Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl Cheerleader

One of the strange quirks of Super Bowl XLIV is that it features two teams with sub-par special teams. There are some highlights, like the Colts veteran kickers, but in some cases, like kickoff return coverage, both teams are downright awful.

Super Bowl Punting

Pat McAfee is handling punting duties for the Colts while  Thomas Morstead punts for the Saints. Both punters have been above their career averages in the playoffs and look to be in fine form when their teams need them most.

McAfee is averaging 46.0 yards per punt while Morstead is averaging 48.2 which is well above his regular season average of 43.6.

The Saints are getting a couple of extra yards out of their punter, but McAfee is closer to his average and is probably more reliable.

Edge: Even

Super Bowl Kicking

Here we have Matt Stover of the Colts against Garett Hartley of the Saints. Both kickers are perfect so far this post season and both kickers were a pedestrian 81 percent in the regular season.

Stover is the veteran of the two and has been reliable in past playoffs, but Hartley has already made one kick from long range to win a game this post season and a good Super Bowl for him would go a long way to establishing him as one of the elite kickers who can handle big pressure.

Edge: Colts

Colts Return Team vs Saints Coverage

Indianapolis ranked 18th in kickoff returns in the regular season averaging 22.2 yards on kickoffs and 28th on punt returns averaging 5.2 yards.

The Saints have the worst coverage in the NFL. They are 29th on kickoff returns giving up 24.5 yards per kick and are dead last in punt return coverage giving up a whopping 14.3 yards.

Fourth and one deep in your own territory? Gamble, because otherwise it’s coming back.

The Indianapolis punt return may be one of the worst in the NFL, but it’s just bad. New Orleans is monumentally bad.

Edge: Colts

Saints Return Team vs Colts Coverage

New Orleans  ranked 4th in kickoff returns in the regular season averaging 24.4 yards on kickoffs and 31st on punt returns averaging 4.6 yards.

The Colts are 31st in kickoff returns giving up 25.3 yards while on punt returns they are 16th with 8.4 yards.

In the post-season, Reggie Bush has already knocked off a big punt return for a touchdown and with his athleticism there’s always the chance that he’ll burn you. But the punt return team doesn’t create enough space to spring Bush with any consistency.

Edge: Saints

Manning already has a Super Bowl MVP award.

Manning already has a Super Bowl MVP award.

Super Bowl 44 MVP odds are out now and they reflect the usual bias towards quarterbacks and running backs. Peyton Manning is, not surprisingly, the overwhelming favorite followed by Drew Brees and the running backs Pierre Tomas and Joseph Addai.

RB Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints +800

Thomas didn’t have eye-popping regular season numbers picking up just 793 yards on the season, but that’s mostly because the Saints didn’t give him the ball much.

His 5.4 yards per carry is good, but it’s a little inflated because the Saints pass heavy offense makes it a little easier to knock off a big run.

The big reason for putting money on Thomas is that he was clutch against the Vikings. He picked up one receiving and one rushing touchdown and he was also the one who converted the fourth and one leap in overtime that led to the game-winning field goal.

RB Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts +800

Similar to Thomas, Addai’s numbers are partly a product of an offense that uses the run only to set up the pass which means he won’t get many touches, but should pick up a little more yardage with each touch.

Addai had 828 yards on the season and averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

Addai hasn’t done much in the playoffs to justify picking him over Thomas. He had a decent game against the Jets which was marred by losing a fumble, but he was almost a non-factor against the Ravens.

Also if the Colts win, he has to go up against Manning for the Super Bowl MVP and Manning will get the nod unless Addai’s performance is clearly better.

QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints +300

Brees is one of the best passers with the game and he has a lot of weapons on offense to show off his skill.

He threw for 34 touchdowns on the season, completed 70.6 percent of his passes and was picked just 11 times for a 109.6 passer rating.

His rating in the post season is even better at 116.1, but he had a bad game against the Vikings hitting just 54.8 percent of his passes.

The Vikings defense deserves the credit for not letting Brees play his game and, unless the Colts can pressure Brees the way the Vikings did, expect Brees to be back to his usual form for the Super Bowl.

QB Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts -250

Manning is the heavy favorite and why not? He’s already the regular season MVP and he already has a Super Bowl win to his credit.

Statistically Manning is a step below Brees. He threw for 33 touchdowns, completed 68.8 percent of his passes and was picked 16 times for a passer rating of 99.9.

Like Brees, Manning has stepped it up in the playoffs earning a 104.6 rating.

Manning’s performance against Baltimore wasn’t great, but the Colts were in control from beginning to end. Against the Jets, when the team needed him most, Manning was awesome picking up 3 passing touchdowns and a 123.6 rating against the best passing defense in the league.

With experience and a history of playing his best in big games, Manning is the clear choice. But he won’t pay out much, so maybe think of him as parlay fodder. Colts to win and Manning for MVP sounds right.

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Pro Bowl Prop Betting

Pro Bowl Cheerleader

Pro Bowl Cheerleader

The Pro Bowl is like when a host throws out a bag of chips before a gourmet meal and calls it the appetizer. Sure chips can be good, but they lack substance and seem downright bad compared with the gourmet main course.

There is a huge array of Pro Bowl props available to keep the Pro Bowl interesting while we wait for the big Super Bowl game itself.

One interesting prop bet is, “will either team score three unanswered times?” Yes is at -175 while No is at +130.

I think the thinking here is that there’s a very good chance that lax play will let teams dominate for stretches making three unanswered scores easy to hit.

Another prop bet currently being offered is, “what will be the the first scoring play?”

The NFC has the better selection of quarterbacks, so they get the best odds for a field goal +230 and touchdown +245 while the AFC is at +260 for a field goal and +250 for a touchdown.

The AFC field goal number really jumps out. Does everyone think Nate Kaeding is going to choke at the Pro-Bowl?

No pressure? No problem. Those odds should be a little lower.

Both teams are at +12500 for a safety probably because nobody cares enough about the game to give up a safety for field position. But if you got a buck, it wouldn’t be a horrible bet.

There is also, “will the team that scores first win?” Yes is at -170 while No is at +125.

I’m not sure why Yes is getting so much love. When NFL players play in a tackling-optional game like this, there are plenty of opportunities for come backs.

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Brett Favre Playoff Disappointment

Brett Favre Playoff Disappointment

Brett Favre definitely made a big mistake on the Vikings last offensive possession of the game when he threw a low percentage pass that was intercepted, but you can’t blame the Vikings loss solely on Favre.

New Orleans Defense Deserves Credit

Instead of focusing on how Favre mucked up, focus on how New Orleans put him in a position to muck up.

Part of the New Orleans defensive game plan was to make the game rough on Favre. Favre took a number of hits, injured his foot and by the last play it affected his game.

Would Favre have run the ball had he not been injured? We don’t know, but it certainly would have seemed like a more attractive option if he wasn’t already hobbled.

Would Favre have run the ball if he hadn’t already taken a bunch of big hits? We don’t know that either, but all of that punishment has to start weighing on you.

The Saints forced Favre to make that mistake. They deserve credit.

The blame should fall on Favre for not getting the ball away faster, the protection for not giving Favre enough time, the receivers for taking too long to get open and the offensive play callers who didn’t call plays that gave Favre quicker options not just on the Vikings last offensive play of the game, but throughout the entire game.

Favre Wasn’t the Only Viking to Make Game-Changing Mistakes

Favre made his mistake at the most critical time. All of the pressure was on, last chance, game on the line…

But Minnesota made plenty of mistakes that would have won them the game had they corrected just one of them.

Percy Harvin’s fourth-quarter fumble deep in Vikings territory is the big one we’d be talking about if Favre hadn’t over-shadowed it later, but there were a lot of turnovers, missed tackles and other mistakes that cost the Vikings the game.

It’s a sixty minute game and there are a lot of reasons a team loses. It’s a little ridiculous to focus on just one mistake when there are so many to chose from.

Manning Receives Super Bowl XLI Trophy

Manning Receives Super Bowl XLI Trophy

Early Super Bowl lines are out now and the Indianapolis Colts (-215) are favored by 4.5 points over the New Orleans Saints (+170) and the over/under is 55.5.

I think the odds-makers thinking here is that the Saints defense gave up a too many yards against Minnesota and they expect Manning to only do better.

The one thing going in their favor is that the Saints are ball-hawks and basically won the game against the Vikings on the strength of their turn-overs.

The Saints defense definitely deserves credit for forcing those mistakes. But defense can put an opposing offense in position to make a mistake, but the offense still has to make the mistake.

If Favre hadn’t injured his ankle on an earlier hit, he wouldn’t have thrown that last pick and we wouldn’t even be talking about New Orleans right now.

Minnesota was a solid 4-6 in the red zone, but you have to believe that if Manning gets to the red zone that many times, this game will be a rout.

The other big reason the odds-makers like the Colts is that the Colts burned the number one defense in the NFL for 30 points and, if they can get 30 against the best, how many more will they get against New Orleans.

The total is interesting too. It’s quite high, but the way these two offenses played all season, you could easily make a case for a higher number.

The Super Bowl is the biggest sports betting event of the year and it draws a lot of recreational betting money which tends to bet the over. With all of the hype surrounding these offenses, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the total go up.

It will be interesting to see how these odds move over the next two weeks as money starts to come in.

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New Orleans Saints NFC Championship Cheerleader
The number-one scoring offenses duels with the number-two scoring offense as the New Orleans Saints play host to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship match on Sunday, January 24, 2010.

The Saints (-190) are 3.5-point NFC championship odds favorites over the Vikings (+160) and the total is 53.

For most of the season it looked like these two teams were destined to meet here and neither team has disappointed.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is looking for a second Super Bowl that would be an exclamation mark on his already great legacy.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is looking to cement his reputation as one of the league’s best quarterbacks with his first Super Bowl.

Favre may be slowing down a bit, but he showed against the Cowboys that he can still pick apart a defense and his experience might prove to be the edge the Vikings need.

Minnesota may have a bit of an edge at quarterback, but the Saints have a more balanced corps of receivers and running backs. You don’t get the second best scoring offense without having some play-makers though and the Vikings have more than their fair share.

New Orleans runs a high-risk high-reward defense that gives up some big plays, but can turn a game around with a key interception.

There aren’t going to be the same number of opportunities for the New Orleans ball-hawking defense against a veteran quarterback like Favre who threw just seven interceptions all season.

Jared Allen leads Minnesota’s number one pass-rushing unit with 14 .5 out of Minnesota’s 48 sacks and Ray Edwards, who was injured in the Dallas game, looks like he’ll be ready to go as he practiced on Friday.

They’ll be going against a New Orleans front line that only gave up 20 sacks on the season, so it won’t be easy to get to Brees.

These are two great teams and it’s going to be a fun game to watch, but home field is going to be a huge factor in this game. Saints fans are loud and Minnesota has struggled on the road going 4-4.

It’s just one game and anything can happen, but it’s hard to figure how a team that’s dominated at home and looked timid on the road like the Vikings can all of a sudden change in probably the loudest building in the NFL.

The Saints balanced attack is just going to keep racking up yards while the Vikings go through stretches where they’re able to move the ball just as well as the Saints and then disappear for a couple of possessions.

One mistake by Favre and New Orleans should cover.

Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders

The rested and confident Indianapolis Colts team hosts a New York Jets team that has scrapped and clawed its way through the playoffs on Saturday, January 24, 2010 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Colts (-350) are 7.5-point AFC championship odds favorites over the Jets (+275) and the over/under is 39.5.

The Colts are very similar to the Chargers, so the Jets clearly have a chance in this one. Both teams are passing teams with poor running games who also have a hard time stopping the run.

The Jets number one defense excels at stopping the pass, is okay at stopping the run but shouldn’t have to worry about it too much versus the Colts, and lives off of the running game on offense.

Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. The Jets blitz-heavy defense will still get their hurries on the Colts, but they won’t get to Manning the way they got to Rivers because Manning can read the defense and release the ball a lot faster.

New York uses a lot of deception on defense. Against most quarterbacks, it lets them get to the quarterback and force bad passes. Against Manning, you’ll know it’s being effective when Manning has to throw short because longer options need a half a second more to open up.

When the Jets have the ball, everyone knows they are going to run the ball. The Jets have protected rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez by limiting the number of throws he has to make. Sanchez has responded by giving them exactly what they ask. The occasional reception without any big mistakes.

This was not the case earlier in the season where Sanchez turnovers cost the Jets a number of games, but we can hardly be surprised to see young rookies mature over the course of a season.

Sanchez and the Jets offense is successful because of their number one ranked running game led by Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene. They are able to wear down defenses and put up more points as the game progresses.

The Colts emphasized speed on defense in their game against the Ravens and had a lot of success stopping the Ravens running attack by rotating their starters out more. Expect the Colts to do pretty much the same thing against the Jets which should also help them limit the amount of wear in the latter stages of the game.

The Jets won their last meeting 29-15 as Manning and a number of other starters were pulled in the third quarter with the Colts up 15-10 angering Colts fans who wanted to see their team go for a perfect season.

However, considering how the Jets offense improves as the game wears on, it is difficult to say that it would have been an automatic victory had Manning stayed in the game. The Jets need to keep the game within one score to be successful and they were able to do that against the Colts starters.

Manning isn’t going to struggle against the Jets, but he’s not going to blow them away either. The Colts defense seems to have figured out the run a little and should be able to slow up the Jets enough for Manning to get them the win. But the 7.5-point spread looks a little high against a Jets team that can eat up the clock on offense and slow up even the best offenses when the other team has the ball.

Kurt Warner with his wife

Kurt Warner with his wife

Kurt Warner has not officially retired yet, but when you hear what he’s saying, you know his time is up.

“It’s the whole week,” said Warner. “The whole commitment, the ability to sustain it to your fullest, day in and day out.”

That doesn’t sound like someone who plans on working out all summer to get ready for another season.

Warner’s career, toiling from obscurity, has been an inspiration to many and I think his struggles are what make him so down-to-earth and likable.

It’s not like his career ended on entirely a sour note. His victory over the Green Bay Packers went in to the record books as the highest scoring game in NFL playoff history while that crushing hit he absorbed in the loss to New Orleans will quickly be forgotten.

Kurt Warner, good luck in whatever you choose to do next.

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New York Jets Cheerleaders
Right now everyone is saying that the Colts pulled off the upset of the playoffs when they beat the Chargers after laughing at Rex Ryan for calling his Jets the team to beat.

Yes, it was an upset, but no it didn’t surprise a lot of people. Many of the pundits predicted that the Jets would win or at least keep it close enough to cover the spread largely because the Chargers had a below-average run defense and the Jets’ top-ranked defense allowed them the luxury of sticking with the run.

Now the Jets face the Colts who, like the Chargers, have a high-powered passing attack and a sub-standard run defense.

Is there any reason to believe that the Jets who can stop the pass and are strong on the run can’t repeat their feat of last weekend?

The AFC Championship Game odds favor the Colts by 7.5 points which is ridiculous considering the last time these two teams met, the Colts were winning 10-9 when they pulled the starters in the third quarter.

I never would have predicted it for most of the season, but I expect to see the Jets in the Super Bowl.

NFL Divisional Playoffs Wrap Up

New Orleans Saints Fan
That was a good weekend of football. We saw some really good, close games and some thoroughly dominating offensive and defensive performances leaving us with one Cinderella team, the Jets, one Cinderella story, Favre and the Vikings, and two teams that delivered after promising regular seasons.

NFC Divisional Games

The Saints made the Cardinals look bad. I felt this game had blow-out potential, I just wasn’t sure which way it would go and the Saints poor play down the stretch had me leaning away from the Saints.

Way to prove me wrong.

I loved how the Vikings completely dismantled a hot Cowboys team. The combination of good preparation, the right game plan and a veteran quarterback like Favre who can bring it all together makes Minnesota a threat to any team.

As good as their respective offenses played, much of the credit has to go to the defenses who were in lock-down mode. It will be interesting to see whether it’s the veteran savvy of Favre or the overwhelming force of Drew Brees and the other Saints stars that gets the upper hand on the defenses.

Early NFL conference final odds have the Saints favored by four points. I don’t want to under-estimate the Saints after underestimating them last week, but I’m going to have a long hard think before betting against the Vikings.

AFC Divisional Games

The Chargers-Jets game played out almost exactly as I expected, although I didn’t account for the Jets ability to wear down opposing defenses and thought they’d be up early. The Jets aren’t going to play any pretty games, or at least they aren’t going to win them, but it’s nice seeing a team buck the trend to pass-heavy offenses and succeed.

Too many coaches are like sheep always building teams that emulate the most recent Super Bowl winners when there’s more than one way to win.

I also got the Ravens-Colts game right except that the Ravens surprised me with how much they passed. When the Ravens got the early field goal, it felt like Manning just decided that there was no way the Ravens were going to outplay the Colts and immediately quelled any doubt.

The AFC Final odds favor the Colts by 7.5. It’s a lot to cover and you know the Jets will play them tough, but the Colts are better equipped to deal with the Jets than the Chargers who really didn’t match up well.



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