After two weeks of storylines, press conferences, hype, overhype, and more overhype, the game is Sunday in Miami. Instead of sitting here talking about things you've already read about, let's try to keep it relatively simple.
The little things are always important in a football game.
Turnovers. Special teams. Fundamentals.
These things don't always decide games. But they're usually a good starting point. And they're terribly hard to predict.
The Green Bay Packers were plus-28 in turnover ratio this season. They lost their only playoff game this year -- at Arizona -- largely because they were minus-two in the game. Who could have seen that coming?
The Chicago Bears had an game-opening kickoff return touchdown by Devin Hester in the Super Bowl three years ago. They were then thoroughly dominated by Indianapolis and lost 29-17, despite making the only truly significant special teams play of the game.
Whoda thunk that Kurt Warner -- future Hall of Famer -- would throw the dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb pass he threw to James Harrison that turned Super Bowl XLIII on its ear before halftime? Warner knew better, and he threw it anyway, costing his team points and causing a huge shift in momentum before halftime.
These things happen in playoff football games, and it's so hard to say that one team or the other will win the battle of "little things" in a game like this.
Myth: Quarterbacks decide this game.
What if they don't? What if the defenses pick up their play and change the way it's played?
You're telling me you don't think Gregg Williams can pull a rabbit out of his hat and at least slow Peyton Manning down long enough to make him think a bit?
Same for the Colts and Drew Brees. It's crazy to think a defense that stiffened like it did during the AFC Championship could be helpless against an offense that has been notorious for slow starts on the road (Miami and Washington this season come to mind). Oh, and Brees didn't exactly light up the Vikings, especially in the second half, when they were held under 100 yards.
It's just as likely that guys like Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Pierre Thomas, and Reggie Bush will have a huge say in how the game plays out.
No need to oversimplify things. Brees and Manning are big-time quarterbacks, and the offenses are both keyed by the passing game. Both teams, however, have proven they can run the ball, and one-dimensional offense isn't likely to win the game.
The game is better with the week off.
Having watched a couple Super Bowls where the teams didn't have an off week ahead of it, I believe pretty strongly that the overall quality of play is better when you have that extra week. Most teams will build their game plan at home during the bye week, then fly to the game site Sunday or Monday before the game.
Practices happen in the host area, but neither team is doing a ton to tip their hand, because each team has a pool reporter assigned to their workouts (closed to the public). The game plan has been in place, everyone knows what is going to happen, and it's all about mental preparation and blocking out all the distractions for the game.
When you don't have the off week, you accelerate everything. In some respects, it could be a better game if you don't give coaches an extra week to overthink everything. Without the extra week, coaches are more inclined to do what got them to the Super Bowl, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel.
But you need the right coaches and players to make the short week work. With media obligations, family and friends begging for tickets, and having to get to the host city early in the week, there is a lot going on outside of the preparation. For many teams, it's proven to be too much to deal with in recent years.
Stick with the week off, NFL. The quality of the game is more important than the oversaturation of coverage that is produced when you have the off week.
The Colts are the better all-around team and will win.
It busts me up, because I want the Saints to win. But Bill Simmons probably said it best.
How dumb will you feel in the fourth quarter, with the Colts leading by 10 and driving for another score, if Manning has the New Peyton Manning Face going? Would you be kicking yourself? Would you be saying, "Why did I go against Manning? What was I thinking?"
Let's not be That Guy. Manning is better than Brees. Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark are better than Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Jeremy Shockey. The Colts are better on defense, even if Dwight Freeney is limited or sidelined.
Oh, and Manning is better than anyone on the field for either team.
If you're in doubt about a game, you look at who has the better players. You have to love the story of the New Orleans Saints, but how can you argue they have better players? That's insane, and it's wrong.