Colts versus Saints: Pre-Super Bowl Statistical Comparison

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (Michael Conroy / AP file)

The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints were the best teams in their respective conferences this year. So for the first time in years, we get to see the top seeds meet in the Super Bowl. Earlier this year, we were wondering if two teams could possibly go 16-0 in the same year, just two years after the Patriots’ run of 2007. Prior to this season, the NFL had never seen two teams even 11-0 in the same season. This year, these teams reached 13-0 before the Saints fell in week 15 to the Cowboys, and, some believe, the Colts turned their backs on history by resting their starters in the second half of week 16 against the Jets. Regardless of how the final 2-3 weeks ended, both teams showed that they were the class of their conferences in playoffs.

In addition the post linked above, which compared the 11-0 Colts and Saints to the ’07 Patriots, I wrote this post after week 8 comparing the Colts and Saints. By then, they were last unbeaten teams in the NFL. Since both teams made it to Super Bowl XLIV, I thought it would be fun to the perform the same analysis on these teams using the full season of data.

As usual, my data came from Pro-Football-Reference.com. Below, we have three tables: the first shows raw data, the second shows each team’s league ranking, and the third shows the average ranking of their opponents. 

Let’s look at the first table with each team’s raw data side by side. To the right of the Colts’ column, there is a third column showing the difference between each team’s respective value by calculating the Saints’ value minus the Colts’ value. A positive number means the Saints value was higher, and a negative number means the opposite. 

Colts versus Saints Comparison
  Saints Colts Saints-Colts
Offense      
Pts/G 31.9 26 5.9
Yards/G 403.8 363.1 40.7
Yards/Play 6.3 5.9 0.4
Pass Yards/G 272.2 282.2 -10
Pass Att/G 34 37.56 -3.56
Pass Yds/Att 8.3 7.7 0.6
Pass INT/G 0.75 1.19 -0.44
Sacks/G 1.25 0.81 0.44
Rush Yards/G 131.6 80.9 50.7
Rush Att/G 29.25 22.88 6.38
Rush Yds/Att 4.5 3.5 1
TD/G 4 3.31 0.69
Defense      
Pts/G 21.3 19.2 2.1
Yards/G 357.8 339.2 18.6
Yards/Play 5.5 5 0.5
Pass Yards/G 235.6 212.7 22.9
Pass Att/G 35.88 36.44 -0.56
Pass Yds/Att 6.9 6.2 0.7
Pass INT/G 1.63 1 0.63
Sacks/G 2.19 2.13 0.06
Rush Yards/G 122.2 126.5 -4.3
Rush Att/G 27.19 29.19 -2
Rush Yds/Att 4.5 4.3 0.2
TD/G 2.31 1.94 0.38

In most cases there are not huge discrepancies. The biggest difference on either side of the ball is in the rushing game. The Saints average about 50 rushing yards per game more than the Colts. They also average a full yard per carry better than the Colts. But, in everything else, they are fairly even. I guess just on points, the overall edge goes to the Saints, slightly. They average almost scoring 6 more points per game than the Colts and allowing only 2 more points per game. The next table pretty much reflects these numbers.

Saints’ and Colts’ Rankings
  Saints Colts
Off Pts 1 7
Off Yds 1 9
Off Pass Yds 4 2
Off Rush Yds 6 32
Def Pts 20 8
Def Yds 25 18
Def Pass Yds 26 14
Def Rush Yds 21 24

The Saints lead the league in points scored and yards gained. The Colts were top ten in everything but rushing, where they were last. But defensively, the Colts rankings were better than the Saints, especially against the pass. Still, neither team was a defensive powerhouse. The Colts were number 8 in points allowed, but defenses like that often seem to have trouble keeping the best offenses out of the endzone (just an observation, I haven’t analyzed that in depth). So, it’s likely that this Super Bowl will be a high scoring affair.

Finally, let’s take a look at the teams’ average opponents’ rankings.

Average Opponents’ Rankings
  Saints Colts
Off Pts 19.13 17.56
Off Yds 18.38 16.06
Off Pass Yds 19.13 17.38
Off Rush Yds 14.5 14.94
Def Pts 17.44 17.25
Def Yds 16.94 17.44
Def Pass Yds 15 18.88
Def Rush Yds 18.38 15.44

Neither faced a significantly stronger schedule based on unit rankings than the other. On average, the Colts faced stronger offenses while the Saints faced stronger defenses (except against the rush).

In the end, as it always does, it will come down which team is more poised, which one makes fewer mistakes, and who executes better on individual plays. Just based on the conference championship games, I would give the edge to the Colts. Peyton Manning had his way with the top ranked defense in the league and really controlled the clock in the 4th quarter of that game. The Saints won in overtime against a Vikings team that turned it over 5 times. Peyton’s also been there before, so I would expect that he would have a psychological advantage over Drew Brees. Should be a great game, though!

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