SUPER BOWL XLIV Preview & Weekend Basketball

Hurley Hits 2 for 4 at the track to warm up for Super Bowl Sunday!

After a season of success, 64% on our Blue Ribbon Club, and a postseason of moneymaking, including a 2-0 sweep of Championship Sunday, Network is ready for the big one! Peyton, Brees and Hurley all set to be the star of the day!

SUPER BOWL XLIV PREVIEW
Sunday, February 7, 6:25 p.m. ET, CBS
NEW ORLEANS (15-3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS (16-2)
Sun Life Stadium -Miami, FL

Simply put, Super Bowl XLIV is all about the best player in the sport against the best story in this year's NFL.
    
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning -with no ands, ifs or buts -is playing the best football in his professional life right now and that covers a dozen glorious years in the league (not to mention four Most Valuable Player Awards, to boot!).
    
The fact that he happens to be a native son of New Orleans only adds to the intrigue when you consider the feel-good story Saints who played their best ball in some 43 years of operation during this 2009 NFL season.
    
Not only did N'Orleans strike up a winning pose 13 times in regular-season play and twice in the post-season this year but the Saints did so with style with five games of 45-or-more points and with resounding wins against at-the-time powers the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Throw in that NFC Championship win in overtime against Minnesota two weeks ago -and whatta party that set off along Bourbon Street -and you get the sense that the Saints may be getting ready to author one of the greatest single-season stories in league history.
    
Still, that Manning fellow stands in the way:
    
The son of one-time Saints slinger Archie Manning has thrown for 623 yards in two playoff wins this year -including that scintillating 377-yard, 3-TD, 0-INT performance in the 30-17 win against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game two weekends ago -and he's mastered any/all defense thrown his way even if he sometimes has needed a quarter-or-so to get his engines revved up.
    
If Manning gets hot -and stays hot here -than the Colts figure to holding aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy sometime around 10 p.m. ET on Sunday night. If the Saints' defense has its way with its "remember me" hits on the quarterback, then maybe they can shake up Manning and get him from establishing a real working rhythm.    
    
On the flip side, Saints QB Drew Brees cannot waste any opportunities here -when/if New Orleans gets into the red zone the NFC champs need TDs and not FGs. After scoring 45 and 31 points in playoff home wins against Arizona and Minnesota -the latter a true slop-fest 31-28 OT win against the Vikings two weeks back in the NFC Championship Game -the Saints probably have to score somewhere in the mid-to-high 30s to snag this win.
    
Note the Las Vegas betting line at press time is Colts (-4½) over Saints with a totals price of 56½ points.
     
First-year Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell is attempting to become only the third rookie coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl -San Francisco's George Seifert and one-time Baltimore Colts boss-man Don McCafferty were the others -while New Orleans head coach Sean Payton is attempting to make the rags-to-riches story complete with this Saints franchise.
    
Let's get ready to rumble!

WHAT TO WATCH
    
What else... Manning and Brees.
    
Okay, so Manning threw for 4,500 yards and 33 TDs in the regular season and has kept the beat going right into the post-season but Indy's shown a penchant lately for being a slow starter: The Colts only posted a PK Matt Stover in the first 28 minutes of play in that AFC Divisional Playoff win against the Ravens before Manning aired a pair of scoring strikes (to WRs Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne) in the last two minutes of the first half.
    
Then in that title game win against the J-E-T-S, the Colts didn't get on the board until four seconds into the second quarter (a 25-yard Stover FG) and Manning didn't get Indianapolis into the end zone until just 1:13 remained in the first half as he zipped a 16-yard over-the-middle scoring strike to Collie.
    
No doubt the Colts are well aware of the slow starts the past couple of games and will look to correct things here -but if the Saints can keep Manning from getting his gang into the end zone for the first quarter or most of the first half here then you might want to sound the early alarms for an "upset alert".
    
The Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has talked tough in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIV but -keep this in mind -he's faced Manning lots of times in the past when serving as DC at both Jacksonville (2008) and Tennessee (1997-2000) and while going up against Manning twice a year. Maybe Williams has his reasons to be confident here although everyone knows the Colts QB was sacked just 10 times in regular-season play and just twice so far in the playoffs.
    
Meanwhile, Brees led the NFL in passer rating this year (109.8) while throwing for 4,388 yards and an NFL-high 34 touchdown passes and so it's not as if he's taking a back seat to anyone here. The Saints made it through the NFC Championship Game despite Brees throwing for only 197 yards (but 3 TDs) and he and the N'Orleans offense was out of whack for most of the second half.
    
No question that Brees is a rhythm passer too and must be able to keep this game going at a comfortable pace -although that won't be the case if the Colts' pass rush is getting in his grill. Okay, so it took us this long to bring up Indianapolis DE Dwight Freeney and his ankle woes but if he's unable to play here or is well below 100 percent healthy then DC Larry Coyer's underrated unit is gonna have to find a way to apply pressure with blitz packages and/or gimmick defenses.

    
THE KEYS
    
The fact of the matter is we've heard lots of "in-the-know" folks claim that running the ball here in this Colts-Saints bash is not all that important because both teams live/die with their respective passing attacks and both defenses are better at stopping the run than handling aerial attacks but don't pooh-pooh rushing yards here.
    
The Colts have to be keeping fingers crossed that RB Joseph Addai (80 yards rushing versus the Jets in the championship game) can stay in one piece here after getting banged about in both of the playoff games while the Saints desperately need RB Pierre Thomas (61 yards rushing against the Vikings two weeks ago) and RB Reggie Bush to slash their way for a bunch of five-yard-or-more rushes so that Brees can keep Indy honest.
    
Neither team relies heavily on the ground game -but odds are the team here than can make the short-yardage plays and enough real estate yardage on first-down runs will win. While it may be a surprise if anyone runs for 100 yards here, it could happen if there is lots of running room up the middle of the field when defenses are in all-out blitzes.
    
P.S., as we said earlier this week here at Jim Sez, this might be a game where Indy rookie RB Donald Brown shines if Addai either goes down or is stuffed at the line of scrimmage early on.
   
    
THE COACHES
    
No doubt that Colts head coach Caldwell is the most under-the-radar sideline general in Super Bowl history. The long-time right-hand man of former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy has been described as "buttoned-down", "reserved" and "unassuming" during this Super Bowl week by other members of the media but do not be fooled -Caldwell's '09 club plays with more attitude than those Dungy teams (2002-08 seasons) and probably plays with more inner confidence too.
    
New Orleans head coach Payton is a classic play-caller who didn't have a real great game against Minnesota and his club -thanks mainly to five Vikings turnovers -still registered 31 points. Payton must be razor-sharp here and he must have Brees distribute the ball to all his pass-catchers such as WRs Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and TE Jeremy Shockey must come up with some great stat lines.
   
Heck, if Saints coach Payton does nothing else in his professional life, than at least he can stake the claim of having coached this franchise in two of the last four NFC Championship Games... not bad when you consider this NFC South club had never gotten that deep into the post-season in nearly four decades of play.
 

SUPER BOWL XLIV 

It's the biggest betting day of the year and the Jim Hurley Network has consistently risen to the occassion in the Super Bowl, going 20-6-2 on both sides and totals in the 24-year history of America's most successful handicapping Network. We're locked in on the winner this Sunday too! Our football experts have been breaking down tape of the New Orleans' blitz packages and studying whether the Indy pass protection schemes that worked so well against the Jets can succeed again here. Our stat handicappers have analyzed the effects of dome teams moving outdoors to play on grass. Our on-scene sources are keeping us in the know on behind the scenes maneuvering, something that's all the more important this year, given the uncertain status of Dwight Freeney. It's adding up to win #21 in our Super Bowl history and you can be a part of it for just $50!  

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THE FIVE PLAYERS
    
Here's the guys not named Manning or Brees who will have an awful lot to say about who wins Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday night:
   
For Indianapolis, it's

  • LB Gary Brackett -Veteran star is a supreme run-stuffer and will be key on those third/fourth-and-one plays.
  • DE Robert Mathis -The sack-and-strip master will be receiving extra attention if Freeney is a no-go here.

For New Orleans, it's...

  • FS Darren Sharper -The ball-hawk nabbed 9 INTs this year and returned three of 'em for TDs. Can he perform some magic here?
  • RB/PR Reggie Bush -If the Colts punt it in his general direction, they could regret it big-time.
  • PK Garrett Hartley -Why does something tell us he's gonna get a few chances here... and maybe even late in the game.


SPREAD NOTES
    
Indianapolis boasts a 12-6 ATS (against the spread) record this season and only three NFL teams sported better winning percentages against the Las Vegas price tags (see San Francisco, Atlanta and Green Bay who played .688-or-better ball). The Colts have notched spread wins in seven of their last nine games including a post-season spread sweep of 6½-point underdog Baltimore and the 8-point pup New York Jets. In all, the Colts are 7-1 ATS away this season.
    
New Orleans enters Super Sunday at just 9-9 ATS this year (14 NFL teams fared better versus the vig) and the Saints failed to cover six of their final seven games. The NFC South crew is 4-4 spreadwise away this season but a neat 20-13-1 versus the vig away the past four years. Note that New Orleans is 13-10-1 ATS as underdogs since the start of the Payton Era in 2006.

 

 

MORE SUPER BOWL XLIV GOODIES - CHECKING OUT SOME FUN PROP PLAYS AND WEIGHING IN ON NEXT YEAR'S NFL "SURPRISE TEAMS" ...

PLUS, SUNDAY'S TOP COLLEGE B-BALL GAMES

By Jim Hurley

Hey, what would a Super Bowl be like without all those proposition or "prop plays"?
    
Go back the past 15 or 20 years or so, and prop plays have become a major part of betting on Super Bowls and this year one web site we checked out actually sported more than 100 legitimate prop plays and we wanted to touch on some of them to kick off this weekend edition of Jim Sez.
    
Obviously, about 99.9 percent of the country will have some form of wager on Sunday's Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints and many of the bettors won't simply be playing on a side or totals price here - and now this is what especially interests us (sorry, count us out when it comes to whether the opening coin flip will come up "heads" or "tails" as that is just plain silly stuff).
    
Let's tackle the following props:

"Team to Have the Longest Field Goal" ... New Orleans (- 115) or Indianapolis (-125):
The Saints don't want to settle for field goals when going up against Indy QB Peyton Manning but they may have to at times here in SB XLIV and so, first off, we expect New Orleans PK Garrett Hartley to attempt more field goals than the Colts' Matt Stover plus the second-year pro has to have the stronger leg over the aging Stover. Let's take New Orleans (- 115) here and look for the NFC Championship Game hero to blast at least one 40-plus yard FG in this affair.

"Total Number of Saints Players to Catch a Pass" ... Over 7½ (- 135) or Under 7 ½ (- 105):
Again, you have to ask yourself the question of how do you think this game will play out and the gut feeling here is that it will be ultra-important for New Orleans QB Drew Brees to spread the wealth around. In fact, if you read between the lines of Saints head coach Sean Payton then his mantra this week is that everyone's got to get involved in his team's offense and so we'll lay the $135 price here and say that more than 7½ Saints players will record a pass reception in Super Bowl XLIV and don't be shocked if five or six different players snag Brees passes in the opening quarter alone.

"Will Indianapolis Score More Points in the First Half (+½ -125) or the Second Half (-½ -105):
As anyone who's watched these playoff games knows, the Colts have been slow starters in the wins against Baltimore and the New York Jets and so Manning and Co. may again fit into this pattern and need a couple/few offensive possessions to get things righted. Let's look for Indianapolis to score more second-half points in Super Bowl XLIV as the Colts' pass-catchers become better aware of what's available to them and Manning strikes for at least a couple of touchdowns after the extended halftime break.

"Player to Score the First Touchdown of the Game"
This is always a fun category worth plunking down a bob or two and our strategy here will be to look for (or even expect) a breakdown in one of these secondaries and so we're looking for a long ball to create the first touchdown play of Super Bowl XLIV and so let's choose a player from each side and hope to strike it rich: On Indianapolis, we'll take WR Pierre Garcon (+700) to get beyond the Saints safeties to score on a deep pass while our New Orleans pick is WR Robert Meachem (+1400) and note the prices here are based on $100 plays. Naturally, you can play a lot less than that on the prop plays and so just $10 on each guy could get you back $70 if Garcon scores the game's first touchdown or a tidy $140 if Saints wide-out Meachem is the first guy to dent the end zone here.

And now this key reminder:
    
Jim Hurley and his Handicappers and Bloggers will release the Side & Totals Winners for Super Bowl XLIV on game-day morning and plus remember to get all the 2009-10 College Basketball and NBA Winners too each and every day as the hoop season's really in full swing these days with lots of great action on tap.
    
Go ahead and join Jim as he crushes Las Vegas and the off-shore books too in these coming days/weeks and you can go ahead and cash in when you give us game-day calls at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else when you just log online right here.
    
Check in via the toll-free telephone # or else online on Mondays-through-Fridays anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the NCAA Basketball and NBA games and then check with us any time after 10 a.m. ET this Saturday and Sunday for all the weekend b-ball action and -of course -SB XLIV.


OUR TOP "SURPRISE TEAMS" IN NFL '10

Okay, so only one of our Jim Sez NFL "Surprise Teams" made it to the playoffs this year - thank you, Green Bay Packers - but here's what we see in our Jim Sez crystal ball for the 2010 season.
    
The NFL "surprise teams" for next year have to be teams that finished below .500 this season that we see making major strides or even getting into the playoffs in 2010 ... and they are:

CHICAGO (7-9) - The Bears probably should have been a playoff contender in '09 had not QB Jay Cutler tossed a gazillion interceptions but the fact of the matter is new offensive coordinator Mike Martz will get rid of plenty of glitches in Cutler's game and this NFC North crew could be a 10- or 11-win next year with just a couple of breaks. P.S., Chicago was a rotten 6-10 ATS (against the spread) this season as the Bears went on one six-game stretch where it scored 20 points or less in each outing and don't expect next year's offense to hibernate quite like that!

KANSAS CITY (4-12) - The Chiefs have won a grand total of 10 games SU (straightup) the past three years but it won't shock us if the '10 KayCee crew gets to .500 behind fiery head coach Todd Haley and a perked-up passing game. Now that QB Matt Cassel has been in this system for a year, expect his productivity to rise and the Chiefs should be dipping into the free-agent market (and the draft) to snag a couple of quality pass-catchers that will open up the field here and RB Jamaal Charles should be a 1,500-yard running back if things really click into place.

ST. LOUIS (1-15) - No, don't be printing any playoff tickets just yet for Steve Spagnuolo's squad but the 2010 Rams will give NFL teams weekly fits thanks to a rough-and-tumble defense that will have Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh anchoring this solid defensive line. Consider that DE Chris Long is getting better (as long as he controls his  temper) and the Rams will be in plenty of 16-13 type games next season and they should win some of them if RB Stephen Jackson can stay healthy. Call it a six-win season for St. Loo and that's certainly something to celebrate.

TAMPA BAY (3-13) - The Bucs get a hearty round of applause last season for never once waving the proverbial "white flag". Hey, this is a club that started off the season at 0-7 SU but following their Week 8 bye the Bucs actually sported a 5-4 spread mark and beat Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans with the last two teams here getting beaten in their own backyard. Now, the Bucs will make more strides with QB Josh Freeman and just check out the defense too - note that Tampa Bay allowed only 44 points overall in the team's final three games in '09.

 

COLLEGE BASKETBALL'S TOP SUNDAY GAMES

         
NORTH CAROLINA (13-9, 2-5 ACC) at MARYLAND (15-6, 5-2 ACC) - 2 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network
    
If the Super Bowl's multi-hour pre-game show isn't for you, then you may wish to tune in here to see for your own eyes just how fall the UNC Tar Heels have fallen.
    
Okay, so everyone knows last year's national championship team almost went into the NBA en masse but still head coach Roy Williams never could have envisioned one of his teams here losing five-of-six as that's the deal following Thursday's 74-70 setback at Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels only have two players averaging in double-digit scoring these days - that's Deon Thompson (14.4 ppg) and Ed Davis (14.0)--  and in the loss at Blacksburg the Tar Heels made good on only two field goals in the game's final seven-and-a-half minutes. Golly!
    
Now, Maryland - winners of five of its last six tilts - zips into this game with major momentum as the Terrapins outscored Florida State 18-7 in the opening five-plus minutes of Thursday's 71-67 win in Tallahassee. The Terps' Greivis Vasquez was the stat-sheet star here with 23 points and 7 rebs and 7 assists and no doubt this emotional player will be super-charged here on Super Sunday.
  

NOTE: Catch our Super Bowl XLIV re-cap in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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