Following hard-fought victories in the conference title round, the Saints and Colts will meet in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday, Feb. 7.
We asked our writers for their initial impressions of the game.
Bucky Brooks: Defenses will have tough task
The contest will match two of the league's top offenses. The Saints led the league in scoring (31.9), and coach Sean Payton uses a mixture of formations and personnel groupings to create mismatches for his playmakers in space. The Colts, on the other hand, feature an offense that is more workmanlike in nature. Although Peyton Manning continues to direct a no-huddle attack with precision, the unit is at its best when the four-time league MVP uses his unheralded cast of pass catchers to methodically pick apart opponents. Defensively, both teams feature vastly improved units under new coordinators. The Saints, who are directed by Gregg Williams, use a high-pressure approach to force overwhelmed opponents into critical mistakes. New Orleans forced 39 takeaways during the regular season. Not to be outdone, the Colts' defense allowed only 19.2 points per game. New coordinator Larry Coyer retooled the team's Tampa-2 system to incorporate more blitzes and man coverage. Given the even nature across the board, we should be in for quite an exciting matchup in Miami.
Vic Carucci: Manning gives Colts edge
The postseason has given us the best possible matchup in Super Bowl XLIV. It has given us the NFL's top two teams for most of the 2009 season. It has given us the league's two best quarterbacks. The Colts figure to have the edge because Manning and the rest of their offense, along with their defense, are playing their best at the perfect time. They rolled through the first two weeks of the postseason. They were particularly impressive in overwhelming the New York Jets' top-ranked defense in the AFC Championship Game. On the other hand, the Saints had their issues dealing with a strong Vikings defense, and could have easily lost a game they were widely expected to win. The Saints defense is extremely opportunistic, but the Colts aren't likely to make as many mistakes as Brett Favre and the Vikings did.
Pat Kirwan: Saints have to regroup
Behind Manning, the Colts looked like a well-oiled machine. The Saints looked like anything but a Super Bowl contender. Drew Brees and Co. have two weeks to settle down and get back on track as the most explosive offense in the NFL, something they are very capable of doing. The Vikings dug their own grave against the Saints, which suggests New Orleans needs to improve against a Colts team that will not make that many mistakes. The Colts have established they can still beat a good team, even if you take away Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. On top of that, Indy ran the ball against the No. 1-ranked defense and the Saints are going to have to honor the run as well as the pass. New Orleans got after Favre, but didn't sack him. Now they face Manning, who was sacked twice in the first five plays of the Jets game but quickly figured out the pressure package -- and it was smooth sailing from there on.
This is a game that features playmakers at QB and, consequently, points will be scored. I look for both teams to get close to the 30-point mark, with at least four or five lead changes. It's early, but off what I witnessed this week, I like the Colts.
Jason La Canfora: This should be fun
Above all else, I'm simply excited to see the Colts and Saints meet. The league's two best teams for the majority of the season, if not all of it, treat us all to a football extravaganza. This has all the makings of a classic game, with offensive fireworks and, fingers crossed, a climactic finish. You would have to consider the Colts the more complete team, and they'll give the Saints defense all it can handle, and then some. And it's hard to imagine the Colts will fall prey to the widespread turnover woes as the Vikings did in the title game. But somehow I still think the Saints pull this off. It's not about logic or Xs and Os. Maybe it's football karma. But after watching the Saints beat the Vikings in overtime, I'm all in. This is New Orleans' year. Reggie Bush will do something magical on special teams. Brees will out-duel Manning. Gregg Williams will find a way to create quarterback pressure, and the Saints will mix in enough run to keep the Colts guessing. Who Dat, indeed.
Michael Lombardi: Mirror images
"Gentlemen, start your engines" might be a familiar refrain in Indianapolis, but in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV, we shall see two of the most prolific offenses in the league push the pedal on their explosive offenses, entertaining us all. Who could ask for a better Super Bowl? Two great quarterbacks, two No. 1 seeds, and two offenses that can move the ball up and down the field. Both teams are similar in that they are built around their quarterbacks with great skill players, and they have opportunistic defenses. They also went undefeated for most of the season. Rarely do both No. 1 seeds advance to the Super Bowl. Fans we will be treated to an offensive race with the team that has the ball last likely winning. Get ready for a great game.
Steve Wyche: Saints won't be scared
Now that we have both conference top seeds playing in the Super Bowl, my initial thought is that the Colts will prevail because of their experience and meticulous way of handling their business. That could change; these are initial thoughts. The Saints are a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants thrill ride that wins whatever way they have to. They're not the hot team or the most rugged, but neither are the Colts. They are mirror images to a large degree, except the Saints reflect their city with far more swagger and fun. They also pose matchup problems that are going to make Indianapolis uneasy. What should really get the Colts' attention is that the Saints have knocked off -- and nearly knocked out -- two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Kurt Warner and Brett Favre) en route to the Super Bowl, so they're not intimidated by Manning.