It’s the Colts vs. the Saints in what’s, going in, the most compelling Super Bowl match-up we’ve seen in at least a decade, and we have to answer why, if the match is so compelling, are the Colts favored by a full five points?
The first easy answer here is that folks are paying for Peyton. It’s hard to question the emerging consensus that Peyton Manning is quarterbacking in the NFL in a way that no one has before him, and it’s really hard not to be impressed with the results.
ESPN’s Vegas insider Chad Millman kicked off his Super Bowl coverage by noting that “Manning is so good, so technically sound and such a cool assassin, we lose sight of how spectacular he actually is.”
But do we really? What about the cover of ESPN Mag’s ’09 NFL preview? “No Dungy? No Marvin? No problem. The heart of the Colts beats on,” it said, right on the cover. And it’s not like Peter King didn’t remind us with his excellent mid-season SI cover story on the efforts of “the league’s hardest-working and most cerebral quarterback.“
Maybe it was easy enough to dismiss all of this as big media fluff before what Manning did to the Jets in the AFC Championship game (or more specifically with the King piece, to skip reading it altogether, because if you’d read it, it would have been hard to dismiss). But is there anyone who doesn’t get it now?
In the same column, Millman went on to observe that over the course of the NFC Championship game, the Colts had moved from a 3-point favorite to being favored by 5.5 just 30 minutes after the Super Bowl match was set. This is all the more impressive considering that the team that was favored to come out of the NFC is the team that did. Of course, part of this is due to the way the NFC Championship played out, but at least as much of it has to do with Manning’s surgical deconstruction of the Jets defense.
We have to hand it to Bill Simmons for representing so well “the voice of the fan” here.
“[I]f you’re thinking about betting against him in the Pierre Bowl, ask yourself this: How dumb will you feel in the fourth quarter, with the Colts leading by 10 and driving for another score, if Manning has the New Peyton Manning Face going? Would you be kicking yourself? Would you be saying, ‘Why did I go against Manning? What was I thinking?’ . . . I can’t pick against Manning in a big game.”
So yeah, maybe we’d feel dumb if the Colts were about to go up 17 in the fourth quarter and we’d taken the Saints. Or maybe it just would have been the way the ball bounced. But the issue is whether there’s any chance that the fear Simmons writes about here hasn’t been bought and paid for in the five point spread. Do you really want to go into this one laying five points on the idea that people just don’t understand how good Peyton Manning is?
Because if you don’t, it’s hard to see what else there is for you to hang your hat on.
How impressed are you with playoff wins over Joe Flacco’s broken hip and the receiverless Ravens, then the boisterous charlatan Ryan and his Jets who couldn’t have been happier just to have been there?
Neither of those teams was anywhere near as equipped as these Saints are to exploit the Colts’ thin secondary, and the rookie Sanchez still threw for 265 yards on them giving rise to history’s first occasion in which Braylon actually had a right to complain.
And now with a severely limited Dwight Freeney? It’s tempting to look back on the Colts’ week 3 domination of the Cardinals as a template for how this one will go, but Freeney was a monster there, with two sacks and four QB hits, helping rush the more-than-slightly-less-mobile-than-Brees Kurt Warner into two interceptions. And that was before the Colts’ lost top cornerback Marlin Jackson who grabbed one of those picks. The closest thing that these Colts have faced to these Saints has to be the Patriots in Week 9. We know what happened there, and we know that these Saints are no Patriots.
And if you have to decide on what’s the most underrated unit playing in today’s game, don’t you have to pick Gregg Williams’ Saints’ defense?
There seems to be more than a little bit of recency bias at play on the point spread here. It’s true that the Saints didn’t at all look good in beating Minnesota, but the situation and the matchups are very different here.
First, there’s a fine line between “too happy to be there,” and the “dangerously loose underdog,” and it’s easy to see how these Super Bowl Saints contrast well with the Jets of two weeks ago in these categories. Responsibility for the cancellation of New Orleans’ first Super Bowl party when it’s a 3.5-point favorite to happen, on the other hand, is major pressure, and has to explain a lot about the Saints uneven performance in the NFC Championship game.
And while the Colts have Manning, they don’t approach the Vikings brute force and athleticism in the trenches and at the offensive skill positions.
It’s true that many of these Colts have been here before, and a certain hyper-competitiveness/too-tightly-wound-ness on Brees’ part might also have something to do with the shakiness against Minnesota and be cause for some concern for Saints-backers today. (Again a fine line, but let’s just note that Brees is spoken of as having political ambitions while Manning is not.). But this Saints offense is too well-built to not expect success against this riddled Colts defense, and the Saints’ underrated defense won’t have to play the game that their counterpart Jets unit would have had to have played to stay in it against these Colts, the latter being a factor that makes an underrated difference (see, for example, all the nonsense in the comments to various posts at this website about the Jets “#1 ranked defense.”).
We’ve been hearing a lot these last two weeks about Peyton Manning’s legacy depending on this game, but really, it absolutely doesn’t. It’s amazing enough what Manning’s already done this season with such a thin Colts unit, and there’s little reason to believe that he won’t play in at least one more of these before he’s through.
The most interesting thing about Manning’s role here might be the way it tests the old wagering saw that you don’t back an underdog unless you think the dog has a chance to win outright. On one hand, our valuation of the prevalent ideas about this game tells us to take the Saints and the points here. On the other, yeah, it is hard to see Manning letting this one get away. But aren’t these Colts the absolute masters of the dominating by-four-points-or-less victory? So why should today be any different?
Because winning this 30 unit 6-1 wager on the Colts to win the Super Bowl that we made in October, AND this 90 unit hedge on the Saints +5 would be too good to be true?
As if there was any such thing. Anyway, once again, should be a hell of a game.
Per our earlier look at the props for today’s game, I’ll put 5 units on Drew Brees to throw for more than 285.5 yards (-145), 1 unit per on Darren Sharper (30-1) and The Field (10-1) to win MVP (Bethea is part of “The Field” at my book), and I’ll go 2 units on OVER 5 rotations on Pete Townshend’s windmill move (-220) (“Windmill move must be a full 360 degree revolution and be shown on TV to be counted for this wager.”).*
Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone! I’ll do my best to keep up with the fun on Twitter today.
*I tried to go 6 units on the windmill wager, but the limit at my book is 2 units for this play, which is probably because this is free money. Seriously, is there any chance that if Townshend knew that this wager was available that he wouldn’t go high speed 30X rotation right off the bat? Who wouldn’t love him for this? Do you think he knows about this? Wouldn’t somebody have told him? DO IT TOWNSHEND! ROTATE, YOU OLD BASTARD! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!
**You should also know about this, from “the commenter formerly known as ‘p’,” who also likes the Saints to cover in Super Bowl 44:
On Jan. 31, Kobe Bryant scored 44 points to surpass Jerry West, formerly #44 for the Lakers, as the leading scorer in Lakers history. Of course, Kobe accomplished this feat just a few days after Barack Obama, our 44th President, delivered his state of the union address, which happened just a few days after the Vikings of Minneapolis, MN (latitude 44 degrees) covered the spread against the Saints in the NFC championship game. And it just so happens that 44 years ago, the NFL granted franchise rights to New Orleans, and the Saints were born.
Creepily, 44 also happens to be the number of wings I will eat, and how many times one might click on this website tomorrow before a new post is up if the Colts win/Saints cover combo comes through.