For all of the stats, the analysis, the opinions, and the information involved in handicapping the Super Bowl I think that your bet this weekend really comes down to one question:
Do you really want to wake up Sunday morning and know that your money is bet against Peyton Manning?
Manning and Indianapolis will face New Orleans at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday in Miami in Super Bowl 44. The Colts are presently listed as five-point favorites and the total is situated at 56.5. The line on this game actually opened at 4.5 and was immediately bet up to 5.5. However, recent action on the Saints has helped pull it down to five and even 4.5 at some books, while still other books have boosted the line to six.
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Nearly 43 percent of the wagers on the Super Bowl have been placed on New Orleans, according to one tracking site that has evaluated over 53,000 wagers placed online. So apparently there are a lot of people that can answer my previously posited question with a simple, “No problem.” But the other 57 percent would rather be with Manning than against him.
The idea that Manning is the driving force behind the Super Bowl betting this year may seem a little (simple). The fact that the line is dropping at some books lets me know that the sentimentality of the Saints is starting to pull in plenty of money from the average bettor. And perhaps bettors are overreacting to the news that Dwight Freeney likely isn’t going to play on Sunday. But in my opinion it still comes down to No. 18.
The simple fact of the matter is that Indianapolis is 16-0 in games in which Manning played the whole game, with their only two losses (to the Jets and Bills) coming while Indianapolis rested its starters in Weeks 16 and 17. He was voted the league’s MVP and in my eyes it was fairly obvious that Manning was a “man among boys” while flat-out dominating from the quarterback position. He answered every challenge and was the man behind every close or clutch win that Indy had this year. Whether it was three touchdown passes to rally the Colts over the Jets in the AFC Title Game, a 65-yard strike to Reggie Wayne for a comeback win in Jacksonville, or two fourth quarter touchdown passes to erase a 17-point deficit against New England, Manning always made the plays and simply refused to let his team lose this season.
Manning is one of the all-time great NFL players and is in the prime of his career. He is like Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals with the Bulls or Mario Lemieux with the Penguins. How do you bet against that?
Further, Manning and Co. are gunning for their second Super Bowl in the last four years and attempting to do so against a franchise that is making its first-ever appearance in The Big Game. Teams with experience facing a Super Bowl “rookie” team are 19-4 in the history of the NFL championship game. That includes a 6-0 record over the last 15 or so years as teams like Arizona, Seattle, Carolina, Tennessee, Atlanta and San Diego each were beaten in their Super Bowl debut. And the difference in these teams and franchises qualifies this game for my Big Game-Big Program Theory, which says that regardless of the experience of the players to always go with the city or franchise that has a longer history of winning Big Games.
So now that I’ve set it up as an easy, obvious wager to go with the Colts it’s time to talk about why and how New Orleans can pull of the upset.
In my opinion the Saints were the best team in football for the majority of the season. They played a more difficult schedule in what was the far superior conference this season and their wins were more impressive while they were doing it. And looking at four common opponents – Arizona, New England, the Jets and Miami – the Colts managed to win those three games by an average of just about 10 points while the Saints won those three by an average of nearly 20 points.
Statistically, the Colts enter this game with the better defense (ranked No. 18 overall as opposed to the Saints at No. 25). However, in my opinion the Saints defense is the unit that I’d rather have on my side. New Orleans faced four of the eight highest scoring offenses in the NFL this year (Minnesota, New England, Philadelphia and the Giants) and held every one of them below their season average. Their front seven is physical and underrated and the Saints secondary has been active and has been better at forcing turnovers this year.
The Colts play that soft Cover-2 defense. They sit back, sit back, let teams move the ball, and simply wait for an opportunity to stall a drive or wait for their opponents to make mistakes. However, teams that can execute in the red zone and offenses that can attack really have had success against them this year. Indianapolis is just No. 24 against the rush and they can be pushed around up front. Further, Indy’s team speed will be taken down a notch by playing on grass over turf. And while I think that the Freeney injury is being overrated and overblown I do think that he’ll be missed a little bit.
Execution will be the key to New Orleans’ success or failure. If they don’t take penalties on either side of the ball, if they can avoid any secondary malfunctions, and if they can win the turnover battle then they will win this game. Indianapolis thrives on the incompetence of its opponents, in contrast to the cool efficiency of Manning. But the Colts can be beaten if teams execute and can make some big plays.
Indianapolis is not a “blowout” team. Over the past two years 17 of their 35 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Colts are 7-0 in those games this year and they were 8-2 in them last year. Again, they keep things close and simply know that Manning is going to be better than the opponent in the fourth quarter and that the Colts will do what they need to do to win the game.
One of the main similarities between these combatants is the fact that for all of their talent both of these teams were extraordinarily lucky this season. Each managed wild comebacks and took advantage of serious meltdowns to make it to this point. Both teams were trailing in their conference championship game. Both teams – New Orleans at Miami and the Colts against New England – were able to overcome a deficit of 17 or more points. And both teams were great in close games (New Orleans was 4-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown, in games in which they were trying to win.)
One of the main differences in these teams is that the Saints were the beneficiaries of an overwhelming home field advantage but did not play well on the road or on grass. The Colts, on the other hand, may have actually been better on the road this year and their experience winning away from home – accumulated over the past decade – is proven.
Last year’s game was one of the rare instances where the Super Bowl loser lost but covered the spread. The points generally hold very little value. So your bet in this game should be on the team that you think is going to win. And my final question to you is this: even if things break New Orleans’ way and they are winning in the fourth quarter, do you really think that the Saints are going to be able to hold up under the pressure of another vintage Manning comeback attempt?
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If your answer is ‘yes’ then good luck with your underdog. But if you’re not sure or if the answer is ‘no’ then your cash should be headed over to the side of the best player on the field.