The kicking game is often overlooked in pregame analysis, but this phase of the game could be the deciding factor in this matchup of explosive offenses.
The hidden yardage gained in the field position battle will undoubtedly set up scoring opportunities for one of the teams, and those points will provide the cushion for the victor.
Whether returning a kick past midfield or coming up with a blocked punt or blocked extra point try, the special teams units of the Colts and Saints must find a way to make an impact in Super Bowl XLIV.
For the Saints, their potential advantage will likely come in the return game. The Saints finished fourth in the league in kick returns, and Courtney Roby tied for third in return average (27.5) with three of his returns going for 40 or more yards, including a 97-yard touchdown.
Although New Orleans' punt return unit ranked near the bottom of the league for most of the season, Reggie Bush's presence gives the Saints a scoring threat capable of going the distance whenever he touches the ball. His 83-yard jaunt against the Cardinals in the divisional playoff round provided a glimpse of his game-changing potential.
In looking at the Colts, their offensive proficiency has minimized the impact of their kicking game. Given the team's effectiveness in the red zone, the Colts tallied the second fewest field goal attempts in the league. While the team connected on 80 percent of its attempts, Indy's lack of production in the kicking game reveals the strength of the offense.
On the other hand, the Colts have shown some vulnerability on their kicking units. The team allowed 25.3 yards per kick return and surrendered a 106-yard touchdown to the Jets' Brad Smith in Week 16. In addition, the team has failed to show big-play potential in its respective return game. The team ranked in the middle of the pack in yards per kick return, and the unit failed to muster any significant "explosive" plays throughout the course of the season.
Given significant momentum swings that the kicking game can produce, let's take a look at the X-factors poised to make an impact on special teams.
Saints: Reggie Bush, running back/returner
The dynamic playmaker showcased his impact potential with his outstanding all-purpose game against the Cardinals. The fourth-year pro took a punt back for a score and averaged 36 yards per return. Bush spent most of the season amassing short returns, but the fact that he has five career punt return touchdowns should give the Colts' punt coverage unit plenty of worries. With the field position battle looming large in this matchup, Bush's ability to take a punt to the house could emerge as the difference.
Colts: Matt Stover, kicker
The 20-year veteran quietly replaced an injured Adam Vinatieri and has provided the Colts with steady production at the position. Stover connected on nine of 11 field goal attempts during the regular season, but raised the level of his game during the postseason. He has nailed all five of his attempts during the Colts' two playoff games, and his ability to routinely knock down attempts from a wide range ensures points for the team whenever it penetrates the opponent's 30-yard line. Given the likelihood of a high-scoring battle in Super Bowl XLIV, Stover's ability to generate points for Peyton Manning and Co. could be the deciding factor.