Offense, offense, offense. If you like offense, your going to be in for a treat Sunday. Super Bowl XLIV is setting up to be one of the highest-scoring "Big Game" in recent years, with the teams top two offenses from their respective league, the Saints for the NFC and the Colts for the AFC, will square off in Miami to battle for the NFL's ultimate prize.
The Saints are really the feel good story of the NFL, as they've come back tremendously strong after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and have rallied that state behind them, but that's not why they're in the Super Bowl. They're there because they have the best quarterback in the NFC leading their charge and a surplus of speedy weapons like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Rob Meachem and Jeremy Shockey surrounding him on offense. They're defense has also come a long, long way from just a few years back, as they are led by Pro-Bowl Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Safety Darren Sharper, D-end Will Smith and CB Jabari Greer. Where as the Colts have been a powerhouse for much of the 2000's, and have continuously trotted out one of the leagues elite offenses' since drafting Peyton Manning in 1998. Providing Manning with options on Sunday will be All-Pro wideout Reggie Wayne, youngster Pierre Garcon and pro-bowl tight-end Dallas Clark.
I think the big key to this game will be the Indy defense and their health. The one guy who really makes the Indy defense go is their all-world pass-rushing defensive end Dwight Freeney, who's battling a bum ankle and will likely be limited in his playing time and his effectiveness on Sunday. He's a guy who makes the Colts defense so tough to pass on and if he's not able to go, or isn't himself in the game, it could really open up the Saints passing game. Then again, if the Colts can just get him on the field, it will force the Saints offensive line to adjust accordingly and he'd still probably require a double-team, thus opening up options for the Colts pass-rush. I'm expecting both teams to put up big offensive numbers anyway, so the key to the game will be turnovers, and the only really way to get Brees and Manning to each turn the ball over is to put pressure on them. The Colts do have the edge defensively, the Saints are coming off a five-turnover performance vs. Brett Favre and the Vikings. The key pass-rushing specialist on the Saints end is Will Smith, who isn't quite up to Freeney's level, but is coming off a career-high 13-sack season with 3 forced fumbles and he's going to have to lead the charge and get into the Indy backfield all afternoon.
Offensively, the wild-card for New Orleans will be Reggie Bush. Because of the Colts high-octane pass-rush, the Saints are going to have to keep them at bey by using screens and running draws and what not, and the guy who will be in the center of those type of plays will be Reggie Bush. The Colts bring a defense very similar to the Arizona Cardinal's (speedy defense with strong pass-rush and solid defensive backfield, but can get ran on) and Bush came up large in that game. Bush is also crucial in the return game and will be key in what kind of field position the New Orleans Saints will have. Pierre Thomas is going to be key as well as the Colts can be run on and their weakness is in between the tackles which is Thomas' area of work. If Thomas and Bush can keep the Colts pass-rush honest, then they'll likely score enough points to keep up with the high powered Colts attack. The Saints cannot be one-dimensional and stick with the pass only, they have to run the football.
For the Colts, they'll just need to stick to what they do best and that's let Peyton Manning exploit match-ups against Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne. Or in other words, let Manning go to work and not hold him back whatsoever. One of the things that Manning is so terrific is taking advantage of miss-matches, and there is one seemingly on every pass play for the Colts. Indy, though, like the Saints, cannot become one dimensional with the pass, they need to get Joseph Addai involved early and often to keep the pressure off Manning. If the Colts play their game, I really think it will be theirs to lose. It's going to be a close one, there's no doubt in my mind on that part, but the Colts have been there before and Peyton Manning really is built for games like this. No knock on Brees, but the Saints aren't exactly on their hottest streak. They lost their last 3 games in the regular season and needed to force 5 turnovers to barely edge out the Vikings by 3 points in the NFC Championship. The Colts would have went undefeated had they played their first unit throughout the last 2 games, and they really haven't had a slip-up all season long.
My predictions is that Peyton Manning will be Peyton Manning and throw 3 TD passes and 350 yards through the air. Brees will do his best to match him, and I actually bet he'll throw for more yards (380+) than Manning, but not as many scores(2), but it won't be enough as the Colts pull it out, 31-27. Game MVP goes to Peyton Manning, but my darkhourse pick will be Dallas Clark.