The last time the top two seeds from the NFC and AFC played off in a SuperBowl was in 1993, when the Cowboys blew away the Bills. This season, as the Colts and the Saints both remained unbeaten well into the season, the likelihood of their meeting in the final game was discussed by many, and rejected by some. After each team stuttered at the end of the regular season with losses that were spun as meaningless as they had already clinched the number 1 seeds, they are now playing off in what should be a far closer final than in 1993.
Despite the fact that these are two high powered passing offenses, this won’t be a wild shootout. With hard-hitting offences, there will be plenty of pressure on each QB, and no shortage of stoppages and turnovers.
Both teams have had strong offenses for the last few years. What has lifted the Saints into Superbowl contention was the arrival of veteran Darren Sharper from the Eagles, who together with co-ordinator Greg Williams, have transformed this into a top defence that has given the offense plenty of game time to rack up high scores, and led takeaways. The job they did on one of the toughest QBs in Brett Favre in the NFC championship game was something to behold. Without a single sack, they pushed and battered him to the point where he was visibly shaken and needed treatment. Under that sort of pressure, even the best QB will make mistakes and hurry their throws. In addition to pressure on the line, their additional training in stripping the ball paid off with a number of turnovers. That will be the key to victory for the Saints.
These days, Peyton Manning has been dubbed the smartest QB ever, and is no stranger to big games and plenty of pressure from a defensive front. It took him nearly the entire first half to work out the Jets’ number one ranked defense, and once he did, he rallied his team from a 6-17 deficit to a 30-17 win. He will be able adjust his game as needed, and he has the patience to play the short, underneath game (and I’m not Drew Brees does). This will chew up time on the clock and keep the Saints off the field. He also has the poise to come from behind, as the Colts have done several times this season.
The keys to victory in this game will be yards achieved after the catch (because big plays may be limited, so look out for lots of screens and short passes), holding on to the ball (the tackling will be ferocious), and time of possession. Also look out for some kick/punt returns.
For the punters, the market has the Colts a 4.5 point favourite at $1.52, with the Saints at $2.88. Given the speed at which these teams can score, the line is meaningless, so stay away. Because I think this will be a see-saw struggle, it should be perfect for in-play betting. The Colts have the ability to come back from a big deficit. The points scored line is 55.5 points, which is 8 touchdowns. My instinct says to back the “under”, although for in-play fans, this could also be a good one. Scoring will probably happen in fits and bursts as the teams make adjustments.
With no geographic loyalties, I just want to see another great game. There have only been two or three good ones so far this postseason, so let’s hope this one lives up to expectations.