I have to be honest, with the premiere of LOST, my men's league basketball team starting up, and the over hyped onslaught of media that the comes with the Super Bowl, I have pretty much turned my brain off to the NFL for the last week and a half. But that stops now- before picking the Super Bowl, I have to take a few things into account:
- Is Peyton Manning clutch or not? This is a tougher question than someone who buys into the recent "Peyton Manning is the greatest ever" media hype might think. He did little more than manage the game to beat the Bears three years ago. While the powers that be gave him the "we can't really give it to anyone else, so it goes to the QB" MVP award, in truth, the MVP of the Colts was probably Rex Grossman (or maybe Dominick Rhodes.) Before then (and since then), Manning has been prone to crushing playoff defeats. Could this be another playoff loss, or will Manning rise to the occasion and cement his name in the discussion for Top 10 QB's of all time (slow down on the greatest ever talk.)
- Will Dwight Freeney play? I'll save you the suspense- No, he will not play. It's a shame, too. He ripped tendons in his ankle while playing in the last 2 minutes of the Colts game against the Jets when they were up 30-17. Why bench your players to not go undefeated if you were just going to let them get injured during meaningless playoff minutes? It doesn't make sense, does it? If Freeney tries to play, he will be less than effective. An injury that serious is not something Freeney can cope with, no matter how much of a savage he thinks he is.
- Exactly how bad did the Saints play against the Vikings? Bad. Real bad. Their balls shrunk up and they did not bring the same kind of open passing attack that we've seen from the Saints this season (see: MNF vs. the Patriots.) The "Who Dat? Nation" (horrible rallying nickname) is lucky that Brett Favre and the Vikings coughed up victory like my cat coughs up a hairball. 12 men in a huddle in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship game? Really? If the Saints play like that, they will lose.
- How strict will the refs be? The Saints defense has beat the holy shit out of the first two QB's they've faced during the playoffs this year, likely forcing both of them into retirement. Not all of the hits were "legal" per se, but they did what they were intended to do- rattle the QB. My coach used to say, "In times of adversity, we revert back to our natural habits- good or bad." At least, it was something like that. Point being, when trouble strikes, we're likely to do what is natural. Favre found it natural to throw across his body toss the ball to a defender. Will the Saints be allowed to get at Peyton Manning as much as they got to Favre and Warner? Is Manning tough enough to deal with whatever pressure they bring?
Taking all of this into account, I'm expecting a pretty close game. With Dwight Freeney, I think the Colts would win by 7-10. Without him, I'll predict something like this:
Colts 31 - Saints 28
I will be cheering for the Saints, but I don't know if they have enough to get it done. I do love Drew Brees, though, so I hope he can get it done.