And now it all comes out. Darren Sharper of the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints was supposed to be one of the hottest free agents of the off-season. It was quite a surprise that he wasn’t snapped up immediately, but it turns out that he had microfracture knee surgery rather than the much less severe arthroscopic knee surgery as was originally reported.

Sharper re-upped with the Saints on Monday for another year, but his status for the summer and the start of next season is unknown. (more…)

The New Orleans Saints joined their fans in celebrating their Super Bowl win yesterday parading through the city on carnival floats.

New ORLEANS SAINTS Super Bowl Parade

New ORLEANS SAINTS Super Bowl Parade

Head Coach Sean Payton showed off the Lombardi Trophy while players signed autographs, gave speeches and even sang.

Throngs of people pressed up against the floats causing the parade to stop at one point when one of the floats started rocking dangerously.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

New Orleans Saints Cheerleaders
The rested, but possibly rusty, New Orleans Saints host an Arizona Cardinals team that is coming off the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history on Saturday January 16th at the Superdome in New Orleans.

The New Orleans Saints (-305) are 7-point NFL odds favorites over the Arizona Cardinals (+245) and the over/under is 57.

Going in to this game the big question on every sports bettors mind is “can the Saints play up to the form that they demonstrated for most of the season?”

New Orleans had a bye last week, rested many of their starters the week before, and didn’t play very well in the week before that. So it’s been a month since New Orleans has played with the proper intensity and execution. Maybe even longer for that execution part.

The Arizona offense picked up 531 yards against Green Bay and all everyone is talking about is their passing attack, but Arizona found time to pull off some big running plays too.

Running back Beanie Wells led the way with 91 yards, including a big run for 42, as the Cardinals managed 156 yards rushing.

It’s not going to be easy for the Saints to stop this offense.

The Arizona defense gave up a lot of big plays last week. Somewhere Drew Brees is looking at game tape and wondering if someone switched the pre-season tapes as a joke.

But they also made some big plays including the forced fumble that got returned for the game-winning touchdown.

The Saints will come out ready to play, but their execution isn’t going to be top-level. They will miss a couple of chances for big plays early giving the Cardinals’ defense a free pass on some early break-downs.

But the Cardinals defense is going to be a lot more focused after being embarrassed in the win last week. They’re not going to make as many tackling errors as they did last week.

The Cardinals should jump out to an early lead before New Orleans starts to charge back. By the second half, New Orleans will have their execution back and the advantage of all of the rest that they’ve had will also start to show.

Arizona will be hard-pressed to defend the lead, but at +7 I fully expect them to at least cover.

 

 
 
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