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SBXLIV: Peyton's Colts vs. Payton's Saints


* profiles the Super Bowl, with a special eye on Jets angles this final matchup. *

(1) NEW ORLEANS (15-3) vs. (1) INDIANAPOLIS (16-2), 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS


For many members of Jets Nation, Super Bowl XLIV will be a tough game to watch.

After all, it seemed the stars were finally aligned during the AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis when Jay Feely hit a 48-yard field goal late in the second quarter. The Jets, up 17-6, had an 11-point advantage on the heavily favored Colts and they were 32:11 from their second title game appearance.

But then Colts QB Peyton Manning got on a tear following an incompletion, completing three consecutive passes before the break to Austin Collie for 80 yards. A mixup in coverage resulted in a 16-yard score, making the lead just 17-13 at the intermission. The Colts would go on to outscore the Jets, 17-0, over the final 30 minutes.

Just too much Manning. The Jets' top-ranked defense, a unit that contained the Colts' legendary passer for nearly a full half, ultimately surrendered a 377-yard, three-TD, no-turnover masterpiece.

"He got hot. It's crazy how good he is," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "I love the guy and all that, but man, I'm tired of getting beat by him."

In games that Manning has started and taken into the fourth quarter this season, the Colts are a perfect 16-0. Yet it's actually a Colts defensive player who's grabbed the headlines this week. Defensive end Dwight Freeney, a wonderful speed rusher, suffered a grade-3 right ankle sprain and a torn ligament late in the fourth quarter of the conference championship. Hoping to take down Mark Sanchez, Freeney may have lost his opportunity to get after Drew Brees.

"I can't see myself on the sideline, sitting there watching my guys out there," said the 6'1", 268-pound Freeney, who racked up 13.5 sacks this season and has 84 in eight spectacular pro seasons. "I have to think that way.

"But you never know. If they say Saturday, 'You can do this, but it would really be risky to your career,' then I'm not going to do that. I'm just hoping I don't get to the point that I have to make that type of decision."

If Manning wins his second championship, he'll jump into the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and GOUT (Greatest of Our Time) conversations. The 33-year-old claimed an unprecedented fourth MVP for his regular-season work as he passed for 4,500 yards and 33 TDs. Over 12 regular seasons, Manning has compiled a stat line that includes a 64.8 completion percentage, 50,128 passing yards and 366 TDs. Once considered shaky in the postseason, Manning played perhaps one of his finest games against the Jets, and the Saints are going to have a heck of a time even slowing him down.

"I think the Colts are going to win," Jets CB Darrelle Revis told's Randy Lange. "Peyton's the difference, just because of how he operates everything and how good he is."

The Saints, who like the Colts also won their first 13 games out of the gate, are also led by a Payton. In four seasons at the helm, head coach Sean Payton took the Saints to both an NFC title-game appearance and now their first Super Bowl entry.

More than four years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, "Who Dat Nation" is celebrating this moment.

Statistical Picture

You wouldn't think anyone would like to get in a shootout with Peyton Manning, but the Saints have the tools to keep up. Drew Brees is an excellent quarterback in his own right and the Saints averaged 31.9 points and 403.8 yards per game during the regular season. They're scoring at a 38-point rate in the postseason and nobody in Louisiana is going to be shedding any tears for Freeney if he can't line up this weekend. (Former Saint Archie Manning, theSaints QB from 1971-78, might be the one New Orleans resident rooting for the Colts, but Peyton's dad need not explain.)

Despite losing S Bob Sanders, CB Marlin Jackson and OLB Tyjuan Hagler to injury over the course of the year, Indy finished eighth in scoring defense (19.2 points/game) and that includes those final two contests when they didn't make a run at perfection and subs were aplenty in losses to the Jets and Bills. If Freeney can't go, 31-year-old Raheem Brock will step in to the spotlight.

"We're not going to do anything differently than what we've been doing," Brock said. "It will be hard to replace Dwight, but if he can't go, we still have a good defensive line and we can still pressure the quarterback."

Even before Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams touched down in Miami, he was talking of getting some "remember me" shots on Manning.

"When you put too much of that type of worry on a warrior's mind, he doesn't play all-out. If it happens, it happens," Williams said during a radio interview. "And the only thing you'd like for me to say is that if it happens, you hope he doesn't get back up and play again."

This Saints defense, which finished 25th during the regular season, is far from dominant but totaled an NFL-best seven postseason takeaways (3 INT, 4 FR) after collecting 39 (26 INT, 13 FR) in the regular season (only the Packers had more with 40). They also paced the league with eight defensive TDs as ageless S Darren Sharper returned three of his nine picks for scores.

"Both teams are bend-but-don't-break defenses and they wait for turnovers in the red zone," said Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who looked very good in both of his outings against the Horseshoes but threw three picks in a September loss to the Saints, including two to Sharper — one of which was returned 99 yards for a score. "Whichever quarterback makes the least mistakes I think will win it."

Jet Fuel

On the Saints' side, former Jets offensive lineman Jonathan Goodwin lines up in front of Brees at center. Jonathan Vilma serves as the QB of that ballhawking D, playing in the middle of their 4-3 after a shift to the 3-4 and David Harris' emergence made him expendable here. Indianapolis D-coordinator Larry Coyer was the Jets' defensive line coach in 1994. Not only did Colts QB coach Frank Reich play with the Jets in 1996, but he also was born in Freeport, N.Y. Indy G Kyle DeVan, a first-year player from Oregon State, actually was on the Jets' practice squad for a couple of months in 2008.

Playoff Histories

The Saints entered the NFL in 1967, made their playoff debut in 1988 and didn't win their first postseason contest until Dec. 30, 2000. Their 2-0 mark this second season has improved their all-time record in the playoffs to 4-6. This long-suffering franchise wants to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to the French Quarter for an unbelievable party.

The Colts are 19-18 in 37 playoff contests, have triumphed in two of three Super Bowl appearances (SBV over Dallas and SBXLI over Chicago, both also in Miami), and have claimed four overall NFL Championships (their first three as the Baltimore Colts).

This is the first time the top-seeded teams from both conferences are meeting in the Super Bowl since early 1994, when the Buffalo Bills lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 30-13, in SBXXVIII.

The Colts and Saints' 31 combined victories this season are tied for the third-most in a Super Bowl matchup. Here are the top eight combined victory totals, all occurring since 1978:

 Season AFC Team (Rec) NFC Team (Rec) Comb Rec, Pct Final Score
 1984 MIA (16-2) SF (17-1) 33-3, .917 49ers, 38-16
 1998 DEN (16-2) ATL (16-2) 32-4, .889 Broncos, 34-19
 1991 BUF (15-3) WAS (16-2) 31-5, .861 Redskins, 37-24
 1985 CHI (17-1) NE (14-5) 31-6, .838 Bears, 46-10
 1999 TEN (16-3) STL (15-3) 31-6, .861 Rams, 23-16
 2004 NE (16-2) PHI (15-3) 31-5, .861 Patriots, 24-21
 2007 NE (18-0) NYG (13-6) 31-6, .861 Giants, 17-14
2009 IND (16-2) NO (15-3) 31-5, .861  

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