If you were to read all the newspapers outside of New Orleans (or Louisiana) and nearly all of the media outlets for the past 2 weeks concerning Sunday's upcoming Super Bowl XLIV, you'd probably think that the New Orleans Saints were simply the warmup team for the ultimate second coronation of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts....the NFL's equivalent of the Washington Generals, to be merely used as fodder for the wizardry of Air "Meadowlark, Son of Archie" Manning, Reggie "Geese" Wayne, Dallas "Marcus Haynes" Clark, and Dwight "Curly the One-and-a-Half-Legged Wonder" Feeney.
You'd think that according to the media consensus, Peyton Manning is simply the most perfect adaptation of "RoboQB" (since the original supposed prototype, Philly's Randall Cunningham, turned out to be not quite the fit) who will simply slice, dice, and light up the "28th ranked" Saint D like Wyatt Earp mowing down villains at Tombstone; and that New Orleans is simply the luckiest team to even make the finals (their 13-3 record be damned), having been given the right to rep the NFC through the forgiveness of Minnesota, some divine (or, to some conspiracy theorists, very human) help from the officials, and the sheer luck of not facing "America's Team" (aka Dallas) in the playoffs at all. Only by playing dirty and knocking Peyton Manning out of the game do the Saints have any chance of winning, so the meme goes....and not even the injury to defensive end Dwight Feeney or the lack of a noticeable running game or even taking advantage of having defeated weaker offensives than the Saints will offer (no one would dare to compare Mark Sanchez or Joe Flacco to Drew Brees...but knocking out Kurt Warner and Brett Farve means nothing?
Well...let the media do what they do. It will make the ultimate New Orleans victory that much sweeter.
I'm not saying that Peyton Manning isn't an outstanding QB with real weapons in the passing game (Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark), or that the Colt D isn't a better than average D that did do a decent job in shutting down teams that attempted to beat them through power football.
What I am saying, though, is that as good as the Colts are, the Saints can match them...and in some cases, even out do them.
Here's my reasoning why I do think that the Saints will shock people:
1) Offensive Balance.
If there is one team with one QB that can beat you strictly with passing, it is Indy with Peyton Manning. Problem is, though...there is another team that can beat you with passing too...Drew Brees isn't exactly a dead arm himself...and he may have even more depth of weapons than even Manning has. Four wideouts (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and Lance Moore) who can not only beat you on the short and medium pass, but can threaten you deep. Flexibility at the tight end position (Jeremy Shockey eating up the intermediate zones up the middle; David Thomas as an all-around utilitarian player playing every position from tradition TE to H-back to even fullback.) And don't get me started about Reggie Bush as a threat out of the backfield.
But what the Saints do have that the Colts have not seen from anyone this side of New England is a genuine running attack that balances Brees and the passing game out. The trio of Pierre Thomas/Mike Bell/Lynell Hamilton allow the Saints to play keep away and grind out yards and spin clock when they need to...and while they might not have the power of Shon Greene/Thomas Jones, they certainly can, when they are at their best, keep the other team's offenses of the field...and set up real opportunities for play action deep passing. (Oh..and did I mention that Reggie Bush fellow, who seems to have found his groove and is actually running out of the backfield with some authority these days??)
Considering that the Colts D is more of a speed based, fly-to-the-football oriented scheme, they could be very much prone to over-pursuit, which plays right into the strength of the Saints offensive line, which happens to include THREE Pro Bowlers, and a battle-tested fourth lineman in Jerome Bushrod. Even WITH a healthy Feeney, Indy would have real issues getting through this line, which has protected Brees outstandingly all year long....save for the Cowboys game, where Demarcus Ware simply ate Bushrod for lunch. If Feeney playes hurt or doesn't play at all, it becomes nigh impossible without going to blitzing or mind games.
2) A Defense greater than the sum of its parts.
Much has been said about the New Orleans D and their lowly ranking (26th statistically in yardage given up; 26th in passing yardage given up this year) and the huge chunks of points and yardage they gave up to average passers like Jason Campbell, Josh Freeman, and Chris Redman....and the fact that they were basically torched by the combination of Brett Farve and Adrian Peterson in the NFC Championship game. (Minnesota gained nearly 400 yards of total offense, had a nearly 2-1 advantage in time of possession, and got both 300+ yard passing AND 100+ yard rushing performances.) The basic fact that the Saints were only able as late as the Minnesota game to gain their starting rotation in the secondary back from injuries that handcuffed them in the mid-to-late part of the season (plus the fact that even with all the injuries, breakdowns and collapses, the Saints still managed to go 5-3 whereas last year they probably would have lost all those games....and I probably shouldn't count the Carolina loss in Week 17 since they rested everybody..or even the Tampa Bay loss because even with Cadillac Williams running free through the Saints D, it still took a Garrett Hartley shank of a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation to allow the Bucs even the chance of the upset ).
What the haters.....errrrrrrrrr....the skeptics....are missing, however, is that an old John Madden rule of football applies here: if you stop the other team from scoring, and/or take away the ball from them and score yourself, then you can afford to give up huge chunks of real estate in the internim. Gregg Williams' defensive scheme is built on the premise of high risk bringing high rewards....that since our O is good enough to score points by the bunches, we can take risks and chances that might give up the bigger plays to go for the rip, strip, scoop, and score...or the Pick 6 that changes the game or gives the O more opportunities to score themselves. Of course, it does help to be physical and knock the opposing QB's literally into near retirement...and even gain a reputatiion for being "intimidating".
Of course, one man's "intimidating" is another man's "dirty", and the rep of the Saints D for allegedly headhunting opposing QBs may backfire on them big time this time, be either alerting the officials to drop the flag quicker or by motivating the Colts offensive line to better defend their franchise. The point of it all is, however, that even RoboQB has to think a bit about the joys of pain from so many hurries and hits after releasing the ball...and you can't draw a flag if you time your "remember me" taps perfectly. Manning is professional enough and tough enough to endure this, of course, and no one is even implying that he will completely wilter...but all the Saints need to do is to pressure him enough to draw the occasional bad floater or simply wear him down so that his velocity weakens in the 4th quarter. And all it takes for Darren Sharper or Jonathan Vilma or Tracy Porter is one or two mistakes to make Manning pay dearly.
3) Special Teams.
Has anyone managed to notice that Saints punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Moorstead has been booming them of late?? As in, kickoffs deep in the end zone that usually end up as touchbacks, and nice, long, high punts that usually end up in either fair catches or weak returns?? (OK, I'll give you the return by Micheal Spurlock that tied the Tampa Bay game, but other than that, especially during the playoffs, he has been spectacular.) It's much harder to go 80 yards than it is to go 40 for touchdowns in the NFL, even for QB's as "perfect" as Peyton Manning...and here's where the Saints running game and their ability to sustain long drives really pays dividends.
And then, there is the deadly combination of Courtney Roby and Pierre Thomas returning kickoffs, and Reggie Bush returning punts. Of course, Reggie can just as likely in the wrong situation blow up in your face, too, as the muff in the Vikings game proved; but he is just as likely to bust at least one or two highlight reel returns.
4) Team chemistry.
Yes, the Colts have been here before. Yes, they have even won in this very same venue two years ago, and thusly do have an apparent advantage over the Saints, who of course have never been to football's Promised Land before this year.
On the other hand, though, this team has shown time and time again that they have a real chip on their shoulder that really, really does not like being taken for granted...and all this talk of inevitability of crowning Peyton and the Colts with the crown will more than likely fuel the motivation far beyond the usual hype of a Super Bowl. Besides, it's not as if the Saints haven't tasted victory in Miami, either....they defeated the Dolphins on this very field in Week 3 46-34, where they overcame a 14 point deficit in the 4th quarter and the best efforts of Reggie Brown and former Saint Ricky Williams and the then-vaunted "Wildcat" offense to secure the victory.
5) The Who Dat Nation.
No one doubts the loyalty and dedication of Colts fans. No one should doubt the loyalty and dedication of Saints fans, either. The difference, however, is that the Who Dats are, shall we say, slightly more jacked up than the usual spicy Creole or Cajun cuisine....and more than likely, more of the latter will be able to make the trip to Miami than will Colts Fan....especially given the weather situation brewing this weekend. Plus....imagine New Orleans Mardi Gras with a world championship. Yeah....forget "off the chain"; they will have to postpone Ash Wednesday for a week. Plus, given all the media undercounting of their team and Roger Goddell's ill-fated attempt to grind down local merchants with the "Who Dat-gate" copyright infringement fracus, they will have almost as much a chip on their shoulder as the team.
Toi be fair, it is entirely possible that every bit of what I say will be disproven, and Peyton Manning will indeed drive through the Saints D like Sherman through Georgia, and Indy wins in a walkaway. If so, then props and hail to the champions, and see you next year in Dallas. But remember...they said the same thing about Tom Brady and the seemingly perfect New England Patriots two years ago....and we all know how Tom "Stalag" Coughlin and the New York Football Giants resolved that story. Ask David Tyree the day before the game when his team was considered in very much the same way the Saints are today.
The difference this year is this: the New Orleans Saints have plenty of David Tyrees that can make the clutch play.
My Prediction: New Orleans 38, Indianapolis 27.