New Orleans is always good for a party, as evidenced by the announcement that there will be a parade Tuesday in honor of the Saints.

Win or lose in today's Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

As tempting as it is to get behind the Saints and the perfect ending for the team that helped lift the spirits of an entire region, they'll have to be content hoisting a Hurricane or three for finishing in second place.

Other than pure, raw emotion, nothing that has taken place over the past month or so does anything to further the notion New Orleans can complete its feel-good story.

On the contrary, it looks like the Big Easy for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

So push aside the jambalaya, gumbo, oysters and assorted beverages long enough to jump to the following conclusions:

  • Manning is better than Drew Brees ... and it's not close.

    Manning and Brees had comparable stats in 2009. Once the playoffs began, Manning recovered from the New York Jets' early blitzing tactics and took them apart.

    Brees destroyed the defense-challenged Arizona Cardinals, but his performance against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game was exceptional in quarterback rating only.

    He missed open receivers and pass-catchers looked confused and appeared to have little confidence in what was coming their way. Even passes that were caught were bobbled, and TV analyst Troy Aikman wondered on the air if Brees was having problems with his throwing shoulder.


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    The Saints looked nothing like the smooth operating passing machine that dominated opponents through Week 12.

    On the other hand, Manning took on a Jets defense superior to the one he'll see today in Miami and tore it to shreds.

    Anyone who longs for the day where quarterbacks called their own plays and took control of the offense must love Manning.

    Brees is exceptional. Manning has more influence and dominance over the team he plays for than, well, ... anyone.

  • The Jets' tank job aside in Week 16, the Colts keep getting better.

    Indianapolis knows what it is. As much as Manning dominates everything, the organization as a whole functions as if its sole purpose is to win the next game on the schedule.

    Sounds ridiculous given the way Indianapolis gave up the chance to go unbeaten, but this is a team that has a very good sense of itself.

    Reasonable people can argue as to whether the Colts tarnished their legacy when they took Manning out of the regular-season game against the Jets and lost. There's no debate about how they're playing now.

  • Manning will be operating against a New Orleans defense that lives and dies by the turnover. That's how the Saints beat the Vikings, because they were outplayed by Minnesota in every way possible except for turnovers.

    As good as the Saints were this season, their dominance came with nine touchdowns without benefit of the offense — and that includes wide receiver Robert Meacham's 44-yard return of an interception strip against Washington in Week 13.

  • If it doesn't take the ball away — which is a problem against Manning — the Saints defense is average at best and below average at worst.

    When the regular season ended, New Orleans had surrendered 37 touchdowns. That's only marginally better than the Raiders, who gave up 41, and not as good as the 49ers, who gave up 28.

  • The Colts are more familiar with the Super Bowl routine, having played in Miami in their win over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI and even staying in the same hotel.

    If you've ever been to a Super Bowl, you understand how disruptive it is to normalcy, and few sports depend on routine quite like football.

  • As much as is made of coaching and play-calling, big games are won by teams that take what they learned during the week and demonstrate it on Sunday.

    True, Manning's pre-play histrionics make for good television as he directs receivers and changes plays. Except that's not nearly as big a deal as running bread-and-butter plays for first downs and touchdowns.

    "What happens before the snap is not as important as what happens post-snap," Manning said. "Just because we might change a signal or something doesn't have anything to do with the success of the play.

    "It's about how you block them, how you get the ball to the open receiver."

    No team executes as crisply as the Colts.

  • Even without Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis has a defense that has been overshadowed by Manning and Co.

    The Colts are the best team in the NFL at matching players to a scheme and have added periodic blitzing to a Cover 2 that lays in wait for teams that look to pile up first downs and completions before striking with a big play.

  • Colts 38, Saints 24.

    Contact Jerry McDonald at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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