Super Bowl Preview: Sorry, Saints, Peyton Manning is All Dat
Every pre-Super Bowl analysis should begin with a review of Peyton Manning's career. There's two key points to be made about Manning: First, he is on pace to shatter every career passing total by Brett Favre and everybody else, and therefore should get primary consideration when the subject of "Greatest Quarterback Ever" is discussed.
Second, you've got to win at least two championships to be considered the greatest ever, and Peyton Manning is just one game away from his second ring.
There was a notion going around for many years that Manning was a "choker" -- a guy who had big numbers but couldn't win the big game. This was perpetuated by football-stat geeks like those on the website ColdHardFootballFacts.com, who were New England Patriots homies and thus cheering Tom Brady while deriding Peyton. ("The Picasso of choke artists" was one of their favorite phrases.)
This is hot air and can't be backed up by any objective measurement. The years in which the Colts lost to the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers in the postseason were seasons in which New England and Pittsburgh had better defenses. If Manning had switched teams with Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in those seasons, Manning would have won more championships.
Let's do a quick review of Brady and Manning in the postseason:
Giselle's sweetie has played in 18 games and his team is 14-4 over that span, an impressive number no matter how you look at it. Brady threw 637 passes in those 18 games for 4,108 yards, a 6.45 yards per throw average, and an NFL rating of 85.5.
Manning has played in 17 postseason games and his teams are 9-8; he's thrown 637 passes for 4,831 yards, 7.46 yards per throw, and an 87.5 NFL rating.
No matter how you look at it, Payton Manning has been a better postseason performer than Tom Brady. That he hasn't won more postseason games than Brady is because the teams he played for were not quite as good.
This year Peyton has the team he needs to win it all. There's only one problem: In the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, he will be facing a passer as good as he is. Over the past four seasons Brees has been the most prolific passer in the NFL with 18,298 yards, 7.8 yards per throw, 122 TD passes and 57 interceptions. In fewer throws Manning has passed for 16,939 yards but an almost identical level of effectiveness with a 7.7 YPA, the me number of TDs, 122, and six fewer interceptions at 51.
Let's put it another way: This is the greatest one-on-one passing match-up since Joe Montana and Dan Marino in the 1985 Super Bowl.
The Forty-Niners won that game rather easily, 38-16, largely because they had a much superior defense. Neither the Colts not the Saints have a dominating defense this time, though the Colts have edges in nearly all significant areas -- edges hat will be not quite so sharp if Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney, perhaps the best pass rusher in football, is not fully recovered from an injury.
Regardless, there are significant reasons for favoring the Colts. There's been much talk about how the Saints like to put hits on quarterbacks, as they did on Brett Favre in the NFC championship game. Their hard pass rush, it has been pointed out, forced two key interceptions by Favre, one with seconds to go before overtime. Okay, but Manning is better than Favre, tougher to rush with a quicker release, and has a far better ability to read downfield coverages. In putting up 30 points against the Jets, Manning proved once again his remarkable ability to come from behind (a 17-6 deficit in the second quarter) and adjust to the most sophisticated blitzes.
Simply put, the Jets had better defensive coaches and better athletes to carry out their plans, but in the second, third and fourth quarters Manning solved their schemes and beat everything they threw at him. Not only that, he did it with unlikely receivers. Everyone, including myself, prophesied that if the Jets' sensation cornerback Darrelle Reavis could contain the Colt's best wideout, Reggie Wayne, New York would get an enormous boost. I even thought the hero of the game would be tight end Dallas Clark, who Manning would be forced to go with when Wayne wasn't open. I was wrong, as were a lot of prognosticators.
Wayne was indeed contained, with just four catches, but so was Clark, who also had only four catches. Instead, Manning consistently found the receivers who got single coverage: Two young, unheralded ends, Pierre Garcon -- and BTW, with that name, shouldn't he be playing for New Orleans? -- and Austin Collie, who combined for 18 catches for 274 yards.
New Orleans has two fine cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, and a superb, hard-hitting safety named Darren Sharper, but they are not better than the Jets' defensive backfield, and if Manning could pierce the Jets' defense for 377 yards, he's likely to light up the Saints' secondary for even more.
Our guess is that Peyton will get in excess of 400 yards against the Saints and that Drew Brees will pile up between 300 and 350. If the Colts can score 30 points against the Jets, they'll score 38 against New Orleans, but the Saints will keep it close by scoring 34 themselves.
Oh, and by the way, fuck the NFL. Who dat? Our lawyers are standing by.
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