Home > NFL > The Saints were the Better Team this Year, so why are the Colts Favored to Win Super Bowl 44?

The Saints were the Better Team this Year, so why are the Colts Favored to Win Super Bowl 44?

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Not a great team.

One of the first thing that comes to mind in a quick retrospective about the 2009 Colts is that the Colts have not been a great football team this year.

This is in no way meant to be disrespectful to the team that I picked at the beginning of the year to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.*  At the beginning of the year, everyone knew that the Colts would be good.  It’s a team of superstars from Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne to Dallas Clark, Freeney, Mathis, Brackett, Kelvin Hayden, Bob Sanders.  We didn’t know about Jerrod Powers, Jacob Lacey, Jeff DeVan, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon before the season, but it was well established that the Colts’ talent development system could churn out some great skill players.

*I picked the Seahawks in the NFC.  Yeah. Had the Saints deep in the playoffs, at least.

And in close games, the Colts performed fantastically this year.  But, overall, people are going to forget how injured this team was because they preserved, not through greatness, but through goal-achievement and close wins.  The 2009 Colts will be remembered for doing everything that THEY came to do, and leaving their egos (and particularly those of their fans) at the door.  They’ll be remembered for Peyton Manning’s great season and his 4th MVP.  It will be forgotten that, despite overwhelming consistency, the greatness was in their accomplishments, not the team itself.

Luckily, there are statistics that suggest that New Orleans was a slightly stronger team throughout the season, or at least that it was very even.

***

DVOA

New Orleans 23.4%, Indianapolis 17.1%

Weighted DVOA (includes both teams resting starters)

New Orleans 13.5%, Indianapolis 9.8%

Brian Burke’s NY Times Game Projection

Indianapolis 52%, New Orleans 48%

Regular Season Point Differential

New Orleans Saints 169, Indianapolis Colts 109

Brian Burke’s GWP (Generic Win Percentage)

Indianapolis 0.78, New Orleans 0.77

***

None of this really supports the 1 TD line being given to the Indianapolis Colts in this game.  It appears the Colts, at best, were the Saints’ equal, and at worst, were inferior for most of the season.  At least, that’s what the numbers say.

But I think, by and large, the Colts are being expected to win this game comfortably, which supports the line, and furthermore, I think I can support the Colts as favorites even in the face of the evidence I just brought to suggest they might not be.

Everything I cited above was based off regular season totals, which means it’s the largest sample we have of these teams, but it’s also only relevant up until about four and a half weeks ago.  Based on what we knew four weeks ago, it would have suggested that the Colts would NOT be here, and that the Saints would be in a dogfight with the Cowboys and the Eagles to represent the NFC.

The Colts got to the Super Bowl by raising their level of play and performing more in line with the league’s best offense in victories over great teams in the Ravens and the Jets.  I think it’s safe to conclude that if the Colts did not raise their offensive level, they would have fallen in the postseason, and therefore, they’re playing better on offense now than they were in the regular season.

On the other hand, the Saints had to play neither the Packer or the Eagles or the Cowboys entirely because of the NFC seeding system.  The Eagles and the Cowboys had to play in the first round, which the Cowboys won (meaning the Saints didn’t have to play the Eagles).  The Cardinals got to host the Packers only because an offseason rule change that would have granted home games to the best records in the conference instead of division winners failed to pass, in what was likely the decisive factor in that game.

The Saints and Cards were a more intriguing match-up than an actual danger for the Saints.  And when the Vikings managed to do the Saints a favor at home and beat down the Cowboys, the Saints had managed a pretty easy road to the super bowl through only the Cards and Vikings.  They still had to go take care of business against Minnesota, and through plenty of chances to put the game away, the Saints ended up playing the Vikings in sudden death overtime before making it to the super bowl.

You could say the Colts struggled with the Jets for a little bit, but a good, long drive in that game by Manning and the Colts, and they had reached a level that the Jets could not match.  While I believe the Colts spent too much of an otherwise perfect regular season not at that level, their ability to get there and stay there for an extended period of time is unmatched.  But for the Saints, their inability to put away the inferior Vikings rings a lot louder.  There are similarities between the Colts and Vikings, but the ability to adjust to how the Saints are trying to attack is not one of them.  The Colts will be vastly more prepared than the Vikings, and that really makes one think: blowout.

Unit for unit, the Saints match-up very well in this game.  Their defense has the ability to rise to any occasion, and if the super bowl ends up being a defensive struggle that neither Peyton or Brees can solve, the Saints have the advantage in the kicking game.

Ultimately though, there’s a really simple maxim that can defend the Vegas line in the face of two seemingly similar teams.  If the game is a blowout, there’s hardly any doubt that Peyton Manning will be the one directing it.  But if the game is close as many expect, Manning is still going to be there for a last crack at it.  At some point during the game, the Saints defense is going to have to stop the elevated Colts offense cold.  And even then, that might not be enough.

Maybe these teams really aren’t that equal.

I still think they are pretty close, if the Colts have a slight advantage.  That advantage might be nullified by Dwight Freeney’s injury.   But it sure seems like the Saints are going to have to come up with a uniquely dominant offensive and defensive scheme to compete like they have competed all year.  And the Colts have an advantage that the Saints can’t do a thing about:

Their schematic advantage stands in the middle of the field and gets to handle the football.  It’s why the Colts continue to exceed all their projections every year.  And it’s why the Saints will have more problems adjusting to the Colts this week than they have with the rest of their schedule all of this year.

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  1. February 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

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