The Road to Victory Is Paved With Uncertainty

In postseason football, games go one of two ways. When two teams make the postseason, either the favorite team wins, or some crazy fluke lifts the underdog in ways that make Vegas bookies cry, and Rudy smile. It could be a turnover or a coaching error (as is usually the case when Norv Turner is involved), but sometimes, it’s something more. The kind of mysterious upset that puts ESPN analysts to shame, and cannot be defined in a rulebook.

These are the forces that don’t show up in box scores and don’t earn points in fantasy leagues: leadership or chemistry, luck or destiny. The New Orleans Saints didn’t mention luck or destiny after their NFC Conference Championship. It was something everyone tip-toed around like a bimbo’s obvious new boob job: they pretended it never even happened.

When the Indianapolis Colts handled the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game, people credited their methodical comeback from 11 down. When the Saints won, people talked about how random aberrations kept giving them a fighting chance. Not too different from the mysterious forces that brought the Saints back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina forced them to make a temporary home in San Antonio. These same forces conspired to get Drew Brees in a Saints uniform, after he was close to signing for Miami.

During the game, New Orleans kept being gifted the ball. Sometimes the Saints made a great play on the ball, like forcing the fumble from Bernard Berrian. Sometimes it was something more inconceivable, like when Favre and Peterson couldn’t make a handoff near the end of the second quarter, and the Vikings lost the chance at a halftime lead.

The Saints enter the Super Bowl with all these intangibles on their side. The story seems as if it’s written: This game — the last chapter in a 2009 season — will be titled something catchy like “When the Saints Came Marching in” or “All Saints’ Day” by the witty NFL Films narrators.

Maybe a storyline backed by chance and karma doesn’t seem to measure up to things like a superior defense or a more confident quarterback on the field — upper hands with which the Colts will enter Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7.

Sometimes chemistry matters, as was showcased when the New England Patriots pulled off their now-famed Super Bowl upset against the more polished and potent St. Louis Rams. Sometimes it’s about a transcendent leader who rallies everyone around him — as was the case when John Elway led the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl XXXII. Other times, the game simply goes to the better team. That’s what happened when the Patriots won their last two championships, and when Elway and Co. won their second of two titles against the Falcons.

In terms of on-field performance, Indianapolis might not have scored as many points as the Saints, but the team has shown the ability to adjust quickly mid game. On special teams, the Colts don’t have an explosive return man like Reggie Bush, but have a steadier kicker in Matt Stover. Neither team has a great defense, but the Colts have more of a defensive identity than the Saints, who need to improve in this department if they are serious about winning the big game.

With what has been shown during the season and playoffs so far, the Colts should win. That’s why they’re favored. But the Saints have something fantastically intangible in their favor. Their storyline is in need of a climax to play respect to the events that have taken them this far. Football doesn’t matter as much as the city of New Orleans itself, but it helps people take their minds off of more sobering realities. Sometimes everyone needs a distraction from the bigger picture.

Predictions are usually wrong. But if you’re going to put yourself out there, no matter how much you think it through, you always got to go with that intangible something — the gut.

My Prediction: Saints 34, Colts 30.

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