Getting Set For The Super Bowl In Miami

There are just four days left until the Indianapolis Colts face the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. News leading up to the big game includes developments with some of the top players: Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and quarterback Peyton Manning.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

No doubt you've heard that the Super Bowl is this Sunday in Miami. The Indianapolis Colts face the New Orleans Saints.

NPR is very lucky Mike Pesca is in South Florida and joins us for a preview. Mike, hi.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the days leading up to the Super Bowl are usually filled with stories about parties and TV commercials. This year, there are some developments with the game's top players.

PESCA: Yeah, usually what happens is these are the two weeks where the teams play defense, verbal defense. They deny that anything could ever break their concentration. But the Colts have had to come clean and admit that Dwight Freeney, who is their excellent defensive end, has a really serious injury. He has what's called a Grade 3 sprain on the ankle, which means - in laymen's term, it's a torn ligament.

This will very much affect him and very much affect the Colts defense because he is a speed rusher; he puts pressure on the other team's quarterback. You always have to account for Dwight Freeney. And if he can't play or can play in a very limited way, it opens up the Saints offense, and it's a blow to the Colts.

WERTHEIMER: So does this affect the Colts' status as the favorite?

PESCA: I think the Colts are still the favorites. You'd have to say the Saints are still underdogs. But the Saints already have an excellent offense, and if you don't have to double team Dwight Freeney anymore, if you can send out another receiver, it will prove even more headache for the Colts. But the reason that the Colts have this status as favorites, and that so few people are doubting that they'll win, is that their quarterback, Peyton Manning, just has this ability to always come back, to always be unflappable, and to be this genius who can contend with whatever you throw at him. And even during the media day, where 3,000 people ask them questions, you've never seen a guy more comfortable, more calm, seemingly more unfazed by bad news to a key teammate.

WERTHEIMER: We hear a lot about Peyton Manning now.

PESCA: We do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: So how good is he, really?

PESCA: He's, you know, I was trying to think of all the players in sports who are treated as elites. And sometimes it's the most charismatic guy on a team but the sports cognoscenti will say, well, really the best player is this quieter guy or this younger guy or a guy you haven't heard of. I know Peyton Manning is pretty much a household name, but he is also maybe one of the two or three best players at his position, and maybe even the two or three best players who've ever played his position, which is the most important position in this sport.

I mean, they asked they asked the defensive coordinator of the Saints well, what about Peyton's, you know, one flaw - sometimes he takes a sack; he doesn't try to stand up in the face of pressure. And Gregg Williams, the Saints' coordinator, said, I wish he was a little dumber, I wish he would stand in there and takes some of those hits, but that's not what he does. It's pretty smart on his part. So even the thing that's called Peyton Manning's flaw the fact that he doesn't like to get hit that much those in the know say it's actually a strength.

WERTHEIMER: So we've got the basic storyline. The Saints are the feel- good story, the underdogs. The Colts can't miss. Is the conventional wisdom right this time, you think?

PESCA: I would say if you wanted to challenge that, here's what you'd point to. The Colts' defense really isn't that good, even with a healthy Freeney. Every time they've played other teams who have top offenses, they don't do that well. They gave up 34 points to the Patriots and 27 to the Texans. So the Saints are the best offense in the NFL. And no one has explained to me how the Colts are going to keep the Saints under 25 points. So if Peyton Manning somehow can't score that much, then there's your scenario where the Saints will win. Also, things can happen, like rain or some other freak injury that could affect things. So it's not like that Saints don't have a chance. They really do.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You got it.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca. He's covering the Super Bowl in South Florida.

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