Familiarity, Manning give edge to Indy
Colts will win Super Bowl XLIV; here are 15 good reasons
But every other body part says to go with the Indianapolis Colts.
Fifteen mostly indisputable reasons the Colts will win Super Bowl XLIV:
1. 'Been there, won that' factor
The Colts just won this thing three seasons ago. And they won it in the same city and at the same stadium after staying at the same Fort Lauderdale hotel and practicing at the same Miami Dolphins facility.
More importantly, they won it with the same core players (Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Jeff Saturday, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Ryan Diem, Antoine Bethea, Joseph Addai and Ryan Lilja), most of the same coaches (such as Jim Caldwell, Howard Mudd and Tom Moore) and the same offensive and defensive systems.
As an added bonus, the Colts played here in September and beat the Dolphins.
(Saints rebuttal: Freeney's torn right ankle ligament is more painful than Lady Gaga's wardrobe. It looks like he's going to need Dr. Novocaine to play. You forgot to mention that rookie head coach Caldwell, not Tony Dungy, will be at the Colts' controls. The Saints played down here in October, overcame a 21-point Dolphins lead and won 46-34. Helloooooo, this is Brees and the Saints we're talking about here, not Rex Grossman and the overwhelmed Chicago Bears.)
2. Common crummy opponent
The Saints beat the worst team in the league -- the St. Louis Rams -- on the road by five points.
The Colts beat them on the road by 36 points.
(Saints rebuttal: Nice try there, Sparky. The Saints and the Colts had five common opponents [Miami, St. Louis, the New York Jets, New England and Arizona]. The Saints won by a combined 83 points; the Colts -- and I'm not counting the Dec. 27 Colts-Jets game in which Indy sat its starters -- won by a combined 75.)
3. Manning the great
Giving Manning two weeks to dissect the Saints' defense is like giving the Colts a 3-point lead before kickoff.
Nobody, absolutely nobody, puts in more film work than No. 18. By the time Manning is done breaking down New Orleans' defense, he'll know what kind of gum Saints safety Darren Sharper chews on game day.
If 40-year-old Brett Favre threw for 310 yards against the Saints, what sort of numbers will Manning, a former Super Bowl MVP and four-time league MVP, put up with an extra week's worth of preparation? Manning gashed the Jets and their No. 1-ranked defense for 377 yards and three TDs. The Saints ended the regular season ranked 25th in total defense and 26th in pass defense.
(Saints rebuttal: Peyton, I'd like you to meet defensive end Bobby McCray -- the No. 1 cause of happy feet, rushed throws and MRIs. Kurt Warner and Favre can tell you all about him. Our man Brees has faced three former Super Bowl MVPs this season: Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Warner. All he did was go 3-0 against them, throw 12 TDs and zero INTs, complete 75.3 percent of his passes and average 329 passing yards. So yeah, he's terrified of facing Oreo-licker Peyton.)
There's a reason the Colts are favored by 5½ points in this game: They're a better team from a better conference.
The Colts' best player (Manning) is better than the Saints' best player (Brees). The Colts' best wide receiver (Wayne) is better than the Saints' best wide receiver (Marques Colston). The Colts' tight end (Clark) is better and healthier than the Saints' tight end (Jeremy Shockey). The Colts' defense, even with Freeney's status in doubt, is slightly better than the Saints' defense. See where I'm going with this?
Indy isn't freaked out by the expectations or by the favored status. The Colts were favored against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI and delivered. They'll do the same thing this time.
(Saints rebuttal: 2008: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14. 2002: Patriots 20, Rams 17. 1998: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24. 1970: Kansas City Chiefs 23, Vikings 7. 1969: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7.)
5. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie
Marvin Harrison, who?
Yes, Garcon is a second-year player and Collie is a rookie. Yes, Garcon last played for a championship when he was at Division III Mount Union, and Collie didn't come close to one at BYU. Yes, they could melt into little blue-and-white puddles under the pressure of the Super Bowl.
But they won't.
Collie, who led all rookies in receiving TDs and tied for first in receptions, has scored in each of the Colts' two playoff games. In the AFC Championship Game against the Jets, Collie had 123 yards and a TD and Garcon had 151 yards and a TD. It's only the fourth time in franchise postseason history that two Colts receivers had 100-plus yards in the same game.
I'm not saying they're mistake-proof, but if Manning has confidence in them, so do I.
(Saints rebuttal: Garcon and Collie have combined for 21 NFL starts. Sharper has nearly 200. Hard to catch passes when Manning is running for his Tweety Bird life.)
6. Don't get mad, get even
In the immortal words of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Joe Kuharich: "It's not rocket surgery." So let's keep this one simple.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams told a Tennessee radio station last week that his players will deliver several "remember-me shots" on Manning. That's another way of saying he thinks the Colts' offensive line can be beaten and that Manning can be intimidated.
So the question becomes: Who do you think wins the matchup between Williams or Manning? I'll take Manning because
Nobody processes information as quickly and correctly at the line of scrimmage as Manning. Nobody is better at forcing defenses to reveal something, however small, about their coverages before the snap. And Manning is 5-2 versus Williams-coached defenses (13 TDs and 4 INTs).
As an added bonus, let's throw in these numbers: Manning was sacked only 10 times this season; lowest in the league. And Williams' defense has given up 42 points this postseason -- 22 more points than the Colts' D has allowed.
I also have a feeling that the Colts' O-line (and the officials) are going to pay special attention to McCray.
Yes, Williams loves to bring pressure and create turnovers. But the Minnesota Vikings committed five turnovers (four, if the officiating crew hadn't whiffed on a high-low hit on Favre that went uncalled) in the NFC Championship Game and still almost won.
(Saints rebuttal: "Almost winning" isn't the same as actually winning, is it, nimrod? No team forced more turnovers (46) in the 2009 regular season and postseason than the Saints. Turnovers matter: In seven of the nine Super Bowls this decade, one team had fewer turnovers than the other. In six of those seven games, the team with fewer turnovers won the game. Favre didn't get sacked in the NFC Championship Game, but so what? He had more bruises than a week-old banana and limped more than Dr. Gregory House. Don't know if you noticed, but his final interception was the product of Saints defensive pressure. The Saints have given up 42 points in the playoffs, but they've also scored 76; 26 more than the Colts' O.)
7. See Joe run
And Donald Brown, too.
Addai and Brown didn't put up huge rushing numbers this year. In fact, the Colts gained the fewest rushing yards of any team in the NFL (1,294 yards -- or 712 yards less than Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson gained by himself).
But that doesn't mean the Colts can't or won't run the ball. They rushed for 101 yards against the Jets in the conference championship (Addai had 80 of the 101).
In the red zone, they run the ball almost exactly as many times as they pass it (74-78). And the Colts did have 16 rushing touchdowns this season, which puts them near the upper third of the league.
(Saints rebuttal: We will drink the Colts' running-game milkshake. Our running backs (Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell) are better, faster and more physical than yours. And why don't you stick this in your red zone-pipe and smoke it: The Saints led the NFL in red zone pass defense this year.)
In recent years, franchises making their first-ever championship appearance -- that's you, Saints -- almost always need a barf bag.
Since 2005, nine franchises in four different pro leagues have made their championship game debuts. The nine teams: Arizona Cardinals, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Tampa Bay Rays, Ottawa Senators, Cleveland Cavaliers, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros and Seattle Seahawks.
Only one of those teams (the Heat) won the title -- and that's because they faced the first-timer Mavs.
(Saints rebuttal: Wow, that's some sample set you've got there. A whole two NFL teams. Whooee! Did you notice the Seahawks and the Cardinals lost by a combined 15 points? It took the Indianapolis version of the Colts 23 years to reach the Super Bowl. And they won it in their first appearance.)
I'm on a roll. I went 13-3 against the spread in the final week of the regular season, 4-0 in the wild-card games, 2-2 in the divisional games and 2-0 in the conference championships. I picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Cardinals last year. The smart guys in Vegas can't call me a "square" anymore.
(Saints rebuttal: You're the same loser who picked the Patriots against the Giants in XLII and the Bears against the Colts in XLI.)
The Colts aren't stupid. They don't care if this is the Saints' first championship game in 43 years of the franchise. They don't care if they're favored over New Orleans by nearly two field goals. They don't care if less than a handful of Saints have actual Super Bowl experience.
Chances of the Colts taking the Saints lightly: zero.
(Saints rebuttal: We have a chip on our shoulder the size of a Mardi Gras float. Nobody thinks we can win this thing.)
11. Raheem Brock
First of all, I think Freeney is going to play. I don't care if his ankle ligament is shredded like angel hair pasta -- he's playing.
But if Freeney can't play or is ineffective because of the injury, Brock will get those snaps. Brock isn't Freeney, but he is an eight-year vet who made eight starts this season and recorded 3.5 sacks. He's no stiff.
The Colts can flip Brock and the other defensive end, Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks this season), to whatever side gives them the best matchup. And even without Freeney, the Saints still have a problem. The problem's name is offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod.
Nothing personal, but Bushrod is a weak spot on the left side. And Jonathan Stinchcomb has had his difficulties at times on the right side.
(Saints rebuttal: Brees has been sacked exactly one time during this postseason. In those two games, he's 40-of-63 for 444 yards, has 6 TD passes, 0 INTs and a passer rating of 116.1.)
12. Pressure? What pressure?
The 2007 Patriots will probably never admit it, but the weight of an undefeated season might have taken its toll on the Hoodies. After all, there are only so many times you can listen to some knucklehead with a mike say, "Talk about going for football history" "Talk about what it would mean to finish 19-0" "Just, you know, talk."
The Colts don't have the pressure of an unbeaten season (thanks a lot, Bill Polian) on their 2009 résumés. Instead, they can concentrate on Super Bowl XLIV instead of the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
(Saints rebuttal: Our coach, Sean Payton, is a master motivator. Remember when he dressed up like Patriots coach Bill Belichick the week of the Patriots game in November? Brilliant! Relaxed and confident, the Saints won 38-17.)
13. Pressure? What pressure? -- Part 2
The Colts don't panic. Manning led Indy to seven fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins this season, including four on the road. The seven comeback wins are an NFL record.
(Saints rebuttal: Uh, you got me there.)
14. Experience and accomplishments
Most completions in NFL playoff history? Manning is ranked third. Most passing yards in NFL playoff history? Manning is ranked fourth. Most TD passes? Manning is tied for seventh.
Most receptions in NFL playoff history? Wayne is ranked fourth. Most receiving yards? Wayne is ranked eighth. Most TD receptions? Wayne is tied for sixth.
Most receptions by a tight end in NFL playoff history? Clark is ranked fourth.
Most receiving yards by a tight end? Clark is ranked third. Most TD receptions by a tight end. Clark is tied for fifth.
There are no Saints on any of those lists.
(Saints rebuttal: We'll take a Super Bowl ring over making any of those lists.)
The Colts can stick it to all the people who thought they shouldn't have sat their starters against the Jets in Week 16.
Final score: Colts 28, Saints 21.
(Saints rebuttal: Geno and his pick? Who dat?)
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.MORE COMMENTARY >>
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SUPER BOWL XLIV