NFL Preview - Indianapolis (0-6) at New Orleans (4-2)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Ummmm, yeah...sorry, NBC.
What looked like a potentially super matchup when the schedule was concocted a few months back, Indianapolis at New Orleans at the Superdome on a Sunday night is a touch less attractive these days after a few regular-season weeks of clear-headed assessment.
Which leaves a now-regretful Peacock Network, now faced with the prospect of an 0-6 draft speculator against one of the league's best quarterbacks in one of its toughest venues, to make the television programming equivalent of a walk of shame.
The Peyton Manning-less Colts dropped their sixth game of the year -- a threshold they'd reached just three times in 13 healthy seasons with No. 18 under center -- last weekend at Cincinnati, falling by a 27-17 count when the Bengals squelched a late rally with a 35-yard fumble return for a score with 2:22 to play.
New Orleans is the second stop on a three-game trip for the Colts that ends next week in Tennessee.
Long-time Indy understudy Curtis Painter was once again adequate, if not inspiring, in defeat after completing 23-of-34 passes for 188 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The unheralded Purdue product had earned a vote of confidence a week earlier from head coach Jim Caldwell, who anointed him the clear starter ahead of late offseason acquisition Kerry Collins.
But that still hasn't stopped a franchise leader from imagining himself with another.
In fact, now that fantasizing about playing in a home-field Super Bowl in February seems pointless, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay's visions have shifted two months later to draft day in New York, where the Colts currently stand first in line for a first crack at the phenom of the 2012 class -- Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
"Guys like that come along so rarely," Irsay said of the prospect of drafting Luck. "Even if that means that guy sits for three or four years, you'd certainly think about taking him. You see what Green Bay did with [Brett] Favre and [Aaron] Rodgers and you'd like to be able to do the same thing."
Meanwhile, the Saints are having no such longings.
Armed with perennial Pro Bowl gunslinger Drew Brees under center, New Orleans has won four of its initial six games in 2011 and sits in a flat-footed tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South.
The Bucs snapped the Saints' four-game win streak with a 26-20 win in Florida last weekend, sending Sean Payton and Co. home for one week before a return to the road next Sunday in St. Louis.
New Orleans will play five of its last eight at home, including a rematch with Tampa Bay on Nov. 6.
Payton himself took the biggest lumps in the Week 6 loss, sustaining a torn MCL and a broken tibia plateau in his left leg when an on-field collision spilled over. He coached from the bench and the locker room after the injury and plans to lead from the press box on Sunday, with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on the sidelines.
Though according to Brees, Payton might still find a way into the danger zone.
"There's no question," Brees said. "I'm envisioning some kind of hovercraft, some kind of 'Back to the Future' hovercraft that he figures out a way to be back on the sideline."
The overall regular-season series between the Colts and Saints is deadlocked at 5-5, with Indianapolis drawing even by virtue of a 41-10 home rout in the 2007 NFL season opener behind three touchdown passes from Manning. The Colts also shellacked the Saints by a 55-21 count in their most recent visit to the Superdome, which took place in 2003, though the franchise had lost three straight times in New Orleans prior to that victory.
The most famous showdown among these teams occurred at Miami's Sun Life Stadium in Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Saints came through with a 31-17 triumph on Feb. 7, 2010 to capture their first and only world championship.
Payton is 1-1 against the Colts during his tenure as a head coach, while Caldwell lost his only prior encounter with both New Orleans and Payton in the club's Super Bowl defeat.
Manning is a New Orleans native and son of legendary former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who played 12 seasons with the team from 1971-82.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts are 6-3 against the NFC under Caldwell, while in three starts, Painter has completed 51-of-91 passes for 746 yards, five touchdowns and a 96.7 passer rating. Running back Donald Brown recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season last week and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry in his past two games. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, also a New Orleans native, had seven catches for 115 yards with two touchdowns in his last regular-season game against the Saints, which occurred in 2007. Fellow wide receiver Pierre Garcon tied a career-high with eight receptions in last week's loss to Cincinnati and his past four games, has 21 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Including the Super Bowl, tight end Dallas Clark has 10 receptions for 145 yards with a touchdown against New Orleans for his career.
Since entering the NFL in 2006, Saints safety Roman Harper has 13 sacks, the most in the league by a defensive back. Cornerback Tracy Porter had a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, which sealed New Orleans' victory that night. Rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan has 16 tackles and linebacker Scott Shanle has 27 stops on this year's defense.
The Colts are near the bottom in every offensive category, including scoring (17.3 ppg, 28th), total yards (284.7 ypg, 31st), passing yards (200.7 ypg, 28th) and rushing yards (84.0 ypg, 28th). Meanwhile, the Saints are middling on defense, having allowed an average of 25.2 points (26th), 365.5 total yards (17th), 256.3 passing yards (19th) and 109.2 rushing yards (14th) per game.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Brees was the MVP of the Saints' Super Bowl win over Indianapolis after completing 32-of-39 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.5 rating. He has passed for 350-plus yards in four consecutive games, the longest such streak in league history, and has 20-plus completions in an NFL-record 26 games in a row. Running back/return man Darren Sproles is the only player in the NFL with a rushing, receiving and return touchdown this season. Including the playoffs, he has five career touchdowns against Indianapolis (two rushing, one receiving, one punt return, one kick return). Running back Mark Ingram leads NFC rookies with 238 rushing yards this season, while backfield mate Pierre Thomas had a receiving touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV. New Orleans' Jimmy Graham is the second tight end in NFL history with 100-plus receiving yards in four consecutive games in the same season, joining Tony Gonzalez in 2000. He also leads all tight ends with 39 catches and 620 yards this year. Wide receiver Marques Colston had seven receptions for 83 yards in the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis.
Defensively for the Colts, end Dwight Freeney needs 1 1/2 sacks to become the 26th player with 100 in a career since the stat became official in 1982. Fellow end Robert Mathis had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Colts' last regular-season game against New Orleans. Middle linebacker Pat Angerer has 73 tackles and a fumble recovery to lead the defense, while free safety Antoine Bethea has 47 tackles and a forced fumble.
New Orleans is ranked sixth or better in scoring (29.5 ppg, sixth), total offense (452.2 ypg, second) and passing yards (344.3 ypg, second) and ranks 18th in rushing yards (107.8 ypg). On defense, the Colts are 29th in points allowed (27.2 ppg), 27th in total yards allowed (392.5 ypg), 18th in pass defense (255.8 ypg) and 30th versus the run (136.7 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Colts have been vulnerable to high-end passing and even running games. Expect Brees to go for the throat early on.
New Orleans, at least statistically, has the same advantages on defense, where it averages a little better than the Colts in all categories. Dominance is possible on both sides of the ball if the Saints play sound in all phases.
The Saints have to be irritated with the loss to Bucs, and will need to have their eye on the prize as it relates to hitting this opponent hard before worrying about the Rams and Bucs in the next two weeks.
Whether it's home field, momentum, statistics or whatever, there doesn't seem to be many reasons -- or many people -- picking Indianapolis to compete, let alone win this game. Barring a quick start by the visitors and some unforeseen turnovers, it looks a lot like a Saints' rout.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 30, Colts 13
10/20 19:25:47 ET