Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV Analysis and Prediction

It's difficult to find someone on the World Wide Web of the Internet who is willing to discuss the upcoming Super Bowl between the Colts and the Saints, so I'll fill in the gap.

Sport Being Played

American Football.

Ways in Which the Game May Play Out

This isn't quite like last year's game between the Steelers and Cardinals, when you could tell in the first quarter what kind of game it would be. This year, with the two best teams playing, the game won't be decided early. Both teams have explosive offenses, and both teams have come back repeatedly from large deficits. So even if one team goes up early by a couple of scores, I don't think the game will turn into a rout.

Scenario 1: Shoot-out. Both teams move the ball at will. In this scenario, forcing the opponent to kick a field goal will be considered a victory for the defense. Forcing a punt is a huge momentum swing. Last team with the ball wins.

Scenario 2: Slopfest. The defenses get pressure on both quarterbacks, there are lots of turnovers, young receivers drop passes, and announcers continue to praise the quarterbacks because they're contractually obligated. Drew Brees looks nervous, and Peyton Manning yells at his linemen.

Scenario 3: Low-scoring battle. Both offenses dominate, especially in the running game, but they eat up the clock with long drives that frequently end up with field goal attempts. Even though neither defense appears particularly effective, there's something like a 16-12 score in the fourth quarter.

Scenario 4: Blowout. I suppose this is a possibility. The Saints blowing out the Colts would be a shock. The Colts blowing out the Saints wouldn't be quite as shocking, especially if Brees seems off his game, but it seems unlikely.

I'm going with Scenario 3 - a tight, low-scoring game that either team can win.

Quarterback Play

If you watch ESPN, which I do, you might think that Peyton Manning went through some kind of apotheosis during the Jets game and became a football god, while Drew Brees is some kind of scrappy waterboy who somehow found himself playing quarterback in the Super Bowl. In my arrogant opinion, both quarterbacks have played equally well this year. This year, they're the two best players in the league.

Their styles are different. The Colts use only a few formations with hardly any pre-snap motion, while the Saints try to confuse defenses with lots of formations and motion. One of the reasons analysts have been deifying Manning is because he calls his own plays and acts like a coach on the field. While that's impressive, it doesn't mean that a quarterback who lets coaches call the plays can't be effective. In the last 20 years, coaches have called plays for Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Drew Brees, and every quarterback not named Peyton. Manning is 9-8 in playoff games. That's not exactly a divine record.

Manning used to let the pressure of a big game get to him. Under pressure, he'd get out of his rhythm. So far this year, he hasn't flailed in a big game. In fact, he's been clutch, even heroic. If anything, Brees is more likely to let the pressure get to him than Manning.

Defensive Pressure

Despite what people say, both teams have only average defenses. The Saints have to get pressure on Manning, or he'll continue to play out of his gourd.

If you're still reading this, you know that the Colts' best defensive player, Dwight Freeney, has a badly sprained ankle and may not be able to play. In the championship game, the Saints offense struggled because they used an extra blocker to stop Jared Allen, a Freeney-like rusher. If Freeney doesn't play, the Saints should be able to send an extra receiver out on a pattern, forcing the Colts to blitz more to get pressure. In turn, they expose themselves to big plays.

Jerraud Powers is also injured for the Colts. Even though he's a rookie, Powers has started all year and played well. In fact, the Colts have lost three of their four starting defensive backs, but they've still played relatively well, primarily due to the two rookies, Powers and Jacob Lacey. Against the Saints, who use multiple receivers, the Colts badly need Powers so that Lacey can cover the extra receiver. If Powers can't go, you'll see Brees picking on a guy named Tim Jennings. That's a mismatch.

Intangibles

Luck is an important factor. When a pass gets tipped, does the ball fall harmlessly to the ground, or is it picked off? When a team gets called for a penalty, does it nullify a big play? Are there bad calls at key moments? Will there be big plays on special teams? Does an open receiver drop a pass when it's 3rd and 2? Does a safety guess right and pick off a pass on a hunch?

Are the Saints so nervous playing for the first time in the Super Bowl that they overthrow open receivers, get called for stupid penalties, and get out of position because they're too eager to make a big play? Does the Colts' Super Bowl experience keep them calm and confident?

Are the Colts overconfident? The Saints are playing up that "No one believes in us but us" angle, which is a surprisingly strong motivator to get a bunch of grown men whooping like dogs. That mentality helped the Giants beat the Patriots a couple years ago, and these two teams are much more evenly matched than those two teams. At one time, they were both 13-0. That's never happened before. Both teams let up at the end, and the Colts finished 14-2 and the Saints 13-3. The "We get no respect" angle could be key.

The Who is playing at halftime. I hate The Who. You better you better you bet.

Prediction

I played several simulation games using my old electronic football game that vibrates players into moving. I hobbled the tight end on the Saints and the defensive end on the Colts to make the game more accurate. I've come to the conclusion that the Colts have a 53% chance of winning, while the Saints have a 47% chance of winning. If my simulation is correct, Peyton Manning will rush for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

On the other hand, the Colts are my favorite team, and The Who is playing at halftime. I can't imagine the Colts winning on the same day I have to sit through 65-year-old men singing songs that have menaced me for 40 years.

Final score: Saints 19 Colts 16. Party on Bourbon Street. Gloom in Bloomington.

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