2009 NFL Playoffs - Super Bowl XLIV Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2009 NFL Playoffs - Super Bowl XLIV Preview

Who Dat think gonna beat them Saints?
By Eric Schmoldt, WhatIfSports.com
January 27, 2010

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The inputs to the 10,001 simulations for the Super Bowl are based on a rigorous analysis of both teams that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see our season-to-date performance, click here.

Lately our computers have been red-hot. We correctly predicted the Yankees would win the World Series in 6 games, the Lakers over the Magic in the NBA Finals, and Alabama over Texas in the BCS National Championship.

NFC Champion New Orleans Saints vs. AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

The Indianapolis Colts may think so, but do the computers?

After a highly successful run through the regular season and a solid effort in the playoffs, the WhatIfSports.com computers simulated Super Bowl XLIV 10,001 times in an effort to successfully pick another champion.

For the first time in nearly two decades, the top two seeds from both the AFC and the NFC will square off in the biggest football game of the year. It also features the two teams that ended the regular season first and second, respectively, in our Final Power Rankings.

In the game that was quickly dubbed the battle of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, which team reigns supreme?

The old adage is that defense wins championships, but there's little doubt that the offenses of the Colts and Saints have gotten them both to this point. They both ranked amongst the top three in the NFL during the regular season in terms of yards per play.

Only the Dallas Cowboys matched New Orleans' offensive output when it came to yards per play this season. And while Brees will get most of the credit, the Saints got to that pinnacle with their balance. Sure, Brees led New Orleans to the No. 3-ranked passing offense at 8.3 yards per attempt, but Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush also combined to lead the Saints to a top-five rushing mark, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. They'll need to keep that balanced approach against a team that quietly produced a top-10 defense.

The Colts do not have Bob Sanders and don't have the bevy of big names one might expect from a Super Bowl-caliber team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but they flew under the radar to produce pretty solid numbers all year. Indianapolis allowed just five yards per play and got to that mark mostly by stifling aerial attacks. The Colts ranked in the middle of the pack against the run, but could spoil Brees' first Super Bowl appearance as they ranked third in the league, allowing just 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

While Brees will be making his first trip to the biggest game, Manning has been there before. And while the computers won't take that experience into effect, they will take the veteran signal-caller and the Colts' offensive numbers. They were right behind the Saints in terms of production, going for 5.9 yards per play during the regular season thanks almost entirely to the prolific passing attack. Indianapolis ranked near the bottom of the barrel in the league in rushing, averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per game, but with Manning and a countless number of receiving threats, the Colts racked up 7.7 yards per pass attempt.

Those kinds of numbers could be dangerous for a Saints' defense that was simply run of the mill during the regular season. New Orleans was even worse, at least in terms of ranking, against the run, but that might not hurt as much against a Colts team that struggled on the ground. Either way, while the Colts offensive numbers are slightly behind the Saints, New Orleans' defense doesn't stack up to that of Indianapolis as the Saints ranked 21st, giving up 5.6 yards per play.

Much of the talk over the next week and a half will surely come on that Manning-Brees showdown, but the computers like the savvy quarterbacks to post nearly identical numbers in the Super Bowl. And while most of the numbers are similar, right down to the score, it seems to be New Orleans' rushing game that will give them the edge.

While the Saints only rush for a dozen more yards per game over the course of 10,001 simulations, they do it on five less carries, making their 4.9 yards-per-carry average look great compared to a 3.5 mark for the Colts.

That's the only real discrepancy in the numbers all the way down the box score and that reflects in the final score as well.

The Saints were the computer's pick to make the Super Bowl when the playoffs began, and with the Jets out of the way, New Orleans becomes the favorite to win the Super Bowl in their first trip there. They beat the Colts 62.2% of the time, but by an average of less than two points, 27.1-25.3

So while Indianapolis might go in thinking "they can beat dem Saints", the computers think that New Orleans fans will answer their own chant with a resilient "No one."

Super Bowl XLIV
MatchupWin%Avg Score
New Orleans Saints62.227Boxscore
@ Indianapolis Colts37.825Simulate Game

Here is some information regarding the scoring breakdown from the simulations for the game.

Average Scores
Team After 1st Qtr. After 2nd Qtr. After 3rd Qtr. End of Game
New Orleans 5.7 13.9 19.1 27.1
Indianapolis 5.6 13.8 18.4 25.3

Most Common Scores
Team After 1st Qtr. After 2nd Qtr. After 3rd Qtr. End of Game
New Orleans 7 14 21 27
Indianapolis 7 14 17 24

Timing of Scores
Team Score First L2MinH L2MinG
New Orleans 55.24% 58.34% 36.16%
Indianapolis 44.76% 52.55% 30.27%

L2MinH signifies the likelihood that the team scores in the last two minutes of the first half. L2MinG is the same thing for the end of the game.

To see the breakdown of the player stats, be sure to check out the Super Bowl XLIV Boxscore for more information.

WhatIfSports.com is a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, we can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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