KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
KEYS TO THE GAME
The story leading up to Super Bowl XLIV has been the status of Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's injured ankle. He will be a game-day decision, and even if he does play Freeney will likely be limited to pass rushing situations. Raheem Brock is expected to start on the left side, with Robert Mathis moving to the right side. That could allow the Saints to be more aggressive if they believe left tackle Jermon Bushrod is able to hold his own against Mathis.
The Saints started strong against Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game, with QB Drew Brees taking the intermediate routes the Vikings were giving him. But the offense stalled in the second half as Brees' accuracy waned. The Colts will employ a similar scheme devised to avoid big completions over the top and force New Orleans to drive the length of the field.
Indianapolis' offense started slow against the Jets in the AFC title game, but quarterback Peyton Manning called the plays in the second half and found a rhythm few defenses can cope with. The Saints' secondary will face mismatches all over the field, but while Gregg Williams admits his defense gives up a lot of yards, New Orleans also swarms to the ball and creates turnovers in bunches. Both teams run the ball just enough to keep it in the back of the defense's mind - although creating some balance has been far more important to the Saints' success throughout the season.
Sunday's game between the Saints and Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV will mark only the third time — and the first since 1993 — that the No. 1 seeds from the NFC and AFC will meet in the title game under the current playoff format.
While the skill players on the Saints' offense got the accolades for leading the NFL in total yards and scoring this season, one long-overshadowed group had a lot to do with getting the team to its first Super Bowl.
But the offensive line, which had three Pro Bowl picks and an alternate among its five members this season, was in the spotlight for most of the week during Super Bowl XLIV interviews.
Their good work was rewarded Wednesday when tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb, center Jonathan Goodwin, and guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks were chosen as the winner of the inaugural Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award.
The award recognized the top all-around offensive line in the league. The Saints, who allowed just 20 sacks all season, won the award over Tennessee, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and Indianapolis, who they'll meet in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday night.
The surprising thing about the makeup of the unit is that there is one second-round draft pick (Stinchcomb), two fourth-rounders (Bushrod and Evans) and two fifth-round selections (Nicks and Goodwin).
Stinchcomb and Evans, an All-Pro, were primary Pro Bowl picks, while Goodwin made it as an alternate. Nicks was a second alternate.
"We're a tight-knit group. We all work well together and everybody gets along," Goodwin said. "We've just been a bunch of no-name guys who've turned out to be pretty good players."
The no-names are now considered to be among the best in the league, thanks to an offense that led the league in scoring and total yards and ranked sixth in rushing during the Saints' historic run to Super Bowl XLIV.
"That's a good award and an award for the whole offense, really, just like any other award," Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said. "Drew avoids sacks. The offensive line does a nice job protecting, the running backs do a nice job pass protecting, and Drew gets it out.
"The receivers understand the timing of routes, so it's the whole offense. That goes from (coach) Sean Payton down to the last guy on offense."
Raheem Brock is keenly aware that when Sunday evening rolls around, he'll most likely be one of the closest watched players in recent Super Bowl history.
With defensive end Dwight Freeney's availability for Super Bowl XLIV in doubt thanks to a torn ligament in his right ankle, it looks like Brock and Robert Mathis will be in the starting lineup against the New Orleans Saints.
But it's a role that he is familiar with. Earlier this season, with Freeney nursing a strained groin that kept him out of the lineup for a couple of weeks, it was Brock moving into the Colts' starting defensive lineup.
"Yeah I mean we've been through this before from earlier in the season where Dwight's not playing and me and Rob (Mathis) are starting, (with) the rest of the young guys stepping up and playing a little bit more. We're not worried. We've been through it before," he said.
"You can't replace Dwight, but we still want to get to the quarterback like we do."
Even before earlier this season, being in the starting lineup is nothing new to Brock. He has started both at defensive end and at defensive tackle. It's his versatility to play in several spots along the Colts' defensive line that has made him a valuable contributor.
"I jump around everywhere. A lot of the (Colts) young guys will have to step up with the blitzes that we run. I could be a linebacker and one of the young guys could be an end or vice-versa. I think I might get a couple more (playing time) but not that many (more) rushes at end," Brock said, adding that practices in Florida haven't been all that different from what Indianapolis did back at their own training facility last week.
"It hasn't been that different for us (and) me. (Freeney) doesn't play much on first and second down (so) the only thing different is I might play a little more of left end on third down. We run so many defenses and blitzes on third down that it might not even change that much where we need to worry about it."
Again, it's the ability of the Colts to be able to plug different players into various spots that could help offset Freeney's injury.
"It's great for our defense. It helps the defense a lot when a lot of guys can rotate around. We've got guys dropping or blitzing and moving to different positions. We have a lot of ends that can play defensive tackle," he explained.
"It just helps our defense overall to where you don't know what we're doing or you don't know where we're coming from. The defense that (defensive coordinator Larry) Coyer put in this year has helped us out a lot."