Big expectations for ‘Super Sunday’

Nathan Stacken

Nathan Stacken

Well, it is Super Bowl week, and there is a lot of excitement in the air. Of course there will be plenty of parties on Super Bowl Sunday. Thousands of bags of chips will be eaten. Hundreds of pizzas devoured. There will be too many empty beer and pop cans and bottles to count. But we aren’t here to talk about “Super Sunday” food. We’re here to talk about football and what to expect on Sunday. So, here are a few of the matchups to look for and things to think about on Super Bowl Sunday.

1. Peyton Manning vs. Saints secondary.

By far, the biggest improvement in the Saints team from last year is in their secondary. Safety Darren Sharper came over from Minnesota and played great during the regular season, intercepting nine passes. In the divisional round of the playoffs, he recovered a fumble that set the tone for the rest of the game and gave the Saints momentum. In the championship game, he recorded 11 tackles. Now Sharper faces Peyton Manning. Manning picked apart the Jets secondary and is playing great football right now. The Saints won’t stop Peyton Manning because no team can. But if they can slow Manning down and intercept a pass or two, that may be just enough to win this game.

2. Will Dwight Freeney play?

Freeney injured his right ankle late in the AFC Championship game against the Jets. It was thought to just be a sprain, but word came last Sunday that Freeney may have a torn ligament in his ankle. With all of the swelling in his ankle, it has been tough to get treatment, and Freeney is very questionable for the Super Bowl. If he can’t go, it is a huge loss for the Colts, who will want to pressure Drew Brees early and often in order to force a couple of early turnovers that could put the game away early. This will be a wait-and-see sort of thing, and we probably won’t know if he’ll play right until kickoff.

3. Are the Saints ready for this?

This is the New Orleans Saints’ first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. No, they aren’t one of the latest expansion teams. They’ve been around since 1967. That is 43 years of futility! Fans used to call them the New Orleans Ain’ts. Now the city is wrapped up in the success of this team and is emotionally invested in the Saints. That is a lot of extra pressure on the Saints in addition to the pressures, excitement and jitters of it being their first Super Bowl. The first few minutes of the game will tell us a lot. Will Drew Brees overthrow a couple of wide receivers? Will the Saints miss a couple of tackles on the Colts wide receivers and running back Joseph Addai? Will there be a few more penalties? If they can overcome the jitters early on and not fall too far behind, that will prove to a lot of people that the Saints belong and that they very well could win the game.

4. Saints defensive plan to make Manning think.

Last week, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said on the radio that the Saints plan will be to rattle Peyton Manning by hitting him whenever they can, both during the play and after, maybe even trying to knock him out of the game. Williams said that his defense needs to give Manning a couple of “remember me” shots, meaning, “hey, we’re going to be hitting you a lot today, so remember that.” At least, that is how I interpret it. The Saints have hit both quarterbacks they faced in the playoffs, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, and they roughed both of them up pretty good. Favre is still sore and aching from the punishment he took in the NFC Championship game. Manning is as mentally and physically tough as they come, so I’m sure he expects the Saints to hit him and hit him hard. If the Saints can force Manning to think, even a little more than he normally does, the Colts will be in a lot of trouble.

5. Whose legacy will be more enhanced with a win, Brees or Manning?

Peyton Manning has already won one Super Bowl and is considered one of the best regular season quarterbacks of all time. He has the stats to prove that. The playoffs have been a different story. He only has a playoff record of 10-8, and he didn’t play all that great during the Colts run to the Super Bowl three years ago. With the consecutive start streak and his stats, a lot of people liken Manning to Brett Favre. With a win on Sunday, I think Manning rises above Favre, Tom Brady, and Dan Marino and will be right up there with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as one of the best QBs ever to play the game. For Drew Brees, a Super Bowl victory would cement his legacy as the greatest Saints player of all time, but it also will solidify him as one of the top three quarterbacks in the game today behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He has played great ever since putting on a Saints jersey, and a win can enhance his legacy to a degree few others have achieved, at least in New Orleans. So, both quarterbacks have a lot at stake in this game for their legacy, but I think a win for Peyton Manning will do more for him and his career in the eyes of others than will a win for Drew Brees.

6. The Super Bowl winner will be?

This is tough to pick. Both teams have prolific offenses and suspect defenses. At the beginning of the postseason, when Collegian reporters made their picks, I had the Saints in the Super Bowl, but I had them playing the Chargers. So up until last Sunday when I heard about the extent of Dwight Freeney’s ankle injury, I was thinking the Colts would win. The Colts have a vastly underrated defense led by linebacker Gary Brackett who will be ready for the challenge to stop Drew Brees. However, the Saints have this mojo going this year. Call it destiny or whatever else you want to, but it almost seems like the Saints can do no wrong. They have a balanced offense with Drew Brees leading the attack. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are good running the ball, and Bush is a factor in the passing game as well. Can you imagine what New Orleans will be like if the Saints win the Super Bowl? My gosh! The city will party for days. I continue to go back and forth, and I just think that giving Peyton Manning two weeks to prepare is just too much time. The Colts have been in this spot three years ago (they won the Super Bowl in Miami in the same stadium against the Bears 29-17 back in 2007) so they know what to expect, and they are very comfortable with everything that Super Bowl week and the game brings. I’ll take the Colts in a close one, 31-27.