NFL: Is Super Bowl Pointspread Correct?
Any coach past or present will tell you the game of football is about two things, blocking and tackling. While that is absolutely true in its simplest form, Super Bowl XLIV is different from the past with the possible exception of just a handful of contes
Any coach past or present will tell you the game of football is about two things, blocking and tackling. While that is absolutely true in its simplest form, Super Bowl XLIV is different from the past with the possible exception of just a handful of contests for the Lombardi Trophy. Start with the total of this confrontation, set at 56.5, the highest ever, surpassing the Giants and New England figure of 54 points two years ago. The most recent pointspread shows Indianapolis -4.5, with 67% of the betting action at Sportsbook.com on that side.
After the Colts solved the Jets defense in winning the AFC Championship, most educated oddsmakers were thinking Indianapolis as three-point favorite against the winner of the NFC contest. However, since New Orleans was dominated statistically in their matchup by Minnesota, most thought 3.5 or four points would draw relatively divided action. With roughly 15-20 percent of the dollars wagered on the side of the Super Bowl by this past Sunday, the vast majority of the action had been on Indy, moving them to -5.5 points , but the Dwight Freeney news shoved to number back down to -4.5. In breaking down the two teams, is the number accurate?
Peyton Manning vs New Orleans pass defense
Peyton Manning has arguably been the best quarterback in football the last eight years, except when Tom Brady had a better New England club. The Colts have averaged 283 yards passing against teams that allowed 218, that’s almost a 30 percent difference vs. any defense they have taken on this year. Manning makes uncommon sight adjustments to blitzes and gets rid of the ball quickly. New Orleans on the other hand can be riddled by opposing teams via the pass. Take away games this season in which the Saints faced teams who preferred to run like Carolina, Detroit, Buffalo, Miami and the Jets, and the New Orleans secondary surrendered 277.6 yards in the 12 other contests or roughly what the Colts totaled all season. Granted, some the yardage allowed was after New Orleans had built big leads in several early games, but there were a number of late season contests in which they were also torched.
Nobody in football makes better in-game adjustments than Manning and his offensive coordinator Tom Moore and nobody this season did a better job in stopping opposing teams by forcing turnovers than the Saints. Defensive coordinator Greg Williams is on record as saying how they attacked Brett Favre is similar to how they want to get after Manning. The Jets had Darrelle Revis to at least take away Reggie Wayne and they did a good job in limiting Dallas Clark. It does not appear Manning will face those same obstacles against Saints secondary.
Spread Differential – Indianapolis -7
Drew Brees vs Indianapolis pass defense
Drew Brees might not have All-Pro type receivers like Manning has in Wayne and Clark; however he has a stable that any Kentucky thoroughbred barn would be proud of. No team in professional football had a more diverse passing attack than New Orleans. The Saints had seven different players catch 35 balls or more during the regular season. Coach Sean Payton has set up his offense very much like a basketball team that has both exceptional depth and the skill to score points. Only Manning has the ability to scan the field as quickly to find an open receiver as Brees, who also has keen understanding of taking what the offense gives as well as wanting to dictate the tempo to keep the defense guessing. The Colts are better equipped to limit or contain the New Orleans passing game. Bookend defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can bring a heap of trouble off the edges. Freeney in particular is going to demand a double team, unless his troubled ankle proves otherwise, as normal backup tackle Jermon Bushrod is not equipped to make this a solo project. Mathis’ edge over right tackle Jon Stinchcomb isn’t as definitive; just the same the Colts DE is the better player. Antoine Beathea is an emerging star at safety for the Colts, with the rest of the secondary somewhat dependant on what happens up front.
Spread Differential – New Orleans -3
Indianapolis running game vs. New Orleans front seven
For two teams in the Super Bowl, this is one area that is about as unusual as you will find. The Colts running game is reminiscent of Bill Walsh’s and Joe Montana’s first winning Super Bowl team from the 1982 season. The 49ers were a pure passing team and ran the ball just to give the defense something to preoccupy from time to time. The Indianapolis front office had not been impressed with Joseph Addai since they won the Super Bowl in 2006 season and drafted Donald Brown from Connecticut. Addai doesn’t hit the edges as well on the stretch plays, working better between the B-gaps and making cuts. Indy posts a laughable 3.5 yards per carry against teams that permitted 4.1. The offense line seldom gets a chance to go out and drive block, however does appear less potent in this aspect of the game from the Super Bowl team from three years ago. Beyond Sedrick Ellis, the Saints defense front absorbs more punishment than it creates. New Orleans gives up 4.6 yards per carry, since their linebackers lack extensive speed to quickly fill gaps. It would seem Indianapolis could do business here, but has shown no inclination to commit to the run, rushing over 100 yards twice on last 12 contests. Expect the Colts to be satisfied carrying the ball their usual 23 times and leave it to their MVP to close the deal.
Spread Differential – Even
New Orleans running game vs Indianapolis front seven
Besides turnovers, if the Saints are going to upset the Colts, this is where it has to come from. Guards Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans and center Jonathan Goodwin must have special day opening up holes for Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Saints coach Payton needs to show restraint here and get physical upfront with the Colts. Gouging the Indianapolis defense for four to five yards a pop opens up tight end Jeremy Shockey and slot receiver Robert Meacham in the passing game. Payton may try the screen game, however few have had success against linebackers Clint Session, Gary Brackett and safety Beathea, who can all run and are sure tacklers. Instead, as part of the running game, they should include trips (three receiver sets) to the short side of the field, with Bush standing behind them and sending him into motion to the wide side of the field, hopefully drawing a linebacker. This gets Bush in the open field for essentially a screen pass or comeback slant route underneath with blockers, more or less a run play in the Saints’ offense.
Spread Differential – New Orleans -1
Reggie Bush gives the Saints a home run hitter in returning punts, however the way to stop him is what Minnesota did, have the punter sacrifice a few yards to increase kick coverage and get right in his grill upon the catch. Indianapolis continues to spend little time in this area and is strictly run of the mill. Where the Colts have edge is at place-kicker. Matt Stover came in when Adam Vinateri was injured. The 42-year old Stover will be the oldest player ever participate in the Super Bowl and has 20 years experience, including being the Ravens kicker during the 2001 Super Bowl campaign. Stover’s range is limited to about 45-yards, especially outdoors and has made 80 percent (20 of 25) of field goals in his postseason career. Kicker Garrett Hartley is young enough (23) to conceivably be Stover’s son. Hartley has made 24 of 26 field goals in his two years, but the pressure is all together different on the game’s biggest stage. Plus, Hartley has kicked in a dome the last two seasons and realistically is untested, though his game winner over Minnesota was impressive.
Spread Differential – Indianapolis -1
It would seem these two coaches couldn’t be any more different with each facing unprecedented scrutiny for the first time. Jim Caldwell, to the chagrin of his team, gave up a 14-0 season and a chance for perfection to be in this position and it worked. Caldwell’s strength is in his beliefs and defensive. He altered the mechanics of the Colts defense, still playing a lot of Cover 2, but blitzed twice as much as his predecessor Tony Dungy. With young players at corner due to injuries, he followed the Colts’ ideologies of players expected to step up and perform. He is a low key leader who trusts his assistants and his team.
Sean Payton’s arrival into the NFL showed a fertile offensive mind who couldn’t devise enough trick plays and use them quickly enough. Like many great offensive teams, the coach and quarterback become one on various levels and Payton has trusted Brees from the beginning. Payton took some lumps the last couple of seasons, which has brought about a new found maturity. As opposed to Caldwell, he embraced the notion of a perfect season when his team was 13-0. He makes no bones about playing to his strength (offense) and turned the defense over this season to Gregg Williams. His biggest task this game is not letting his emotions affect his play calling.
Spread Differential -None
There have been a number of teams that have won their first Super Bowl without having been involved in this maniacal environment, but having the experience is certainly a plus. Teams’ playing in this contest for the first time against experienced foe are desultory 6-11 ATS. Though players say they understand, sometimes its months later in reflection that they realize they were satisfied to make the Big Game as opposed to truly desiring to win it. Payton and Brees have the heart of an assassin, thus their preparation and desire is predicated on going home as champions. The city of New Orleans, with all that has happened once Hurricane Katrina made land, feels like it is playing with house money and welcomes the idea of their football team playing for the city’s first championship, instead of craving it.
The Indianapolis team that was at this same location in 2007 was probably the worst of the four previous (2003-06) Colts playoff teams. That club found a hot rookie running back in Addai and the offensive line got into a bull-dozing mode and they plowed their way to championship. That experience gives the Colts an edge knowing what to expect and what level of performance is necessary. Teams favored by three to six points in this truly American game are 8-2 ATS.
Spread Differential –Indianapolis -3
Bottom Line - Having the best quarterback in the game who doesn’t make many mistakes, a better defense and better than half the roster having Super Bowl experience leads to figure below.
Cumulative Spread Differential – Indianapolis -7
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