When the AFC and NFC Championships were settled and it was clear that New Orleans and Indianapolis were going to the Super Bowl, I was sure: "No bout adoubt it. The Colts are gonna win."
To borrow a term from football, "After further review...."
There are a number of reasons to pull back from my early assumption that the Colts will beat the Saints—the first being the state of the Colts health. Namely, they are banged up. We know all about how Dwight Freeney will most likely be playing at half-power if that much—if he even plays. But besides Freeney, the Colts' roster looks like a hospital chart. Take a look at this. Not the roster you want to have going into the Super Bowl
And while the Saints have some injuries of their own, they are nowhere in the rough shape the Colts are.
The main injuries for the Saints are Jamaal Brown and Charles Grant. Brown, the Saint’s left tackle is a rock. His replacement, Jermon Bushrod is nowhere near the same player, so the Saints will have to offer help by keeping a TE or RB in to chip the rusher. If Dwight Freeney were at full strength, this would be a serious point for the Saints, but as it happens, Freeney, should he play, will not be at full strength. In any event, keeping a player in to chip shouldn't bother Brees all that much—he had 7 receivers with 35 or more receptions, so he is fine spreading the ball around.
The other significant injury for the Saints was losing Charles Grant, their left end. However, Bobby McCray, Grant's fill-in has played well. While the Saints didn't officially sack Brett Favre in the NFC Championship game, they did punish him, delivering a variety of vicious hits. So even if they don't sack Manning, which would be hard considering how fast he gets the ball out, the Saints can make Manning very uncomfortable when he drops back into the pocket.
However, if the Saints bring the blitz—and considering defensive coordinator Gregg Williams's track history, they will—they leave themselves open to Manning's torching them.
But if the Saints blitz Manning, it may not necessarily be to sack him—but to rush his decision-making, and allow the Saints' secondary to try to jump Manning's route. Darren Sharpen led the Saints to the third best defensive passer rating as well as the third most interceptions in the NFL. An important stat. According to the Super Bowl Gods, the team with more takeaways wins the Super Bowl. 31 out of 34 times.
So what Gregg Williams will do, is probably, send his different blitz packages and get his secondary to study where Manning normally goes when he sees a blitz coming. And try to jump those routes. New Orleans knows it can't completely stop Peyton Manning. So, the best plan would be to try to force a couple of mistakes.
However, Manning has faced Gregg Williams' defenses a lot in career. And Manning has gone 5-2 with 13 TDs against 4 INTs. Manning has a passer rating of just under 103 lifetime against Gregg William's defenses and the Colts average point total in those games was just under 27.
It will be an interest match: Manning vs. Williams. One factor in the 2009-2010 Saints favor: If they stay true to the history of this season—they were second in the NFL with 39 takeaways this season—and force the Colts to turnover the ball, they will win. Can they force Manning into turnovers?
On the other side of the ball, we have Drew Brees. And to use one word to describe Brees this year, it would unbefreakingleavable.
Of all the eye-popping stats Brees accrued this season, the one stat that jumps out—and the stat that matters in Super Bowl history is this: Drew Brees is the least intercepted passer in NFL postseason history. In 186 postseason pass attempts, Brees has thrown 11 TD passes and just 2 INTs.
Want more Brees stats? Brees is third on the all-time postseason passer-rating list, behind just Kurt Warner and Bart Starr. Brees set the record for most accurate season by a quarterback this season, completing 70.62 of his passes. And these weren't dumpoffs—Brees threw for an impressive 8.5 yards per attempt. Brees' stats are simply amazing.
And consider Freeney won't be able to provide consistent pressure and that CB Jerraud Powers was barley able to practice this week, Brees should have an easier time throwing the ball than he did against the Vikings. While the Colts have only given up 20 points this postseason, they faced in the Jets and the Ravens 2 quarterbacks with 3 seasons of experience between them. And both of them were injured. Their defense will have the toughest test of the season in facing the NFL's leading point machine—the Saints, who scored 510 points this season. Can they hold up?
I don't think so. Shockingly, I'm picking the Saints to pull this one out.
Enjoy the game.