NFL Picks for Super Bowl XLI
by John Canton(NFL)
Posted on February 3, 2007, 10:14 AM
John: Whattup. It's Super Bowl time finally. Seems like it took forever to get here, eh? I've really gotten tired of all the talk for the game. I do it every year. I can't help it. I love football too much to not watch ridiculous events like media day or read article after article about every little thing that might impact the game. Not to mention the people who you see in your everyday life who never talk to you about football, yet suddenly they are because they're going to watch this one game. That's fun. Then there are those people who watch for the commercials. Hey, good for them. Just don't tell me the game sucks. This game has been good more often than not this decade and I think that trend is going to continue this year. I'm going into this game without much bias. I bet on the Colts to cover and I want Peyton Manning to win the game not just for him, but for the annoying media that always hound the guy for reasons that confuse me (more on that later). I'm a fan of the NFL. I just want a good game. Then again, if it's a blowout I'll probably find a way to enjoy it as well. I hope you do too, no matter what kind of game it is.
drq: Finally, the end of the 2006 NFL season is upon us. There's just one more game left on the schedule (well... one more game that matters...) and then it's a painful return to the off-season, where hopes are gradually renewed around the nation and every fan is stuck thinking the same thing - how long until we can kick off the 2007 season? It really is the most difficult off-season in sports, not just because of its longevity but because of... well, mostly the longevity. The season still feels like it's only just begun, and already we're previewing the freaking Super Bowl.
The media has already covered almost every facet of this game, not to mention more than a few facets of the off-field festivities, so it's going to be difficult to maintain a fresh viewpoint amidst so many other voices. I mean, who can concentrate on the X's and O's when it's been revealed that Adam Vinatieri knows the words to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and that Tank Johnson doesn't think too highly of people asking him about his recent run-in with the long arm of the law? Nevermind the ethnicity of the head coaches or the status of Peyton Manning's thumb, both of which I'm sure we'll be reminded of countless times over the course of the next three days. It's hard for even a dedicated fan to pay attention to the matter at hand with this kind of a media frenzy surrounding them, so I can't even begin to understand what the players themselves must be going through.
Note: Brett Berliner's pick will be edited in soon.
Last Week: Brett Berliner: 0-2
John Canton: 0-2
Playoffs: drqshadow: 7-3
John Canton: 5-5
Brett Berliner: 4-6
Looks like the man from the dark shadows has come back strong in the playoffs after finishing last in the regular season. Just like his Colts have come on strong. Meanwhile John's average like his Rams and Brett's in last just like his Browns. Funny how we reflect our teams, huh?
Chicago vs. Indianapolis - 6:25pm drq: This really is an intriguing matchup, on several fronts. Both were teams that looked impressive last year, only to find themselves bounced out of the playoffs at home in the divisional round. Both started this season on a magnificent tear, and then faltered late in the year. Both teams have definitive strengths and weaknesses, with Indy's top-level offense and maligned defense meeting Chicago's top-level defense and maligned offense. Both teams, however, have big time playmakers on both sides of the ball. When they're on, those guys can take ownership of a game and single-handedly compensate for any missteps their peers might take. When they're off, it can get ugly fast - take a look at Indy's defensive showing against Jacksonville, or Rex Grossman's second game against Green Bay.
Of the two, the Colts are the healthier team, but that's not to say they've gone injury-free by any stretch of the imagination. The Bears really, really miss Mike Brown on defense, and haven't been the same team since he went down. The Colts, meanwhile, have struggled with the losses of Montae Reagor and Corey Simon, the latter of which didn't play a down this season. Both seem to have adjusted to life without their bigger defensive names, and have looked fairly impressive throughout the playoffs. The Bears showed that they can contain an explosive offense two weeks ago, as they shut down New Orleans' top-ranked offensive unit and forced Drew Brees into a few uncharacteristic mistakes. If they can play with that kind of hustle and concentration against Peyton Manning, he's sure to make a few bad decisions of his own.
There's no questioning that Chicago is the much stronger defense, but the Grossman-led offense is exactly the kind of team Indy's D plays their best opposite. If they can get inside the battled QB's head early with a few pressures and some batted balls, it could throw him off for the rest of the night. Grossman's mistakes seem to magnify when he's struggling, while the Colts defense comes together and excels when they smell blood. If you see Rex hurl an early interception or take a sack or two on their opening drive, it might be an early indication of what's to come.
Of course, the most interesting match-up is between the Indianapolis offense and the Chicago defense. Or, more specifically, between Brian Urlacher and Peyton Manning. Fortunately for the Colts, Urlacher can't be anywhere and they have a large assortment of weapons. Unfortunately for the Colts, the Bears aren't exactly shallow ANYWHERE on their defensive depth charts. If Urlacher can take Dallas Clark away early, erasing Manning's safety valve, panic may set in and you might see a few of those explosive Bear blitzes take their toll. As a whole, I think the Colts' offense is stronger than the Bears' defense. In practice, however, everything can change in an instant. If Peyton throws an INT or miscommunicates with a receiver on a surefire TD, the immediate pressure to compensate could completely take the Indy train off of its tracks.
Finally, probably the most easily-overlooked area in which this game could be decided is in the play of each squad's special teams. Indianapolis has been terrible on their coverage this season, and anyone within earshot of a television knows what Devin Hester is capable of. If I'm on the Colts' bench, I'm praying to god Adam Vinatieri kicks a touchback or two. On the other hand Terrence Wilkins, Indy's return man, has had a very good season of his own. He's routinely setting the Colts up at their own 40 yard line to start drives, but he has a nasty habit of fumbling the ball away in important situations. That's the kind of thing that can lose you a Super Bowl, and it's a flaw he shares with backup RB Dominic Rhodes. If either of these guys puts the ball on the ground against this fumble-hungry Bears D, the repercussions could be immediate and disastrous.
If I were a betting man, I'd be tempted to take the Bears and the seven points. Despite their performance in the post-season, in my heart I know that this Colts defense isn't an elite unit. If the momentum finds itself behind Chicago for any extended period of time, they could score some points in a real hurry. Whether that means catching up to an Indy lead or padding out a Chicago advantage... well, that doesn't matter as far as the bookies are concerned. Ultimately, though, I think the difference is Indianapolis's poise and level-headedness. They finally came through in the clutch in the AFC Championship game, and looked extremely comfortable in doing so. If they can maintain that businesslike demeanor on the grandest stage of them all, I don't think any team in the league can stop them. I believe that they can and will dominate the pace, direction and result of this game. I think Chicago's defense is softer than it lets on, Indy's offense is at full strength, and the Bears won't even be within two touchdowns by the time the final gun sounds. Colts convincingly, from start to finish. Indianapolis: 35 - Chicago: 20
John: Colts 30, Bears 20. Done. What, you want more? Fine. Want to know the one thing that's going to decide the outcome of this game? Turnovers. It's always about the turnovers. That's the one stat above everything else that usually matters the most. If the turnover battle is even then the game is close as long as both teams are good, which in this case they are.
The reason I'm going with the Colts is because they've been more impressive all season than the Bears have. The AFC is the superior conference. We all know that. The fact that the Colts had to come back from a 21-3 deficit to the Pats shows that they have the resolve to score on anybody at any time. Sure, the Bears looked impressive especially in the second half against the Saints, but to me neither of those teams are better than the four best teams in the AFC. Of course this is just one game, so anything can happen. If these teams played ten times I'd think the Colts win eight of those games. However, it's just one game, so that's all that matters and that's all that the Bears should be thinking about.
I think the Peyton Manning "can't win the big one" thing is the most overblown story in sports right now. People have short memories, I guess. John Elway had to play 13 years before he ever won anything. It was never because of him. He was always great and always consistent, just as Manning is. The difference between Elway winning in '97 rather than the three times in the '80s was his running back and more importantly his defense. That's why the Colts are here this year. Their defense is better than they have been in all of his other seasons. Are they great? Hell no. They're good enough to beat this Bears team, I think.
I think the best way for the Colts to win is to balance the offense. If Manning throws it 40 times they're in trouble. If he throws it 25 times then they're probably going to run it with Addai and Rhodes 30 times, which is what they need to do. I know they like the fast pace, but you can't risk turning it over by forcing passes down the field. I doubt the Bears will allow anything deep. Take what they give you, which is probably going to be runs and short passes. If you turn it over against the Bears they'll make you pay. For the Bears I think they have to play the same kind of offense they've been playing all year. Run the ball, and then take your chances deep when the opportunities present themselves. If Devin Hester can make some special teams plays then that's for the better too. You can't rely on that, though. Defense and special teams are important, but they're going to need Jones and Benson to run the ball very well and for Grossman to limit his mistakes while making nice throws down the field. Don't change what has worked for you. You can't overthink it.
Here's how I think it plays out. I think the Colts score a TD on their first drive, the Bears stall on their first drive, then Indy comes back with a field goal to go up something like 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Bears are slow starters, though, so I see them coming back strong in the second quarter. By halftime I think it'll be something like 17-13 or so. I think in the second half the game will become more defensive with each side stopping the other one. The fourth quarter should provide some scoring, but I don't see the Bears ever getting the lead in the game. The Colts will shoot out of the gate right away with the lead and keep it the entire time. MVP? Peyton Manning. Of course. I doubt he throws for 400. He'll do enough to get the win. Just like he's always done. It's just that now he'll get that monkey off his back. Indianapolis 30 - Chicago 20
Thanks for reading our NFL picks columns throughout the season. We will see you next season most likely for the second year of our picks here at the Sports Oratory. Now if you'll excuse us we'll be crying as we wait eight months for the next NFL game that counts. Pass us a tissue.
Drqshadow - firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett Berliner - email@example.com
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org