Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM
Saturday Night’s nationally televised game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts on CBS matches a pair of teams who must be taken seriously as playoff threats but aren’t really seen as Super Bowl teams entering the 2014 season. A look at their postseason losses from January shows why:
*New Orleans lost 23-15 to eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle (off earlier 34-7 loss)
*Indianapolis lost 43-22 to eventual AFC runner-up New England
There’s still some work to do…in a field that has other contenders chasing the elites of the league. Saturday’s potential thriller will help handicappers determine if either (or both) are ready to take steps forward in 2014. Let’s review some key fundamentals from last season…
NEW ORLEANS’ 2013 STRENGTHS
*Obviously Drew Brees is amazing, leading to strong passing numbers across the board
*Ranked #1 in the NFC in third down conversions at 44%, #3 in whole NFL
*Better than realized on defense at 5.2 yards-allowed-per-play
*Excellent on defensive third downs at 35% conversions allowed
The Saints are still led by a Hall-of-Fame bound quarterback who’s performing near peak levels. Their TD/INT differential of 39/12 was best in the NFC, and only trailed the stunning 55/10 mark posted by Denver. They move the ball through the air with ease, particular in the best game conditions (home, indoors, on a fast track).
NEW ORLEANS’ 2013 WEAKNESSES
*Surprisingly unimpressive away from home (3-5 straight up, 1-7 ATS)
*Running game only managed 92.1 yards-per-game despite threat of pass
*Defense only had 19 interceptions, worst in the NFC
The weaknesses in rush offense defensive interceptions were particularly glaring because high octane offenses tend to find it EASY to run the ball against opposing defenses that are back on their heels….and because teams playing shootouts usually make it to 25-30 defensive interceptions. That’s why the Saints were mediocre on the road and just 11-5 for the season. Indoors, they’re a Super Bowl team. In conditions that limit their passing game, they may not even be .500 caliber. They really need to find more across-the-roster balance in 2014.
INDIANAPOLIS’ 2013 STRENGTHS
*More dynamic on defense than was generally realized
*QB Andrew Luck avoids big miscues
*Luck executes like a proven veteran late in close games. Maybe better!
It’s true that Indianapolis was in a weak division in a weak conference. But, they beat Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco! They actually had one of the toughest schedules in the AFC, and managed an 11-5 record. You should have more respect for their defense than you probably do in that light. They weren’t a powerhouse defensively…but they were across-the-board respectable while facing some real challenges. And, Luck’s ability to execute when games are on the line is already the stuff of legend.
INDIANAPOLIS’ 2013 WEAKNESSES
*Less dynamic on offense than is generally realized
*Unable yet to consistently drive the field and find the end zone
If you only watched highlights of their exciting finishes, you got the sense that Indy had a great offense and a poor defense. What was actually happening was a series of naibliters being created by inconsistent offense but a decent defense leading to late drama. They were a legitimate playoff team in 2013…but must still mature and develop before they can be taken seriously as a Super Bowl threat. Their TD/INT differential last year was only 23/10. Plus 13 is in the class of Cincinnati (+13) and Kansas City (+16), so it’s playoff caliber. Peyton Manning isn’t terrified!
For pure fans, this could be a great one to watch. Game conditions should be favorable for offense, and both quarterbacks will be focused on finding the end zone when they’re on the field. For handicappers…well, they have to figure out if last year’s road woes for New Orleans will show up and spoil their chance to win and cover. If the officiating this year continues to all so much defensive holding, it’s scary to think of how easily Brees and Luck will move the ball this Fall.
Saints/Colts is one of eight Saturday matchups. It’s likely to show up on the NETWORK ticket, but isn’t a sure thing as of press time. You can always purchase the final word right here at the website with your credit card in the hours before kickoff. If you have any questions about longterm service, call us in the office Saturday before first kick at 1-888-777-4155.
Back with you in the NOTEBOOK Sunday to preview San Diego at San Francisco in the FOX TV game in the afternoon. Then it’s a mix of pennant races and football leading into the start of college action Thursday. Can you believe the summer has flown by so fast?!
The Saints and Colts may light up the scoreboard. JIM HURLEY will light up your weekend with BIG MONEY WINNERS in dress rehearsal showdowns. Stop sitting on the sidelines and GET IN THE GAME!