Hey, you know all the background. Peyton Manning, greatest thing to hit NFL quarterbacking since Joe Montana. The New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl's sentimental darlings due to 43 years of futility and their role in rebuilding the morale of an area torn by Hurricane Katrina.
They've been writing all week about every aspect of it. So read this final sum-up, and then head into tomorrow relaxed. Watch the six hours of pregame chatter, and then sit back for the game and the commercials.
Keep this in mind, too. If the Colts win, it will still be too early to call it a dynasty, but not so for the Manning family. This is the third Super Bowl in four years that will feature either Peyton or Eli Manning, and a Super Bowl MVP award to Peyton would make it three MVP Mannings in four years. Now that's a family legacy!
INJURIES: Colts -- DE Dwight Freeney (ankle) and CB Jerraud Powers (foot) are questionable. WR Reggie Wayne (knee), RB Joe Addai (shoulder); S Antoine Beathea (back), LB Gary Brackett (knee), RB Donald Brown (foot), S Melvin Bullitt (knee), T Ryan Diem (knee), S Aaron Francisco (hand), RB Mike Hart (ankle), DT Antonio Johnson (shoulder), T Charlie Johnson (foot), G Ryan Lilja (back), DE Robert Mathis (shoulder), G Jamey Richard (shoulder), K Matt Stover (calf), TE Jacob Tamme (ankle), T Tony Ugoh (knee) and K Adam Vinatieri (hip) are probable.
Saints -- RB Lynell Hamilton (ankle) is questionable. CB Randall Gay (foot/illness); CB Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring); DE Bobby McCray (back/ankle); S Pierson Prioleau (quad); WR Courtney Roby (knee); S Darren Sharper (knee); TE Jeremy Shockey (knee); DE Will Smith (groin); T Zach Strief (shoulder); LB Jonathan Vilma (knee); T Jermon Bushrod (thumb); LB Jonathan Casillas (ankle); TE Darnell Dinkins (foot); G Jahri Evans (foot); LB Scott Fujita (knee); CB Jabari Greer (groin); WR Robert Meachem (ankle); WR Lance Moore (ankle); and CB Tracy Porter (knee) are probable.
WATCH THIS: If both teams play to form, this could be one of the highest-scoring Super Bowls of all time. But when was the last time that happened? Still, the makings are there quarterback-wise.
In Manning, the Colts have one of, if not the most, intelligent quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw for 4,500 yards this year, with 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. And he's only thrown one pick in his two playoff games this year, against Baltimore. After getting off to a slow start against the Jets in the AFC Championship game, he buried them with 24 unanswered points and finished with 377 passing yards and three touchdowns. Whether Manning wins his second Super Bowl ring tomorrow or not, Colts owner Jim Irsay has said he will rip up Manning's contract and make him the highest-paid quarterback in the league.
As good as Manning is, this won't be a walkover if only because of the presence of New Orleans safety Darren Sharper. As Peyton's brother Eli can attest, Sharper is a ball magnet, and probably the biggest reason behind turning the Saints' defense from so-so to very good. He'll be roaming centerfield, which means Manning will have to be careful about his dumpoffs to his ultra-productive tight end Clark. But for all of Sharper's prowess, the Saints don't have a corner who can cover wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The Jets took him out of their contest with Darrell Revis. But it's unlikely the Saints secondary can handle the fast receiver, who grabbed 100 passes for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season. And if, by chance, cornerback Jabari Greer does contain Wayne, right corner Tracy Porter will also have his hands full with young up-and-comer Pierre Garcon, who has come up huge in the postseason.
And then there's always Clark, who can line up tight, come out of the slot, or go wide. He, like Wayne, caught 100 balls for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Because of those two, the Colts finished seventh in points scored, averaging 26 per game.
Manning gets pretty good protection, and he'll need it against a Saints pass rush that left Brett Favre a limping mess after hitting him 15 times in the NFC title game. Manning has a quicker trigger than Favre, but if the Saints can get to him with any frequency they'll have a chance of at least forcing a few early throws and potentially some turnovers. Better yet, they'd like nothing better than to ground the passing attack and force matters into the hands of running back Joseph Addai, who produced just 828 yards and three touchdowns while the Colts' passing predominated each gameplan.
As potent as the Colts' offense was, the Saints put up even more points -- 31 1/2 per game. Drew Brees (4,388 yards, 34 TDs, 11 INTs) and his cadre of receivers, led by Marques Colston's 70 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns, were nearly unstoppable. Just ask the Giants, against whom Brees threw four touchdowns in a 48-27 win on Oct. 18. The Saints' major offensive asset is their diversity. Between Colston, Devery Henderson, tight end Jeremy Shockey, pass-catching running back Reggie Bush, and productive running back Pierre Thomas, defenses never quite know where the ball is going. And if Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's ankle sprain doesn't allow him to exert the pass rush pressure that earned him a place on the All-Decade team, Brees could become that much more effective. If Freeney's play is limited, expect the Saints' solid offensive front to double up on the Colts' other excellent pass rusher, Robert Mathis, whose 9 1/2 sacks came in second only to Freeney's 13 1/2.
Colts linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Sessions are both adept at stopping the run, and Sessions can put a beating on the passer. The secondary is led by free safety Antoine Bethea's four picks, while nickleback Jacob Lacey added three others. But none of their DBs could be considered of the shutdown variety, which means unless the front four puts an inordinate amount of pressure on Brees, he'll have plenty of opportunities.
A shootout, however, would probably favor the Colts, since they have long depended on their offense to win games for them. Their defensive strength this year has actually been regarded as a luxury for that franchise. Of course, turnovers could change all that. That's where the Saints have the advantage, having finished the regular season at plus-11, the league's third-best turnover differential. Their 39 takeaways were second-best in the league, one short of Green Bay's 40.
Manning, however, has thrown just three interceptions in his last 152 attempts.
Should be a good one.
PREDICTION: It's great the Saints made it after all that city and team has been through. They have every right to be proud. But this is where it ends. Manning and his offense are just too savvy. Blitz Manning, and he knows exactly where to go with the ball. Give him time and he, Wayne, and Clark, not to mention the other receivers, will tear a defense apart. Unless the Saints can truly beat up the Colts' Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting, they'll have no shot. Still, could be a very exciting shootout. But Manning wins in the end, 34-27.