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Who will own Super Bowl XLIV?

The long NFL season that began last summer has but one game yet to be played. That final act will take place in Miami on February 7 when Super Bowl XLIV kicks off late that Sunday afternoon.

And while the two participants have now been determined there remains one question that needs to be answered in order for the winner of that game to be proclaimed.

Where is Vanna White when you need her?

You may be asking “What has Ms. White got to do with this season’s Super Bowl?”

Well, practically everything in terms of crowning the winner.

After all, Ms White is the purveyor of vowels on the long running game show “Wheel of Fortune.” Thus she may need to be called upon to provide the missing vowel, either an “A”” or an “E.”

White’s services will be needed because Sun Life Stadium shall either be ““Peyton’s Place” if the Indianapolis Colts are victorious or “Payton’s Place” if the New Orleans Saints pull the upset.

QB Peyton Manning has been the key to the Colts success for much of this past decade.

Coach Sean Payton is the architect behind New Orleans’ league leading offense this past season.

Will Super Bowl XLIV indeed be a soap opera filled with twists and turns, highs and lows, ebbs and flows?

Or will the NFL’s final showcase be a wire to wire affair with the winner clearly stamping itself as the team to remember from the 2009 season.

Both the Saints and Colts were the top seeds in their Conferences entering the post season and for the first time in 16 seasons the top seeds both advanced to the Super Bowl.

That alone should show you just how hard it has been for form to hold up throughout the NFL Playoffs. Since the NFL increased the Playoffs from 10 to 12 teams in 1990, this is only the third time that both No. 1 seeds have made it to the big game. Of the 19 Super Bowls since that change only three times has at least one No. 1 seed not made the Super Bowl, including last season when Pittsburgh, the No. 2 AFC seed defeated the NFC No. 4 seed, Arizona.

Prior to last season there had been four straight Super Bowls in which the lone No. 1 seed involved actually was the team that lost. Three of those four top seeds were NFC teams, including Chicago which lost to the Colts in SB XLI. The lone AFC top seed to lose in this period was the 2007 New England Patriots who lost to the New York Giants, the NFC’s No. 5 seed.

The last No. 1 seed from either conference to win a Super Bowl was the 2003 Patriots who defeated Carolina in SB XXXVIII. That marked the only time in nine Super Bowls that a No. 1 seed won. During this nine-year stretch, seven Super Bowl losers were No. 1 seeds.

Of course, that will end this season as a top seed will both win and lose Super Bowl XLIV.

After impressive wins in the Divisional round of the Playoffs both Indianapolis and New Orleans struggled to win the Conference Championship games.

First, Indianapolis spotted the upstart New York Jets a 17-13 halftime lead before shutting out the Jets 17-0 in the second half to win 30-17, defeating the league’s top ranked defense and outrushing the league’s top ranked rushing offense.

A few hours later, New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley kicked the game winning field goal nearly five minutes into overtime to send the Saints to Miami. Although entertaining and dramatic the NFC Championship game was a sloppy contest with a total of six turnovers, five by the Vikings. Credit is given to the Saints for making the plays needed to prevail but the Saints should be concerned that they needed overtime to win a game in which they were plus-four in turnovers during regulation.

The Colts were more dominant in their win over the Jets with only a poor second quarter -- in which the Jets scored all 17 of their points -- marring an otherwise solid effort.

Perhaps as a result of what was witnessed on Sunday the Colts opened up as 3 ½-point favorites over the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. The Total opened up at 56.

Within a few hours Sunday evening the line had climbed to as high as 5 ½ at the Las Vegas Hilton but was only 4 ½ at most other Las Vegas and offshore sportsbooks. The total remained steady at 56.

In next week’s column a selection for both the side and total shall be dispensed along with a look at some of the many numerous proposition bets, or “props,” that will be available in varying amounts at virtually every sports book in the state.

For now, here are some more general facts and observations about the Super Bowl.

Under the current Playoff format there have been 19 previous Super Bowls and the winning team has also covered the pointspread in 13 of those wins, with 4 ATS losses and a pair of pointspread pushes. Interestingly, three of the four games in which the Super Bowl winner lost to the spread have occurred over just the past six Super Bowls, including last season when Pittsburgh defeated Arizona 27-23 but failed to cover as a 6 ½-point favorite.

Although last season’s Super Bowl went ‘over’ the total, the prior editions each stayed ‘under.’ Each of the past five Super Bowls has totaled 50 or fewer points including two games that produced just 31 total points. Of the last 19 Super Bowls only five would have gone ‘over’ the current game’s total of 56 with three of those being in the early 1990s. One game (SB XXX!) produced exactly 56 total points.

The favored team has won 14 of the last 19 Super Bowls. To be fair, however, only three times has the favored team been less than a six-point choice. In seven of these games there has been a double digit favorite and each of the last four double-digit underdogs has won outright, the most recent having been the 2007 Giants who ended New England’s quest of 19-0.

Here are two more indications of the parity (some would say unpredictability) that has developed in recent seasons.

In each of the past six Super Bowls the team with the better regular season record has failed to cover the spread, with three of those teams losing outright. You have to go back to Super Bowl XXXVII when Tampa Bay defeated Oakland to find a team with the better record hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy and also rewarding their backers at the betting windows.

And the old adage that avoiding turnovers is vital to victory has been challenged in recent seasons as three of the last six Super Bowl winners lost the turnover battle in the big game with one game producing an equal number of miscues. Yet in Super Bowls XXV through XXXVII the team committing fewer turnovers won nine times and in four games the turnovers were equal.

So enjoy the buildup to the “Big Game.” Coverage will be virtually non-stop and many angles will be explored, some of which may actually have a bearing on the game itself.

Certainly the matchup of the Colts and the Saints has the potential for a wide open and entertaining game. But that’s been true of many other Super Bowl matchups over the years and only a handful of such games have unfolded.

Will this year’s matchup live up to billing? Or will factors other than the obvious play critical roles in deciding the outcome?

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