There are a lot of storylines heading into tonight's game: Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees; both No. 1 seeds facing each other; New Orleans finally getting to the Super Bowl; Dwight Freeney's ankle; the No. 1 Saints offense vs. the Colts' underrated eighth-ranked defense; Manning facing the ball-hawking defense of Gregg Williams; the somewhat improved play of Reggie Bush; and the solid contributions of receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Both teams have a ton of offensive firepower, and no one would be shocked to see a shootout in this game.
As I've done all season, here's my pick for the final game:
Colts (-6) over Saints
I think the Colts have a significant advantage in this game: their offense against the Saints defense. The reason why the Saints defense had to work so hard to hit the quarterback in their two previous matchups -- the Cardinals and the Vikings -- is because they're not particularly great at stopping opposing offenses. The Saints completely dominated the Cardinals, but against the Vikings, the Saints were outgained 475-257 in yardage. Fortunately, the defense forced five turnovers (two Favre interceptions and three lost fumbles), and yet the Saints still needed an overtime field goal to get past Minnesota. Manning and the Colts will take much better care of the ball, and as long as they protect Manning, which they've done all season, scoring points shouldn't be much of an obstacle.
The Saints will get their points, but the Colts defense will force their share of three-and-outs and field goals. A healthy Freeney is important, but it's hard to believe that his ankle has healed enough to the point to allow him to dominate. Still, the Colts tackle well and don't make too many mistakes, which is a key to being able to stop a high-powered offense like the Saints have.
A Saints win would be great for the NFL -- and New Orleans -- but I just don't see them beating the Colts.
Colts 34, Saints 27
Regular season: 132-116-8
Overall record: 137-121-8