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Friday, January 29, 2010

SuperBowl Talking points for the Saints and Colts

"A lot of people who are going to bet this game, all they know is Peyton Manning," Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I've quoted this before and I'm quoting it again because this exact sentiment is driving an already inflated number even higher. Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge that Manning is quite possibly the greatest quarterback to ever snap on a chinstrap but sometimes we tend to get so enamored with one player that we let him become the sole rationale in our picks. Does this happen to you? If your going out on your own for your picks than god bless you and good luck since you are basing your hopefully basing your pick solely based on research and trends instead of the fact that you just saw Peyton playing ping pong with Justin Timberlake on the tube and everyone's telling you "he's been there before."

Allow me to dispel five misconceptions bettors are using to rationalize backing the Colts at such a high number:

1. Peyton Manning is a better quarterback right now.

It's not entirely fair to give the edge at quarterback to the Colts. Drew Brees (363-514, 4388 yds, 34 tds, 11 ints) and Manning (393-571, 4500 yds, 33 tds, 16 ints) both enjoyed historic seasons. Brees' was better. His 70.6 completion percentage sits alone atop the single season all-time NFL record, besting the likes of Staubach, Montana, Favre, Marino, and Manning.

Yes, Manning took home his fourth MVP award. Yes, his bust is already drying in Canton. Brees hasn't achieved his immortal status and he will never achieve Peyton status (even if he ends up in Canton). If the Superbowl victor was determined by which quarterback has built a more impressive body of work throughout their careers, I would moneyline Manning at +8000 in a heartbeat. But the Superbowl isn't a lifetime achievement award (that's what the HOF is for) it's a team competition and the bottom line is that both QBs are playing at the same elite level right now.

Edge: Neither

2. The Colts would have finished 16-0 if Jim Caldwell didn't decide to yank Manning during the second half of the Jets game in Week 16 while the Saints limped into the playoffs with three straight

Is it possible the Colts could be 18-0 and in the pursuit of perfection had they decided to keep their foot on the gas? Absolutely. I know this guy isn't happy about it.
Even if this was the case, I don't think it would improve their chances to defeat the Saints. It doesn't change the fact that the Saints are a far more balanced team on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Or that the Saints weren't just statistically the most prolific offense in the league this year, they also finished third in the league in TO margin (+11). Compare that to the 15th ranked Colts (+2) and it's clear the Saints have had both a more efficient offense and opportunistic defense thus far.

I'm not trying to shove statistics down anyone's throat, my point is that if you want to count the Colts slightly better regular season mark as a pro for Indy you simply can't ignore the regular season statistics that are compiled in the Saints regular season games. An objective comparison of the two teams based on this argument favors neither team.

Edge: Neither

3. Indy plays in a tougher conference therefore had the harder schedule.

Both teams finished 4-0 out of conference this season. The Saints collected most high profile win with a 38-17 Monday night blowout of the Patriots in the Superdome during week 12. Still, one could argue that the Colts Sunday night 31-10 domination of the Cards in Arizona was equally if not more impressive.

Many NFL gurus defend the AFC superiority theory by citing the AFC's recent success in the Superbowl: 9-3 in the past 12 years. The AFC finished 37-27 against the NFC this year. Combined this is pretty compelling evidence that the AFC has a leg up on the NFC heads up. Against the spread is a different story: The AFC is 5-7 in the Superbowl ATS and an even 32-32 ATS during the regular season.

Don't forget: we're picking against the spread here. I never advocate taking single digit dogs unless I believe the game straight up and I don't think there's any question New Orleans is capable of winning outright and there's no question the other side of the equation is capable of holding true.

Edge: Colts

4. Sean Payton and his staff are newbies to the Superbowl. While the Colts' Jim Caldwell might be a rookie head coach, offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Manning are the ones really running the show. They've been there before and they know how to block out the pageantry and distractions of the Super Bowl and better prepare their team.

Despite the fact that Sean Payton is in his fourth year, both coaches are still unproven quantities. That will change for one of them on Sunday. Let's take a look at both staffs:

New Orleans

Payton came on strong as a rookie head coach in 2006, winning the NFC south and NFL head coach of the year honors. The Saints failed to live up to expectations over the next two years, going a combined 15-17 due to a porous secondary and inconsistency on offense. The biggest adjustment Payton made was making a commitment to running the ball. Despite the lack of a feature back, the Saints still averaged 131.6 rushing yards per game (6th in the league), a welcome complement to their bombs away passing attack which averaged an 272 yard passing per game (4th in the league. Their balanced attack (which led the league in total offense by a significant margin) combined with a developing young defense with big play ability crowned the Saints as Superbowl contenders early this season. The league was already wary of Payton's fearless air attack and regarded him as a QB guru but no one considered the Saints seriously until they finally started playing hard nosed defense and running the ball this year.


Dungy was always the antithesis of the tough guy head coach personality that NFL GMs covet. Owner Jim Irsay decided to stay the course by hiring the equally stoic and soft-spoken Jim Caldwell. While he has practically accomplished everything a first year head coach can thus far, there remain doubters who believe Caldwell has inherited instead of facilitated his success. Caldwell often paces the sidelines for what feels like hours without speaking a word, often inviting comparisons to the clueless Art Shell during his second stint in Oakland. Many prefer to credit offensive coordinator Tom Moore with the Colts' success. Despite running the most one dimensional office in the league (the Colts were by far the pass happiest team in the league with a run/pass ratio of 32/68), Moore and Peyton Manning managed to thrive throwing the ball on crucial 3rd downs and short situations as well as on the goal line. Manning himself must be mentioned among his coaches. He is the closest to a player-coach you get in the league and he does it without ego or bravado.

The real question for Indy is whether this is the game where their lack of a rushing attack catches up with them. So far the Colts have played defensive teams (Baltimore, NY Jets) with nowhere near the firepower or explosiveness of the Saints. They'll need to establish a running game to control the game and manage the clock to keep Brees off the field.

Edge: Saints

5. The intangibles have to go to the Colts, right?

I'll concede the Colts have been there. But there are other intangibles to consider such as the Colts thin secondary (both starting CB Marlin Jackson and FS Bob Sanders are out for the season), big losses to an already depleted defensive back unit. The health of Dwight Freeney remains a concern and although It's unlikely he'll sit the game out don't expect him to be 100 percent.

While both teams have stepped up in big games this year, New Orleans has been the team that has stepped up and crushed its opponent. A 48 point explosion in Philly during Week 2 followed by a 24-10 victory over the undefeated Jets two weeks later was just the beginning for the Saints. They've shown a willingness to rise to the occasion all season long especially on the national stage.

Manning's Monday night magic at the Dolphins and his unforgettable 4th quarter comeback versus the Patriots are reminders of why he's a first ballot hall of famer. The difference is that Manning is eeking out wins and while he performs best under pressure it's apparent that the Colts are grossly overachieving this season. In order to handle the Saints they're going to need Peyton to Peyton and hope their secondary can hold up against Brees and company.

Edge: Saints

The moment Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal sailed effortlessly through the uprights to send New Orleans to their first Superbowl, I knew the Saints would have strong value if the books spotted them a feasible amount of points versus the Colts. Most sharps predicted a threefold point spread for the Colts so many were surprised when they opened at 4. As of Friday, the super bowl betting line at certain sportsbooks online and most of Vegas had jumped to six while our bookmaker as of this writing is still at 5 1/2. Here is a list of reputable online sportsbooks with varying odds from 5 1/2 to 6 and for Cooper's Star Super Bowl Picks and analysis go to: Expert Super Bowl Picks


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