productive running games during the regular season.
So it would appear that the Colts’ offensive chances rest on Peyton Manning’s arm. No surprise there, but if this were my team, I would be nervous about that fact.
Defensively, the Colts have been giving up some yards, primarily on the ground. The Saints have given up even more, but their prolific offense has compensated nicely. Any way I look at it, this game figures to be high-flying and high-scoring.
But let’s get real here: This game could go either way, perhaps on the basis of intangible factors. There are many stories swirling around this Super Bowl, and I believe that one or more of those stories will decide the outcome.
The magic of Peyton Manning cannot be underestimated. But the story that interests me most is the one about the underdog Saints, the city they represent, and the fans who have endured hardships the likes of which most of us cannot even fathom.
We all know how much these fans love their team and it is worth noting that the team loves them back. No paper bags on these fans' heads.
There is an unmistakable aura about the New Orleans Saints that has been apparent from early in the season. At the end of the day, I believe they want this more. Hard to imagine anyone wanting to win more than Peyton Manning does, but I can’t take my eyes off that aura.
I’m looking forward to an upset win. GEAUX SAINTS!
Enjoy the game, boys and girls!