January 31, 1988 will forever be a date etched in my mind. It was the day that I watched my first Super Bowl. Super Bowl XXII (22) pitted the Washington Redskins against the Denver Broncos.  That game was anything but competitive as the Redskins routed the Broncos 42-10. Every Super Bowl after, I’ve been able to pick a winner. Like anybody that chooses sides in competition, I won some and lost some. In the 22 years that I’ve watched the “biggest stage in professional sports”, it’s ironic that I am having the most difficult time picking a winner for Super Bowl XLIV.  And I’m supposed to be a prognosticator!  Is there really a clear cut winner between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts? 

Personally, I have never seen two teams more evenly matched going into the most important game of the season. Is there a Super Bowl pairing that has the compelling storylines of this one? Let’s review, shall we:

-How would life after Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison be for Indianapolis?

-Will New Orleans return to its playoff form of 2006 following an 8-8 2008 campaign?

-Is Drew Brees for real?

-What more can Peyton Manning do to secure his spot in the Hall of Fame?

 -What will the additions of Darren Sharper and Jonathan Vilma do for the Saints defense?

-How will Anthony Gonzalez fare as Marvin Harrison’s replacement? 

-Can Jim Caldwell keep things in tact for Indianapolis as Tony Dungy’s successor? 

-How potent will Sean Payton’s offense be? 

-What kind of impact will Jeremy Shockey have with his new team?

-How will the Colts fill the void for the oft injured Bob Sanders?

Looking at how these teams made it to the final destination, both teams fared well in addressing their respective issues.  They went on to secure double digit wins, a first week bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Saints and Colts possess two of the league’s prolific offenses.  While these two have proven to be the dominant outfits of the 2009 season, their seasons included ailments.  Defensively, they reside in the bottom half of the league with Indianapolis being 18th and New Orleans at 25th.  The Colts’ running game was dead last and while the Saints’ was sixth, the injury plagued unit was forced to operate under a “running back-by-committee” system.  Despite their respective woes, these teams have shown resolve in a way that the other 30 teams didn’t.  Yes, they had vulnerabilities, but their ailing units were able to step up when needed.  Now the question is which team will become the 44th Super Bowl winner?   

When you look at the New Orleans Saints, you can’t help but to think about Hurricane Katrina.  A Super Bowl win will provide a moment of solace for a city still in recovery mode.  This will be the undisputed “feel good” news story of the year.  However, this is not how the final chapter of the 2009 season will end and here’s why.  Let’s go back to the last three weeks of the regular season.  Both teams fell a few games short of chasing history.  Indianapolis lost two of its last three outings, largely because Caldwell used wisdom by resting his players for the postseason.  New Orleans, on the other hand, fizzled out during those games.  What Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina taught us is pressure busts pipes.  When Drew Brees is under duress, the Saints can be beat.  Even with the likely absence of all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney, the Colts own the league’s fastest defense in the league.  Will New Orleans’ offensive line be able to block what some would consider the uncatchable?  I can’t see it!  So with that said, I am taking the Indianapolis Colts to win its second Super Bowl in four years, third overall.  Despite the outcome, New Orleans has a lot to be proud of in 2009.  While the restoration of a city would be boosted by such an achievement, there is another achievement that should not be overlooked.  A win for the Indianapolis Colts would make Jim Caldwell both the third rookie and black head coach to win a Super Bowl.
It has been an absolute joy to pick NFL games for the Take No Prisoners readership.  I can only hope you’ve enjoyed my forecasts half as much.  I implore you all to please be safe this Super Bowl weekend.  Thank you for your continued support of the best sports blog that is on the rise.  As the football season concludes, the sports world continues.  Still to come is the NBA all star weekend, conference play in college basketball and the 2010 Major League Baseball season, just to name a few.  So please stay tuned for the many jewels that Keith Madyun and I drop in the near future and beyond.

By Antoine Hoffman

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