As the biggest of games inches closer here are some of the storylines and angles that are factoring into my thinking about a potential outcome:
1. The road to this game. I was pretty high on the Cardinals coming into their game against the Saints. New Orleans demolished them. Minnesota was a tough, dangerous team that New Orleans found a way to get past as well. Baltimore and the Jets are both teams that can do a couple of things well, but there was little doubt in either case that the Colts were the far superior squad. If you factor in the last two weeks of the regular season and the bye week and the week off you have to go back a long way to find a game in which the Colts played an opponent that could legitimately have beaten them barring some strange circumstance. This is going to be a new level of intensity for the Colts while the Saints are just facing more of the same.
2. Reggie Wayne’s injury. In my eyes this is a much bigger factor that Dwight Freeney’s. Wayne left practice yesterday after tweaking his knee. The staff says that he’ll be fully ready for tomorrow, but the possibility certainly exists that he could re-aggravate the injury, or that he’ll be limited. Wayne’s biggest strength is rising up when his team needs him most. He had five 100+ yard games this year. The average margin of victory in four of those five games was less than three points. Wayne has a habit of being the difference in close games. There’s a good chance that the Super Bowl is going to be close, so it could be a real problem for the Colts if Wayne isn’t there when he is needed most. This is especially a concern in my eyes because of how raw Garcon and Collie are. They have been very good this year, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are new to the spotlight, and this will be an exceptionally bright spotlight.
3. Manning. I’ll admit up front that I’m not a huge Manning fan – never have been, never will be. That being said, I do have some questions about his potential performance in this game. Again and again over the last couple of weeks I have heard people saying with absolute certainty that Manning is going to have a huge game. Peter King from SI picked the Colts (like everyone else), and in doing so he said ‘I respect and admire the game of Drew Brees, and I think he could play great Sunday. I respect and admire the game of Peyton Manning, and I will be stunned if he does not play great Sunday’. Why would you be stunned? Manning has had a great year, and he’s a great player, but his playoff performances have been spotty at times. Even when he won the Super Bowl he wasn’t at his best in the big game. I’m certainly not saying that he’s going to be bad, but it seems lazy and foolish to elevate the guy to such a pedestal that he couldn’t possibly make a misstep. People keep writing and saying that Manning will be unbeatable given two weeks to dissect the Saints’ defense. He had two weeks against the Bears last time, and his stats were average at best (for him, at least).