This could be great. For the first time in 16 years, the top two teams in the NFL are going to meet in the Super Bowl. And neither one of them is known first for its defense.
Saints-Colts has the potential to be one of the greatest Super Bowls ever. The Saints were the most potent offense during the regular season. The Colts are led by perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time.
Both teams are capable of coming from behind and winning in the final seconds. Both have enough defense at big times to keep it interesting. Both are comfortable playing a tight game.
These are the ingredients for a classic. Whether it works out that way remains to be seen; Super Bowls have a habit of not following the scripts we spend so much time and effort crafting for them.
But in football, half the fun is in the anticipation of the game, and I don’t know when there’s been a game that we could get more cranked up about than this one.
We’ll be looking for the offense in this one. That’s what Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are known for. But we saw enough in the conference championships to let us know that defense is going to play a big part in this game.
On the Colts side, we’ve seen a team that has faced two tough defenses and has picked both apart with game plans that can be described only as brilliant. Not that it takes that much to game plan the Ravens, the Colts’ divisional round opponent: shut down their running game and score a touchdown and you probably win, which is what happened.
But the Jets were a bigger challenge. They not only played better defense than even the Ravens, they also had a better running game and a cocky young quarterback who is showing a penchant for making big plays.
It was no problem for the Colts. They got burned by couple of gadget plays and were trailing at the half, but Indianapolis did what it’s done all year: they got better as the game went on. By the end, it was obvious which team was superior, and it wasn’t by a small margin.
Indy isn’t known for its great run-stopping defense, but it totally took the run away from the Jets. Offensively, it accepted that New York’s extraordinary cornerback, Darrelle Revis, was going to take away Manning’s best receiver, Reggie Wayne. Instead, Manning featured Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. And when the Jets sacked him early with heavy blitzes, Manning switched to shorter slants and quick openers to neutralize the rush.
The Saints weren’t as good as the Colts were at adjusting as the game progressed. Against a truly elite Viking defense, New Orleans didn’t gain even 260 yards for the game. But they were opportunistic and resilient; it seemed that every time the Vikes went ahead, New Orleans was able to come back.
Defensively, the Saints aren’t among the league's elite, but the one thing they did in the NFC Championship Game was pound the stuffing out of Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre. A lot of the hits were after the ball was released, and a couple of them drew flags, but the Saints will pay 15 yards for a cracked rib on the enemy quarterback every time.
What the Saints are going to have to do is find a way to win without expecting the Colts to do half the work for them. The Colts aren’t going to keep handing the ball to the Saints and begging them to please go ahead and win the game as the Vikings did. And Manning is not going to turn the ball over while driving for the winning field goal.
You expect it to be close. Both teams have too many offensive weapons to get blown out — or so it seems.
But of the two, the Colts have played two superbly planned and executed games. The Saints have laid a blow-out on the Cards and had the next game handed to them by the Vikings. If you’re laying odds, you should start with the Colts, the team that is plying bette on both sides of the ball.
But there are two weeks of preparation and hype to go. That’s two weeks for the Saints to build the perfect game plan, two weeks for New Orleans to fine-tune its offense, two weeks for both teams to invent ways to make all our learned analysis look like the work of an adolescent hedgehog.
It’s going to be great.