24 Hours 'Til Sunday — Andy Richardson
Posted Feb. 05 at 10:06 PM
Last game of the year. For two weeks I've been beating the drum that this will be a one-sided laugher in favor of the Colts, which has less to do with any thought that the Colts are an awesome team than the Saints themselves. I think New Orleans peaked about two months ago, and is here only because they faced a mediocre Cardinals team from a weak division in the divisional round, and a Vikings team that continually shot themselves in the foot in the championship game.
So how impressed am I supposed to be by the Saints? Well, they're 15-3, so obviously they can play; they deserve to be here. But their defense is only mediocre -- strong in forcing turnovers, weak in everything else -- which will kill them against a Colts offense that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Their offense is excellent, but it also tends to get a little too cute with its running game, which seemed to result in them scoring fewer points in most of their games down the stretch than they should have. And against the Colts, they're going to need to score a lot.
Of course, for two weeks we've got storylines which suggest the team with problems in this game is the Colts. Dwight Freeney has an injured ankle and even assuming he plays, he'll be limited. (I'm thinking he'll play very little.) Now you've got Reggie Wayne aggravating a knee injury in practice and leaving early yesterday. Suddenly the Colts have a key player on offense and defense banged up. The Saints, meanwhile, appear to be fully healthy.
The Wayne injury makes things interesting, but I'm going with the belief that he's fine. And even if he isn't, I don't see a huge dropoff if Manning is forced to throw instead to Garcon, Collie, and oh yeah Dallas Clark. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown might catch a few more passes out of the backfield. There's a lot of talk about the Saints putting a big rush on Manning, as they did on Brett Favre. Well, how'd that really work out for them? Favre had a big day throwing the ball; but for a couple of fumbles, Minnesota would have scored in the 40s. Favre's first interception was on a play where any idiot watching, as the league later conceded, should have drawn a 15-yard penalty flag and set the Vikings up with a first down in Saints territory. New Orleans' pass rush isn't really that great. If they come after Manning, he'll light them up.
As for the Saints, well, as I noted earlier in the week, Indianapolis' defense slipped some in the second half of the season. It was the league's best defense in terms of scoring in the first eight games, and a bottom-10 group in the last eight. It's missing some starters, and even if Freeney plays he'll probably be hobbling. Like Ian Allan, I'm taking the over in this game (over-under is 56.5). I think the Saints will score in the 20s; I just see the Colts scoring in the 40s.
Prediction time: For those of you in square pools, here's how things will go. Colts come out a'-blazing and race to a 17-7 first-quarter lead. Manning throws a touchdown to Austin Collie and a short flip to Joseph Addai; Brees throws a little dumpoff to Reggie Bush. Second quarter, Manning throws a touchdown to Dallas Clark to make it 24-7, and the rout is on. It's 27-14 at the half (TD, Colston), 37-17 after three (TDs for Collie and Thomas), and 44-24 for your final score; Colts defense tacks on the capper. Manning is named Super Bowl MVP.
I'm in a playoff league where I can start anyone I want, and I think I'm going with Manning, Thomas, Addai, Colston, Collie, Clark, Stover and the Colts D.
See you next season.
Posted by Brian Grzybowski | Feb. 06 at 01:10 PM
Andy, I always read your column with great enjoyment. I find it entertaining and informative. However, I think you've let outside forces sway your opinion on this one. One of the strangest things I've noticed with everyone picking the Colts (and everyone is) is that it seems like they are implying (or saying outright) that the Saints are an inferior team that was lucky to make it this far. Minnesota, supposedly, was the best team. Except they had a huge problem with turnovers. And they couldn't win on the road. 4 regular season road losses...with 8 turnovers. Mostly by Favre. The 4 road wins they had? Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, and Green Bay. Big deal on the first three and the Green Bay game had some decidedly special circumstances. Another point that is produced by Saints detractors is that they peaked many weeks ago. I agree that they seemed to lose interest and play at a lower level directly following the New England game, but they still have the same personnel. And they did get up for the New England game- wouldn't this qualify as a situation where they would get just as excited? By most accounts the Colts are a better team but when you look at their schedule that becomes a harder sell. They won 3 home games in the middle of the season by a total of 8 points and then followed that with a 2 point win at Baltimore. The highest rushing yardage achieved by a Colt all year was 79 yards and you'd think that number would be higher. Except you don't necessarily need to salt away games if you play teams that have serious offensive flaws. The Colts finished 8th in Points Against with 307. But from whom? Jacksonville (twice), Miami, Seattle, Tennessee(twice), St. Louis, San Francisco, Denver, NY Jets, Baltimore, and Buffalo. That's 14 games. I don't have the list in front of me but I think there are 5 offensive Pro-Bowlers involved (MJD, C. Johnson, S. Jackson, B. Marshall, R. Rice, and...Gore?). Lastly, the big item that has everyone picking the Colts is Peyton Manning. It is continuously pointed out that he is the greatest QB in the game today. But if that's all you need to win a Super Bowl then I'm sure Dan Marino loves polishing all his Lombardi Trophies. Personally, I think that Manning is the best QB ever. I've never seen anything like him. The Patriots showed earlier in this decade that the only way to beat him is to keep him off the field. The Colts played 4 games against teams that have enough offensive firepower to make Manning a spectator for small stretches. In Week 3 they played at Arizona and it just seemed like an off week for the Cardinals, they had an up and down year and that was a down. The 2 games against the Texans were decided by 10 points. The first one had Kris Brown missing a field goal as time expired and in the second game Matt Schaub had 3 turnovers, one was a pick 6 and another one became a 23 yard TD run by Chad Simpson, whoever that is. Finally, there is the New England game. I don't think this needs much explanation. Came down to one play and it went the Colts way. Is Peyton the best player when he's on the field? Undoubtedly. But I just don't feel like he's seen a team all year that can go toe-to-toe with him. You've got the Colts scoring in the 40s. They only did that once all year and it was against the hapless Rams.
Posted by ANDY RICHARDSON | Feb. 07 at 11:16 AM
Brian - after careful consideration, I believe you may have a point.
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