Sunday’s clash between New Orleans and Indianapolis looks set to be a high-scoring cracker, writes Sam Geoghegan
The greatest show on Earth is here once again. Super Bowl XLIV kicks off just after 11pm this Sunday and guarantees to be an exceptional game, with two high-powered offenses battling it out for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
AFC champions the Indianapolis Colts take on NFC champions and Super Bowl debutants, the New Orleans Saints. The matchup is unusual yet intriguing, as the NFL playoffs are more often than not defined by terrific defensive play. The old cliché that “defence wins championships” certainly doesn’t apply here; both these teams will be deserved winners.
Both outfits began the season in blistering form, sweeping past their opponents with consummate ease. This season was the first time in NFL history that two teams started a season 13-0, and while both quests for a perfect season ultimately died, both teams assured themselves of top seeding in their respective conferences, and earned themselves a first round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Indianapolis Colts are led by four-time MVP, Peyton Manning, at quarterback and rookie head coach, Jim Caldwell. The Colts were 14-0 before facing the New York Jets in week 16 when Caldwell pulled his starters during the third quarter, resulting in their first loss of the season. While many questioned his decision, the Colts are now headed for Miami for the big dance, and are one win away from their second title in four years. The postseason break refreshed the Colts who were as sharp as ever when beating the Baltimore Ravens 20-3 in their first playoff.
The Colts are an offensive juggernaut and with Manning under centre, defences must be at their best. Manning has one of the NFL’s best offensive arsenals at his disposal in Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai, but is not afraid to pass to lesser lights like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Manning’s surgeon-like approach in dissecting the NFL’s number one ranked defence, the Jets, two weeks ago confirmed once again why he is one of the greatest to have ever played the game.
The New Orleans Saints are one of the more explosive teams the NFL has seen in some time, culminating in a destructive 45-14 demolition previous NFC champions the Arizona Cardinals, and an impressive 31-28 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees on offence, and defensive MVP Darren Sharper, the Saints can make plays on both sides of the ball. Like the Colts, New Orleans also have an upper-echelon offense with Drew Brees as the architect. Indianapolis’ defence must be ready to face an offense similar to its own, as the Saints too are loaded with talent. It is imperative for Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush to be on their game if the Saints are to upset the Colts on Sunday.
This matchup boils down to what defence breaks first. It’s a question of “bend don’t break” for these defences. The Saints’ defence looked a little ragged down the stretch (though their rough, heavy-handed approach to Brett Favre in the Championship game proved effective). Peyton Manning is the best in the business at recognising the blitz and he will punish the Saints. If Manning can play so well against tremendous defences of the Ravens and Jets, one can only imagine what sort of performance is in store for the neutral on Sunday. What the Colt defence lack in size, they make up for in speed with Dwight Freeney reeking havoc rushing the quarterback. Brees must be alert at all times as Freeney rushes from his blindside.
This writer favours the Colts to win by ten. Saints will be unable to stop the Manning-led machine, will become one-dimensional, and pass: a defence’s dream.
It should be a classic.