At stake is more than a championship. At stake for one team is the culmination of its city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina. At stake for the other is a spot among the greatest teams in NFL history.
Let's start with the Colts. Oh, if only they hadn't tanked it late in their game against the Jets. They were breezing toward 15-0 when they inexplicably decided 14-0 was good enough.
What if they hadn't? What if the Colts were 18-0 heading into Sunday's game against the Saints and what if they won the Super Bowl and capped a perfect 19-0 season, the first team to ever win 19 games in a season?
The answer to that question is obvious: The court of public opinion would crown them the greatest team of all time. What a shame. Should they win on Sunday, I'd have to imagine that whoever ordered the late-game shutdown against the Jets would be consumed by regret.
I will, however, offer this olive branch to Colts fans. Though I have long badgered and abused your team, I will concede to its greatness, should it beat the Saints on Sunday.
This is the game that would define everything the Colts have accomplished over the past decade, which is to say more victories than any team in the NFL. That has to speak for something and it'll speak volumes should the Colts win Super Bowl number two in the Peyton Manning (pictured) era.
I'm sorry, but one won't do it for me. In my opinion, a team that has dominated as the Colts have must claim more than one championship in that run to have earned a place among the NFL's greatest teams. I'm talking about teams such as the 1960's Packers, '70's Steelers, '80's 49ers, '90 Cowboys and, of course, the Patriots of the decade we'll close on Sunday. None of those teams won fewer than three Super Bowl or league titles during their runs.
No, one won't do it. A lot of teams have one. The great ones have many. I'll only require two from the Colts, based on the regular-season dominance they've achieved.
The Saints, on the other hand, want just one. We're talking about a tortured franchise that didn't win a playoff game until the team was 33 years old.
All sentiment rides with the Saints. The fleur de lis on the sides of the Saints' helmets is the symbol of a modern-day crusade, the Gulf Coast region's crusade to rebuild and overcome the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
How is it that a city under water rallied around a football team to reclaim life and tell the world it will not become the new Atlantis? You saw the pictures: the flooding, the endless procession of fear and poverty filing into the Superdome, the horrific scenes of death and destruction. Two weeks ago, we saw a Superdome bursting with joy. What a story.
This Sunday in Miami, the Saints and their fans want to celebrate their recovery with a win that'll define their spirit and resilience. Had Hollywood created the story, we would've laughed at its ridiculousness. Only real life could create something this bizarre.
OK, let's get to the big question: Who wins?
I'm picking the Colts, but only because it's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine anybody beating Manning. That's how good he's been this season, especially in this postseason.
I struggled with this pick, however, because a part of me sees the Saints' story as too big for fate to deny. The more practical part of me also considers the impact of Dwight Freeney's ankle injury.
Colts 31, Saints 30.