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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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.

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

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

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.

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.

Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders
The Indianapolis Colts play their first meaningful game in a month as they host the run-happy Baltimore Ravens.

The Colts (-270) are 6-point NFL playoff odds favorites over the Ravens (+225) and the over/under is 44.

Come playoff time there’s always a favorite that rested starters late in the season and then lost because they weren’t in sync when games started to matter again. Sports betting fans have to wonder if the Colts are that team.

The Colts started resting their starters in Week 16 and got two losses to show for it.

But Manning and crew looked dominant in the first half of their game against the Jets and the white-out conditions in the Buffalo game mean that you can probably give the offense a pass for their poor showing against the Bills.

If the Indianapolis starters were struggling in the last couple of weeks it might be something to worry about, but they weren’t so the rest will probably help them.

In the Ravens’ victory last week over New England, they kept running the ball into the teeth of the Patriots defense and it kept working.

But they also showed very little confidence in their quarter back Joe Flacco who completed just four passes and still managed an interception in just ten throwing attempts. Flacco is playing through injuries which is great when you want excuses, but doesn’t help much when you’re trying to win games.

Baltimore was probably also helped by the cold New England weather which tends to affect passing offenses more than running ones, but their defense also deserves credit for keeping New England’s star receivers well covered.

They’re probably going to have to stick with their running game against Indianapolis to keep the Colts’ fierce passing attack off of the field. But the Colts’ run defense is also something fierce.

In their November 22 meeting, a 17-15 win for Indianapolis, the Colts held the Ravens to just 76 yards on the ground. With Flacco injured, a similar defensive performance will make this game a rout.

The Colts might struggle a little to get their timing back on offense, but they’ll get it back soon enough to cover because the Ravens aren’t going to score much in this one.

 

 
 
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