The New Orleans Saints are one victory away from justifying my NFL-Football-Preview">preseason prediction that they would win the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for them (and my reputation), the Indianapolis Colts stand in the way of their potential coronation.
I have to admit that I'm a bit conflicted about picking a winner for this game. My heart tells me to take the Saints, but my head says the Colts are the better team.
Judging by what I've seen and read the past couple weeks, I think my personal waffling is a bit of a microcosm of what the rest of the nation is currently feeling. New Orleans is clearly the sentimental favorite, while the consensus of the so-called experts is pretty solidly that Indianapolis will prevail.
When you really get down to it and examine both teams, there's little mystery to why this is the case.
In what has been a decidedly unpredictable season, the one consistent factor this year has been the Colts' and Saints' positions atop the league standings.
From the very outset, right up to the fast approaching Super Bowl Sunday, both teams have been staring at everyone else through the rear-view mirror. That's pretty much where most of the similarities end though.
In fact, this game and its contrasting styles represents a Hollywood cliche come to life. It's the puncher vs. the boxer, the half court offense vs. the fast break press, the home run hitter vs the veteran pitcher, etc.
On the one hand, Indianapolis has carved up opposing teams with a surgical precision. Much of the credit for that is obviously due to the expertise of Peyton Manning.
Execution is the calling card of the Colts. They don't call a lot of fancy plays, but the plays they do run are carried out with an almost mechanical degree of perfection.
On offense, they are much like a pass-based version of the Green Bay offense under Vince Lombardi. The other team knows what is coming, they just can't do anything about it.
Their defense is basically the other side of the same coin. Rarely is a player out of position and their timing is exquisite. Indy's D just doesn't leave many openings for opponents to exploit.
The polar opposite of the Colts' coldly efficient play is the Saints' all-out daredevil style of attack. The Saints throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the team lined up on the other side of the field.
New Orleans' forte is the big play and they are never short on tricks designed to obscure what might be coming next. Misdirections on offense and forced turnovers on defense combine to keep opponents off balance on both sides of the ball.
In spite of the many differences, there are several important similarities between these two teams.
Both have solid offensive lines that have kept their quarterbacks upright all season long. The Colts led the league in least sacks allowed, while the Saints ranked fourth.
Whatever advantage that might have given Indianapolis could be mitigated by the probable absence of Dwight Freeney, who was the Colts' top pass-rusher this season.
Another key similarity is the amount of playmakers these teams have on offense. The reason that nobody has been able to shut these two teams down is that there are so many options to go to.
One final key that I think is being overlooked in this game is the importance of the run game.
The Saints have been dangerous all season long when their three-pronged attack of Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell have been on their game.
Less evident though, has been how much they have struggled against teams that have shut down their run game. Without an effective ground game, they are less able to attack down the field and the entire offense suffers.
While it was largely an afterthought during the season, Indy has really stepped it up on the ground during the playoffs. If they can play solid run defense against New Orleans and pick up the key yards on offense, they might just run away with the game.
In the end, I think this has the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls ever and it's got 'shootout' written all over it.
- Take the Points - I would not be surprised at all (and very happy) if the Saints won it outright, but at the very least it should be a close game.
- Bet Your House on the Over - The total is listed as 57 points. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees could both score 29 points in their sleep.
- Put Your Money on "Tails" for the Opening Coin Toss - I always pick tails.