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Feist Super Bowl XLIV Handicapping Tips

Super Sunday!

Jim Feist

Jim Feist

The top two seeds in both conferences have made it to the Super Bowl. That’s not the norm, as it hasn’t happened since 1993. The Colts are looking for their second Super Bowl title in four seasons while the Saints make their first trip to the big game. For those examining expert football picks, back in August the Colts were 8-to-1 to win the Super Bowl while the Saints were 18-to-1.

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Last year we had a Cinderella story with Arizona coming out of nowhere to win the NFC and within seconds of a Super Bowl upset. There is no story like that this year with a pair of No. 1 seeds, though the Saints might garner some dark horse sentiment as the underdog.

We are in a golden age for the AFC, favored again to win. It’s almost as if the pendulum has swung. During the 1980s and much of the 90s, the NFC dominated, winning 15 of 16 Super Bowls, including 13 in a row. That changed in 1998 when Denver upset Green Bay, 31-24. Since then, the AFC has won 9 of the last 12, including last year.

The Giants were a Cinderella story two years ago, rising from the No. 5 seed to upset the Bucs, Cowboys and Packers — all on the road. The Cardinals filled that role last season, opening as an underdog in all three playoff games. This season the Colts and Saints have been favored in the playoffs, going 4-0 SU, 3-0-1 ATS.

The year the Colts won the title, January of 2007, the Saints were actually knocking on the door of the Super Bowl, losing to the Bears in the NFC Championship game with a high flying offense behind newcomer Drew Brees but no defense.

Since then, Coach Sean Payton has been trying to stockpile defensive players via the draft and free agency. It has paid off, in a sense, making the title game under first-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. On the other hand, this defense finished 25th in the NFL, easily the lowest ranking of all the playoff teams.

Offense is what makes this team go, averaging 31.9 points and 403 yards. QB Drew Brees (34 TDs, 11 picks, 4,388 yards, a record 70.6% completions) has an incredible array of targets with WRs Marques Colston (1,074 yds), Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, plus TE Jeremy Shockey. The running game has a three-headed attack with Pierre Thomas (793, 5.4 ypc), Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. Even with the top-ranked offense in the league, New Orleans (15-3 SU, 9-8-1 ATS) is on a 7-4 run under the total as oddsmakers and expert football picks have inflated their totals.

The Colts (16-2 SU, 11-6-1 ATS) also have a great passing attack for first-year Coach Jim Caldwell. Four-time MVP QB Peyton Manning (33 TDs, 16 INTs) leads the second ranked passing offense with the help of WR Reggie Wayne (1,264 yards) and TE Dallas Clark. Manning just completed 26-of-39 passes for 377 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions in the AFC title game against the NFL’s No. 1 defense!

The real wild card in all this is the Indy defense. They have been great in the postseason, allowing 20 points in two games, but that was against one-dimensional offenses of the Ravens and Jets. The Colts finished 18th in the regular season in total defense, though DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have looked sharp after taking much of the last month off to get healthy.

The Saints hope to continue a trend: The underdog is 6-2 ATS the last eight Super Bowls, winning three times. Here’s a look at what to expect this weekend as America’s unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl, kicks off.

What the Saints want to do: First, they don’t want to panic. Many of the players haven’t been on this big a stage. Second, the offense looked out of rhythm in the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, sputtering on third down with 257 total yards. They won’t score 31 points against the Colts if they get that few yards.   The defense loves to attack and try and force turnovers, stripping the ball and blitzing opposing quarterbacks. They do that out of necessity, trying to mask defensive weaknesses. They allowed 475 yards to the Vikings, but won because of 5 turnovers (3 fumbles). Look for the Saints to try and strip the ball on every tackle. As for trying to stop Manning: good luck! The only person to stop Manning was his own coach, who pulled him out of the Jets game in Week 16.

What the Colts want to do: Indy doesn’t run the football well (32nd in the league), but it hasn’t mattered as they continue to ride the golden right arm of Manning. They could have success this game, though, as the Saints are 22nd in run defense and all that blitzing can allow gains on draw plays.

The way to disrupt the Saints offense is to get a pass rush on Brees. The Vikings had success rattling him and the Colts have two of the best pass rushers in Freeney and Mathis. These teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 7 in points scored, but don’t be surprised if defense and turnovers end up being the real keys. Expert football picks over the last 33 years shows us that the “over” has gone 20-14 in Super Bowl play, though the under is 4-1 the last five years. Enjoy the big game!

Jim Feist is the recognized leader in the sports information and sports gaming industry.

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