Wild Weekends: Super Bowl XLIV Prediction

The time has finally come.

This Sunday, football season ends in Miami with Super Bowl XLIV and for the first time in years, there’s a Super Bowl where the sides are pretty even on who people think are going to win. Last year, Pittsburgh was a pretty clear favorite, the Pats were supposed to run over the Giants, the Colts did run over Chicago, the Steelers were pretty safe favorites against Seattle a few years back, but this year people are still scratching their heads about a winner, and that’s even after Dwight Freeney became a story this week.

And speaking of Freeney, he’s going to play. I don’t care what is said between now and six o’clock Sunday (in Miami), Dwight Freeney will step on the field and play in the Super Bowl, if only because it is that game. As for his effectiveness or impact, I’m going to compare Freeney to Bruce Smith in Super Bowl XXVI: Smith played the game hurt, and didn’t end up being noteworthy in the game itself. This is how I see Dwight Freeney’s day playing out on Sunday as the injury he suffered isn’t one that would be 100% in two weeks time anyway, but when he plays it’s going to be after missing basically all the practices before the game and rehabbing it can only go so far as far as on the field contact and motion is concerned.

As for the quarterbacks and their receivers, this is a big reason why people see this game as even. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are the two best quarterbacks in the league once Brett Favre’s name is out of the conversation. Their receivers are a central part of why these quarterbacks have gotten their teams here. Manning of course has the advantage because he’s been to the Super Bowl before and understands what that means–something Brees and the rest of the Saints will find out moments after running out of the tunnel. There are big playmakers and guys who can make those tough and sometimes impossible catches on both sides, but Pierre Garcon is the key receiver in this game by far. Garcon is a second year receiver out of Mount Union who until this year’s playoffs may have been known only for having a fun sounding name. However, he has been the backbone of the Colts’ offense throughout these playoffs (you read that right). It has been Garcon and not Wayne or any other Colt receiver that has been constantly reliable for Manning throughout the playoffs and the fact that Garcon has almost morphed into Wes Welker in these playoffs–combined with the disaster in his native Haiti during the playoffs–tells me that this guy is primed to put on a big receiving show Sunday.

It would be impossible to make a prediction for this game without mentioning Reggie Bush. Both teams have played games in Miami this season, but Bush became Reggie Bush again in his trip this year helping the Saints fire back from a huge deficit against Miami. That experience plays a lot better than the Colts scoring three big touchdowns and winning the game despite holding onto the ball for only around one whole quarter. Expect Bush to run, catch, and return (even if it’s only once) balls in this game because doing three different things during the course of the game is what Reggie Bush does and more times than not (especially when he’s getting many touches in each area) it’s effective in confusing and frustrating opposing defenses.

Bush’s improvement and production throughout the playoffs aside, Pierre Thomas may be the guy Brees needs in his backfield more than Bush come Sunday. Pierre Thomas has already proven to me that he can be a much better running back than Reggie Bush (by that I mean running the ball) whereas Bush is much more talented and reliable than Thomas when it comes to catching and/or returning the ball. The reason Thomas may play a key role in this game is the same reason that Joseph Addai needs to be ready to play: they both may hold the key.

What I’m getting at is that the mission of this game for either team is to keep the other team’s offense off the field. Redundant as it may seem, that notion has never taken on a greater importance because usually a team will want to keep an opposing defense off the field, but in this case–despite how good these defenses can be–it’s more about keeping the rocket ships out of fuel to use a metaphor fitting of these offenses. Addai and Thomas may end up getting more carries than we expect if only to make an attempt at controlling the ball rather than putting up points. People expect this game to be a shootout because they expect both teams to go out trying to put up points. The flaw with that line of thinking is that if both teams are able to put up points at will (as most people believe will happen), then any little mistake could still destroy all of that success.

I still believe we’re going to get an offensive show on Sunday, but anybody with the almost college football-like predictions with both teams in the thirties or forties need to re-evaluate why they believe that. As before mentioned, I do believe we’re going to get plenty of points, that Dwight Freeney won’t be much of a factor, and that Pierre Garcon, Joseph Addai, and Pierre Thomas are the three “dark horse” players to watch. And with all that…

Indianapolis 31, New Orleans 24

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