For the first time this off-season, the Indianapolis Colts are not the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the Indianapolis Colts were definitely at the top after their Super Bowl defeat and I noticed they were still at the top a few weeks ago.

Indianapolis Colts NFL Cheerleaders

Now the Super Bowl odds list the Colts at +1000 after being +800 earlier in the offseason, slightly behind the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys who both sit at +950.

The drop is likely due to the injury to third-round draft pick CB Kevin Thomas that leaves them a little thin in the defensive secondary. They aren’t able to sign restricted free agents because they need to lose another RFA before signing one and they don’t have any RFAs left to be signed.

The only way they’ll get back to favorite status is if they are able to trade for a CB.

The San Diego Chargers are always among the top teams in the NFL and their odds were no doubt helped by the draft where they filled a number of needs. They’ll be relying on players like Ryan Mathews to improve on LaDainian Tomlinson’s 3.3 yards per carry and Cam Thomas to fill the hole left by Jamal Williams.

The Dallas Cowboys shored up their offensive line and many of their players are still on the up-sides of their career, but I’m not convinced they should be the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

 

Winners

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gerald McCoy is perfect for them and they got him exactly where he should go.

Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry is exactly what they needed. They might have been able to trade down a few spots and still pick him, but Berry is exactly what they needed.

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Okung probably shouldn’t have fallen to Seattle, so great for them to pick him up. Earl Thomas is another great pick at 14. The Seahawks probably did the best of anyone on Day 1.

San Francisco 49ers: Getting two offensive linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, in the first round complete remakes their offensive line in just one day. I’m guessing they traded up for Iupati because they thought the Steelers were going to grab him.

Miami Dolphins: I like what they did trading down. And I like Jared Odrick. They grabbed some extra picks and still got a huge piece in the first round.

New York Jets: Kyle Wilson is going to learn from the best and, in a year or two, beat out an All-Star corner for a job.

Indianapolis Colts: Jerry Hughes is an incredible value at 31.

Losers

St Louis Rams: It’s too easy for a quarterback to end up as a bust and they get too much money as the number one pick. Sam Bradford is a very good prospect, but not an elite one which is what you want with a number one overall QB. St Louis should have traded this pick and grabbed either Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen later on in the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trade your first round draft pick to someone who is going to use it to draft first round talent.

Undecided

Denver Broncos: I love that they traded down, but Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas probably could have been picked up lower down.

Having said that, I’m a Tebow believer. He will be the best quarterback to come out of this draft because he has the right kind of determination and attention to detail to put in countless hours to fix his throwing mechanics and he has the demeanor of a winner on-field.

If the Broncos knew that someone was going to grab Tebow before them, then trading up to grab him was a good move.

 

Manning Undergoes Surgery

Peyton Manning underwent surgery yesterday for a pinched nerve that has been bothering him for the last four years ESPN is reporting.

The procedure was a minor one, but the Indianapolis Colts quarterback stayed overnight in the hospital after the procedure.

The Colts’ medical staff insist that it didn’t affect his playing, but thought it best to perform the procedure now.

Odds-makers don’t seem to be too concerned either. The Colts have the best odds to win Super Bowl XLV at +700.

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Hartley Proves His Worth

Before the Super Bowl I was saying that the Colts had the kicking advantage, but that Hartley looked like he could become a great kicker with another great playoff performance.

He already had a 40 yard field goal in overtime versus the Minnesota Vikings.

We have seen so many times in these playoffs that there are plenty of good kickers who can play well all season but fail utterly under pressure. But there are only an elite few who can maintain that consistency through the playoffs.

The Colts have two kickers like that, Matt Stover and Adam Vinatieri.

And now the Saints have one in Garrett Hartley.

Hartley was a perfect 3/3 on field goals hitting from 44, 46 and 47 yards.

He won’t get the credit and attention that Drew Brees and Tracy Porter get. But put Hartley on another team, say the San Diego Chargers, and it’s a completely different post-season.

There aren’t many kickers who can deal with the NFL playoffs pressure, but the Saints have one who can in Hartley.

Despite winning the Super Bowl, the Saints are just +900 in 2011 Super Bowl odds while the Colts are favored at +700.

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Super Bowl 44

Super Bowl 44

The New Orleans Saints face the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, February 7, 2010.

The Saints are the sentimental favorites making the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history while serving as a symbol of rebirth to a city ravaged by hurricane Katrina.

But we’re not interested in sentiment. The Colts are 5-point Super Bowl betting favorites and the over/under is 56.5.

We have the two top seeds from the regular season squaring off in a Super Bowl since 1993.

Both teams have a potent aerial attack and solid, but not exceptional, defense.

New Orleans gives up an average of 357.8 yards per game and were burned for 475 yards against Minnesota in the NFC championship game, but they do have the best red-zone defense in the league.

They’re not going to shut down Peyton Manning, but they will try to punish him the way they punished Favre.

The problem is that Manning is the best at reading defenses and he knows that the Saints will be trying to hurt him early so they can beat him late. Expect Manning to throw a lot of short plays and hand the ball off for runs early as the Colts try to prevent Manning from taking too much early punishment.

The Colts will almost certainly put up some big points. The Saints weren’t able to stop the Vikings offense, so they most certainly won’t be able to stop the Colts.

New Orleans may have won the game, but Minnesota basically handed the Colts the blue-print on how to stop them.

The Saints only picked up 257 yards in that game and were in complete lock-down in the second half until overtime and the Colts know they don’t need to stop Brees, only slow him down.

Colts DE Dwight Freeney’s injury has been the biggest betting variable, but the Colts are 7-2 without Freeney so maybe we’re overestimating Freeney’s impact.

New Orleans will almost certainly put up more yards than they got against Minnesota. The Vikings have a much stronger defensive core than the Colts, but the Colts defense is good enough and they showed that they can execute a game-plan to perfection when they smothered the Jets in the second half of the AFC championship game.

The Saints will have a chance to win this if they can hold the Colts to field goals instead of touchdowns and Drew Brees and the offense can put up a bunch of points.

But Manning doesn’t look like he can be stopped. Not for more than a quarter anyway.

Super Bowl Field Goal

Super Bowl Field Goal

Matt Stover at age 42 and Garrett Hartley at age 23 sit at opposite ends of their careers.

Stover is the oldest player to ever play in a Super Bowl and has made 471 field goals in the regular season and already has two Super Bowl rings to his credit.

Hartley has made just 22 field goals, but he already has one high pressure score to his credit. He made a 40-yarder in over-time against the Minnesota Vikings to send New Orleans to the Super Bowl in Miami.

Right now the edge has to go to Indianapolis with Stover. The over/under for the number of points each kicker gets clearly reflects this.

Stover’s total is 8. Hartley’s is 6.5.

Hartley could establish himself as a clutch championship-caliber kicker with another big game.

Hartley has averaged 8.0-points in two post-season games and 7.4-points a game over the regular season while Stover has averaged 10.0 points in the playoffs and 5.6 points in the regular season.

Judging by those stats, the over on Hartley looks like a good bet unless you think he’s going to choke.

In both cases you should bet over if you think they’re going to get two field goals, because they both can expect 3-4 points from touchdown conversions.

The only problem is that these two offense tend to score touchdowns when they get close to the end-zone and their defenses aren’t spectacular.

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Dwight Freeney Suffered a Third-Degree Ankle Tear

Dwight Freeney Suffered a Third-Degree Ankle Tear

The biggest Super Bowl betting variable in this weekend’s game is the injury status of Dwight Freeney.

The Super Bowl odds have moved a fair bit this week with the Patriots opening as 4.5-point favorites, plus or minus half a point depending on where you looked, before going to 6-point favorites and then back down to 4-points before settling at the current 5-point spread.

A lot of the movement is no doubt accounted for by money going to one side or another and moving the line, but Freeney’s status also has an effect.

For instance, on Monday the 25th, all of the news about the injury was positive. The line went from 4.5-points to 6-points that day.

On the 26th, when it was first suggested that Freeney’s injury might keep him out of the game, the line dropped to 4-points.

The news hasn’t changed much since then and the line slowly floated up to 5-points, although it is interesting that the worst news came on January 31st, and the line didn’t change much.

Now Freeney is sounding more and more like he will play. He is reporting improvement, but is still listed as questionable.

Will this cause the line to float more towards the Colts? I’d say probably not.

My theory is that the early line movement was due to Freeney’s injury status, but, as the game approaches, the massive amounts of public money become the only significant factor influencing the line.

The other big question is, will he even be remotely effective if he does play?

I think the answer has to be no. It’s a serious ankle sprain and he’s going to be playing in a brace which is going to effect Freeney’s mobility.

There’s no way that Freeney plays up to his normal standard and you have to factor that in when deciding where to place your bet.

Update:

Covers just published an article on Freeney’s injury that says a lot of the same things.

The gem comes from rexdale in the comments who noticed, “Indianapolis (has gone) 8-0 in last 8 meaningful game WITHOUT Dwight Freeney.”

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Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl Cheerleader

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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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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