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Super Bowl XLIV

   by Larry Ness - 02/04/2010

While a Brett vs Peyton Super Bowl surely had a certain 'sex appeal,' it's hard to argue that a Colts/Saints matchup isn't a fitting conclusion to the 2009 season. The Colts opened 14-0 and the Saints 13-0. Two teams reaching 13-0 marked the latest in a season the NFL has ever had two teams which hadn't lost. Winning is nothing new for the Colts of this decade, while the Saints have reached rarified air. When the Colts won their 12th game this year, it marked an NFL-record seventh straight season of at least 12 wins. When they moved to 14-0, they owned the longest regular season winning streak in NFL history at 23. The Colts would "pack in it" the last two games of 2009, finishing 14-2.

However, the team's 10-year regular season record (2000-09) of 115-45 (.719) gives Indy the most wins of any team in any decade in NFL history (the 49ers of the 90s went 113-47, .706). For all of Indy's success this decade, this marks just their second Super Bowl appearance. The Colts take just a 9-8 postseason record into Sunday's game with the Saints. In comparison, the Patriots have gone 112-48 (.700) this decade and own four Super Bowl appearances (three wins) plus a postseason mark of 14-4. The Colts may try to make a case that they are "the team of the decade" if they win this game but that argument should fall on 'deaf ears.'

The Saints were founded in 1967 as an NFL expansion team and went more than a decade before they managed to finish a season with a .500 record, two decades before having a winning season and over four decades before reaching the Super Bowl (Lions and Browns are now the only teams which have been around since 1970 to have not reached the super Bowl). Jim Mora led the team to four playoff appearances from 1987–1992 (team also had winning records in the non-playoff years) but the Saints lost all four playoff games. Jim Haslett led New Orleans to its first-ever playoff win in 2000, when the Saints defeated the then-defending Super Bowl champion St Lois Rams 31-28.

Sean Peyton and Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006, a year after the team's previous season was disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. The Saints' scheduled 2005 home opener against the New York Giants was moved to Giants Stadium and the remainder of their 2005 home games were split between the Alamodome (San Antonio) and LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Saints would go 3-13 in 2005, giving them a 10-year mark of 63-97 (.394). After a $185 million renovation of the Superdome, the Saints returned for the 2006 season. New Orleans went 10-6 and made it to the NFC championship game where it lost 39-14 to the Chicago Bears. The Saints went 7-9 and 8-8 the next two seasons but this year's 13-3 mark gives them a 38-26 (.594) regular season mark these last four years.

Home teams finished 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS in the 2009 postseason with the home team being favored in every game except the Green Bay/Arizona contest (favorites went 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS). The favorite had won and covered or the dog had won outright in every game, before the Saints (minus-3 1/2) won but failed to cover against the Vikings. Just three of the games were decided by less than 10 points, while five games were decided by 17 points or more (two by margins of 31 points). Of course the Super Bowl features no home team but favorites have gone 30-12 SU (SB 16 was a 'pick') and 22-18-2 ATS.

Thirty-two of the previous 43 Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or more (74.4 percent), including 21 by 14 points or more (48.8 percent). The Super Bowl tended to be one sided affair for the better part of its first 31 years. However, just two of the last 12 Super Bowls have been decided by more than 13 points (Ravens 34-7 over the Giants and Bucs 48-21 over the Raiders) with seven being decided by seven points or less. The Patriots have played in four of the last eight Super Bowls, with each game decided by exactly three points.

I've focused on playoff games since 1990 (when the NFL expanded to a 12-team field) all postseason and will do so again here. Home teams won both championship games, the third time in the last four seasons in which home teams have swept the two conference championship games. It marks just the third time both No. 1 seeds have advanced to a Super Bowl since 1990. It hadn’t happened since the 1993 season when the Cowboys beat the Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII (both teams were 12-4), with the only other occurrence coming in 1991 when the 14-2 Redskins beat the 13-3 Bills 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI.

While this is only the third time that both No. 1 seeds have made it to the "big game," at least one No. 1 seed has made the Super Bowl in all but three seasons since 1990, including last season when Pittsburgh (No. 2 in the AFC) beat Arizona (No. 4 in the NFC). The other times were in 1992 (No. 2 Dallas beat No. 4 Buffalo) and 1997 (No. 4 Denver beat No. 2 Green Bay). Being a No. 1 seed and playing against a non-No. 1 seed has not been a good omen as of late. The only No. 1 seed to win a Super Bowl this decade has been the 2003 (beat the Panthers 32-29 in SB XXXVIII) with seven of the nine Super Bowl losers this decade being No. 1 seeds, including four in a row before last year.

Of course, with two No. 1 seeds meeting this year, one has to win and one has to lose (no ties, Donovan). Sticking with just Super Bowls since 1990 (19-game sample), the SU winner has also covered the pointspread in 13 of those wins with four ATS losses and two 'pushes' (Super Bowls 31 and 34). Three of the four games in which the Super Bowl winner failed to cover the spread have occurred in just the past six games Super Bowls, including last season when Pittsburgh beat Arizona 27-23 as a seven-point favorite.

Looking back over the last six Super Bowls reveals that the team with the better regular season record has failed to cover the spread even once, with three of those teams losing outright. The last time the team with the better regular season record won the Super Bowl was played following the 2002 season when the 12-4 Bucs crushed the 11-5 Raiders 48-21 as 3 1/2-point underdogs. That spells bad news for the 14-2 Colts (Saints are 13-3) but Colt fans (not necessarily the same as Colt bettors) can take heart in the fact that the favored team (Indy is a 4 1/2-point choice as of Thursday night) has won 14 of the last 19 Super Bowls.

It’s been a high-scoring postseason in 2009 with the first five games going over the total, including the highest scoring game in NFL postseason history (Arizona’s 51-45 OT win over Green Bay in the wildcard round). Those first five games averaged 57.6 points but three consecutive unders followed, with those games averaging 30.3 PPG. However, “Championship Sunday” saw both games over over, as the Colts won 30-17 (closing total was 40) and the Saints won 31-28 in OT (53 1/2). That leaves us with seven overs and three unders so far, as games have averaged an unusually high 48.5 PPG.

While it's been a high scoring postseason, the current over/under of 56 1/2 is the highest Super Bowl total ever posted. Last year's Arizona/Pittsburgh game went over the 46 1/2 (due to a 23-point fourth quarter) but the previous four Super Bowls each stayed under. None of the last five Super Bowls have exceeded 50 points (average score totaling 40.6 PPG) and of the last 19 Super Bowls played since 1990, just five would have gone OVER the current total of 56 ½ with another one landing right on 56 (SB XXXI).

Enjoy the game, Larry.

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