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Before you settle down with friends and family to imbibe one of the many beers that will make your Monday morning at work a living hell or chow down one of the billion chicken wings that Americans are projected to eat, you may want to read my final prediction for the 2010 NFL Playoffs. Or you may not want to. I am currently 5-5, hopefully I end up at .545 and not .455.
New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL, Sunday February 10 @ 6:25, CBS:
How the Colts Got Here: The #1-seeded Colts, led by the only four-time MVP in the history of the NFL, Peyton Manning, started off 14-0 before rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and GM Bill Polian decided to call off the dogs and rest their star players for the Playoffs at the expense of momentum. Interestingly, their first loss came against the Jets, allowing them to get into the playoffs and subsequently lose against the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
While the Colts did not lose any players to injury in the final weeks of the regular season, their star defensive end, Syracuse alum Dwight Freeney suffered a third degree ankle sprain (which is the equivalent of a torn ligament) in the AFC Championship and the team with all the momentum in the world, the San Diego Chargers, lost to the Jets in the AFC Divisional Round. In their wins against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round and the Jets, the Colts looked anything but rusty. The Colts are here despite ranking last in the NFL in rushing during the regular season and 24th in the league against the run.
How the Saints Got Here: Like the Colts in the AFC, the Saints are the top seeded team in the NFC. Like the Colts, the Saints started 13-0. However, they lost their first game to Dallas in Week 14 after the Cowboys played a bend, but not break defense that avoided giving up the big play that has fueled the Saints attack all year. Like the Colts, the Saints were led by QB Drew Brees, who threw for 4,388 yards with 34 TD, an NFL-leading 109.6 QB rating and an insane 70.6% completion percentage Brees' stellar efforts led him to become only the second quarterback in NFL history with four consecutive 4,000 yard campaigns.
Manning is the other QB, having thrown for over 4,000 yards for six consecutive seasons from 1999-2004 and has done so for four straight campaigns from 2006-09. Unlike the Colts, the Saints ground game led by Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush ranked 6th in the NFL. Pretty balanced. However, their defense ranked 25th overall, including 26th against the pass. So far in the playoffs, the Saints have defeated the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, both of whom are pass happy like the Colts. Now they are in their first ever Super Bowl, setting the table for a crazy February in Nawlins.
How the Colts Can Win: Their Tampa II scheme is able to stop the big play from Brees, Freeney is able to push off from the line effectively so that Jeremy Shockey or Dave Thomas have to stay on the line to block, and Peyton is able to avoid putting the ball in Darren Sharper's hands.
How the Saints Can Win: Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are able to provide effective relief on the ground for Brees, blitz like they did against Arizona and Minnesota to force Manning into throwing INTs.
Prediction: Most of the public is rooting for the Saints due to the Hurricane Katrina aspect, but most, including oddsmakers, think that Peyton will get his second ring as the Colts prevail in a shootout. I am not sure who I am rooting for, and I am not sure who will win. Regardless, I think this will be a great game. Brees throws for over 300 yards along with 3 TDs with 1 INT while the Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush combo run for 200 yards and score another TD. Manning bests Brees with 300 yards and 4 TDs, but throws 2 INTs, providing Nawlins with an extra possession that turns out to be the kingmaker. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley follows his game winning field goal in overtime against the Vikings with a field goal in the last minute.
New Orleans Saints: 34
Indianapolis Colts: 31
MVP: Drew Brees.
Enjoy the game!