One thing not up for debate: Colts will win
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Let the questions begin.
Is Peyton Manning the greatest ever?
What has Jim Caldwell done to make this Colts team as clutch as it is in Year 1 that Tony Dungy struggled to do throughout his seven years as coach?
Can anyone match the résumé Bill Polian has as an executive?
And what about a team that hasn’t lost legitimately all year tossing aside a run at 19-0? Is this vindication? Or will it haunt the players when they look back?
At about 10 p.m. tonight, America will be looking for answers to all of those, because that’s about when Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay will be accepting the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in four years.
What’s more, Dungy is right: This one won’t be all that difficult for the Colts.
“I think they’re going to be so far ahead that people are going to say, ‘Oh, ho-hum, [Manning] played a good game, they won by two scores, the Colts won their second championship,’ ’’ Dungy told The New York Times. “He is going to have those rings Sunday night. I don’t think it’s going to be close.
“Minnesota is playing in New Orleans, they turn the ball over five times, have two or three stupid penalties, and still lose in overtime. I don’t see how it’s going to be close. The Colts aren’t going to turn it over seven times.’’
Dungy is biased. And dead on.
Bottom line: In the playoffs, defense normally carries the day, and that’s how you conclude that the Colts will win this game.
The Saints defense, under their new Minister of Mean, Gregg Williams, has swagger and edge. It causes havoc, and has turned games with takeaways. It punishes the quarterback.
But it won’t get to Manning, it won’t create turnovers, and when those things haven’t happened this year, what’s left has been a unit that can be had.
On the flip side, the Colts should be able to employ the plan Dallas did in Week 15 in handing New Orleans its first loss.
Outside of a 29-yard burst on Reggie Bush’s only carry, the Cowboys throttled the New Orleans ground game - holding Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell to 28 yards on 10 carries - and that allowed them to get the Saints into bad down-and-distance situations, which led to Drew Brees getting knocked around.
Think the possibility that Dwight Freeney is a spot player in this one will affect that? Well, remember, DeMarcus Ware was a spot player in that December game, having been taken off the Cowboys Stadium field on a cart with a neck injury six days earlier. The Colts, believe it or not, might be better for this in this particular matchup, with a rested Freeney coming on and off the field.
Now, the Saints have gotten better in the run game this year, part of their added emphasis on physicality and toughness, but these aren’t your big brother’s Colts. These guys, in two playoff games, held the Ravens and Jets - the league’s fifth- and first-ranked running teams - to 87 and 86 rushing yards.
Strange as it sounds, getting shut down on the ground by Indy could be fatal for high-flying New Orleans, with all the downfield throws, deep drops, and hits off play-action the Saints get.
And for the same reason the Saints will struggle to move the ball on the Colts defense, the Colts offense won’t have much problem marching up and down the field on the New Orleans defense.
That reason, of course, is the way they match up.
The Ravens went into New England, knocked Tom Brady around, disrupted the offense’s timing, forced four turnovers, and left Foxborough with a decisive 33-14 win in the first round. The Jets went into San Diego, hit Philip Rivers, threw off the Chargers offense by beating up the receivers, forced two critical turnovers, and left California with a 17-14 shocker.
Then, both teams went to Indianapolis armed with top-three defenses, didn’t hit the quarterback enough, didn’t get the ball enough, and eventually, the dam broke for each group.
So here’s the question: If Manning was able to beat attacking, big-play-oriented groups like that, what in the world will he do to a group that has struggled when it can’t produce the shock-and-awe turnovers and hits?
It’s not hard to find an answer.
And that’s why this year’s Super Bowl, after consecutive classics, will give you plenty more time to hit the fridge.
The Colts will jump to an early lead by making a couple of big plays downfield, and the Saints and Williams will adjust.
I’d expect New Orleans, judging by its performance all year, will fight back late in the first half and early in the second, but at the sign of a threat, Manning will turn it on.
Then, it’ll be all over. Colts 42, Saints 24.
And by the time they’re wrapping up this second title, all that’s left will be the arguing.