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Expect Close Game, With Colts on Top

(Column by BOB KRAVITZ, The Indianapolis Star)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - By now, we've heard it all. We've heard about Hurricane Katrina, the way the Saints have carried a rebuilding New Orleans on its back. We've heard about Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. We've heard about the Indianapolis Colts' decision to punt the perfect season, how the Saints' Pro Bowl players dressed up as bellhops when the rest of the team arrived Monday, the differences between Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy, the perceived Colts' advantage from having been here before. We even read on tmz.com that Caldwell left a $1,000 tip on a $2,500 dinner bill at a Miami eatery this week.

(O-o-oh, film at 11.).

Let's play.


Have you ever looked more forward to a Super Bowl game? Not just because the chances are, you're a Colts' fan and have been dying for this moment for many weeks now. All of America wants to see this. So many Super Bowls have been lots of game-week hype and a giant dud come Super Sunday. But everything about this game - Manning versus Brees, two of the league's top passing games on display, the two top seeds meeting in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993 - screams epic.

Some Super Bowls require a build-up. This has demanded none. Here's the ultimate piece of evidence: Even in these tough economic times, CBS has sold all of its commercial spots with very little difficulty. This is the Super Bowl America wanted; this is the Super Bowl America is getting.

For what it's worth, and that's nothing, my pick today is Colts, 34-31. And here, in a nutshell, is why:

Both teams are going to move the ball. There will be points, lots of them, possibly the most in Super Bowl history.

We know what the Colts are capable of doing offensively, and the Saints' low-rated defense strikes me as a bunch of guys who have cobbled together a fairly decent season. The one thing the Saints do well is force turnovers. The one thing, or one of the things, the Colts do well is protect the football. If the Vikings hadn't imploded and turned it over five times in the NFC title game, we'd be working on our seventh straight Manning versus Brett Favre column.

The Saints, like the Jets, can't cover all the Colts receivers. Maybe Reggie Wayne, maybe Dallas Clark, but not all of them, not Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie and even Joseph Addai out of the backfield. As Jets coach Rex Ryan asked his assistants during the AFC Championship Game, "Do we have anybody who can cover those guys?"

The answer today will be no.

But here's the rub.

The Colts can't cover all of the Saints' receivers, either. And unlike the Ravens and Jets, one-dimensional teams with prehistoric passing attacks, the Saints are balanced. Led by Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush, the Saints have a sixth-ranked rushing attack to go with a top-ranked passing game. As well as the Colts defense has played most of this season, they've not yet seen an offense with New Orleans' depth and talent.

The big pregame story will be the big game-day story: What about Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney? My guess is he will play, but my guess is he will play on a limited basis and he will be a far cry from the Freeney we've come to know. Even with Freeney, the Colts were going to be hard-pressed to get a pass rush on a team that has been very effective protecting the passer.

There's also the issue, and it shouldn't be understated, of cornerback Jerraud Powers and his potential impact. Injuries have limited him to just one game the past two months. If he's limited, the Colts are going to be thin when playing in nickel or dime coverage.

It was shocking to learn Friday that former Colts coach Tony Dungy said the Colts would win by two scores. "I don't think it will be close," he told The New York Times.


Except for some early-season blowouts against Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis, the Colts haven't pulled away from anybody all year. They have an NFL-record seven fourth-quarter comebacks. They live on the edge and have all season.

And they're supposed to blow out a New Orleans team that smoked its opponents through 13 games and has even better offensive numbers than the Colts?

Things I want to see:

I want to see how the Saints perform early, whether their first-time Super Bowl status leaves them overly excited and jittery.

I want to see if Dallas Clark, so quiet in Super Bowl XLI but such a marvelous weapon, can have an impact this time around.

I want to see how the kids, specifically Garcon and Collie, react to the biggest stage in sports.

I want to see, if Freeney plays, how well and how long - and then how the Colts will try to fill his spot when he's out.

I want to see how Darren Sharper, the smart, veteran New Orleans safety, tries to bait Manning. "He's not Ed Reed," NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp said of Sharper, "but I can promise you he's going to make some calls (to Reed)."

I want to see if Reggie Bush can have the same impact in this game that he had in the Saints' playoff opener against Arizona.

I want to see points. I want to see two quarterbacks at the very top of their game, at the very top of their fame, produce a classic that lives up to, or even surpasses, the well-deserved hype.

The week that was? No missteps, no bombshells. Maybe it's life in the camera-phone age. Bush and teammates were seen leaving a nightclub at 3:30 Tuesday morning (although Bush said that photo was taken when he was arriving at the club much earlier). It wasn't a story. There was no curfew. Big whoop.

The Colts, as you might expect, have maintained a low profile, kept this a business trip - and it doesn't hurt being 45 minutes north of South Beach.

"Twenty, 30 years down the line, you're not thinking about the week of Super Bowl and thinking, 'On Monday I went to this club and drank that,'." Addai said. "You won't say that. You will say, 'I remember in the third quarter, this happened and that happened.'."

The two No. 1 seeds. The league's best teams. The league's most entertaining teams, unless you're a defensive coordinator or a student at the Woody Hayes School. Teams that had a chance at a perfect season, and one that will capture the perfect ending.

Today, simply, the Colts can become one of those forever teams, one of those great teams. And their remarkable quarterback, Manning, can join the immortals, become one of 11 QBs with multiple Super Bowl rings, and insinuate himself into the conversation regarding the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

I believe it ends this way: It ends the way so many Colts games have ended this year and in past years. I believe it ends with Manning leading a late scoring drive. I believe Manning walks off with his second Super Bowl MVP, and offensive line coach Howard Mudd leaves the game on top, and veteran defensive coordinator Larry Coyer finally earns a ring after a long and storied career.

I believe there will be points, lots of them.

And then, in Downtown Indianapolis, a big parade.

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