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- The Colts aren't the huge favourites they're touted to be.

Ian Hetherington January 31, 2007
Ian Hetherington
NFL Columnist

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Pre-game advantage
First off I’m going to look over what each team’s backers would say their advantages going into this game are (rather than my own opinion just yet).

- They’re playing against Rex Grossman, who isn’t gonna be beating a Super Bowl-quality team any time soon.

- They’ve got Peyton Manning, and finally, finally he’s getting some playoff wins under his belt. It’s obviously a sign that he’s ready for the big one at long last.

-The defence, so shoddy all season, has (last week’s game against the Patriots aside) started looking like the defence of a top level NFL team, just in time for the playoffs and to stop the Patriots trampling them. Allowing…

- …the Colts offence to produce the biggest come-back in the history of the playoffs. Against New England. Against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the ultimate playoff men. Surely this is just another sign that Indy are finally ready to go the distance?

Chicago Bears
- Peyton Manning might have got the New England monkey off his back, but this is just another huge stage that’s a first time for him, and he does have a history of choking after all. And what’s more…

- He’s against the Bears defence. He’s a famed “choker” and he’s against probably the scariest defence in the league. The boy Peyton is going down.

- Speaking of the Bears defence, have you heard they can stop absolutely anybody they want to on any given day of any given week of the year? That’s right! Even if they can’t stop Manning, they’ll most probably stop the rest of the offence anyway, leaving Grossman (who’s a perfectly serviceable QB by the way!) and Co. to mop up the dregs and take the game.

- One of the biggest weapons that Chicago have had recently is sending Jones to run down the throat of the defence. The thing that’s caused Indy so many problems for much of the season.

Indianapolis – 8.5 Chicago – 8

What more motivation do they need than it being in the Super Bowl? Well, if you’re looking for it here are a few reasons why they might be that extra bit psyched up about this game.

Indianapolis Colts
First up, the word “choker” is a tag that’s going to bug any sportsman. They’d rather think that at that point in time they simply weren’t good enough. You can get better after all, get stronger, practice and all that stuff. But if your mentality is that of a “choker” is that something you can overcome or are you stuck with that forever? I don’t know, but most fans and journalists probably had the C-word underlined as Indianapolis crumbled against the Patriots, but they won’t want to tarnish the memory of that record breaking fight-back against the Pats by fluffing their lines in the biggest game of the season. Also, for a team with possibly the most potent offence in the league, how can matching up against one of the NFL’s best defences not seem like an enticing challenge. Not least when they’ve already got by the road-block that Baltimore tried to erect in front of them. Having spent a few years being fantastic in the off-season (not so much in 2006, interestingly) it’s time the Colts finally came good, and they’d be devastated if they passed up their chance here.

Chicago Bears
If this team hasn’t been looking motivated enough (even when they’re not playing at their best) then they certainly should be now that many sports journalists, pundits and neutral fans seem willing to hand the win to Indy right now. Chicago are a team if ever there was one that wants to prove that “defence wins championships.” Love Smith has had this group of players fighting and scraping and battling for results both when they were winning strongly and when the chips were down, and getting this far will be motivation in itself for the Bears. Not least because while they might be facing the Colts, they have somewhat of a history in recent times of capitulating themselves, with a tendency to do terribly in the regular season or have a “Championship-and-Bust” post-season.

Indianapolis – 10> Chicago – 10

Indianapolis Colts
It’s a peculiar scenario in Indy this year. Normally Tony Dungy has the Colts purring from the off and they glide through the majority of the regular season like a dream come true, only to fall apart and look like the proverbial rabbits caught in the headlights for the playoffs. This year they’ve had a lot of much closer games, some impressive come-backs and a few truly surprising defeats. And yet, here they are. In the Super Bowl. Having seen off two very tough teams. And Kansas. What to make of this? Well I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps Dungy has instilled a stronger winning mentality, maybe he’s got them thinking they don’t have a God-given right to score touchdowns. Or maybe the Colts have just had more luck on their side this year than previous excursions into the off-season. I don’t know, but I guess he’s finally got them here and that’s what matters. Him and the coaching team have even got the defence going, which is fairly impressive after the season they had, and while the offence is less spectacular this year, it’s functioning better in tight games than it has previously.

Chicago Bears
Lovie Smith has got this team working to it’s strengths, but sometimes it seems they’re not too worried about polishing up their weaknesses. I don’t know, maybe this is an intentional image they’re projecting to lull teams into a false sense of security. Whatever the scenario, the defence is looking as lean and mean as ever, the special teams are doing their job just fine, but the offence is still sputtering and coughing, and they look more likely to disintegrate than tear Indy apart. By a country mile. You get the feeling that if Indy throw bodies in and around the line of scrimmage to stop the Bears using Jones like they have in recent games that they might run out of ideas. Only one way to find out, I guess. I just don’t feel that Smith has crafted as good an overall package as his Super Bowl counterpart.

Indianapolis – 9 Chicago – 8

Indianapolis Colts
Say what you like about the Colts. Whether you want to word it as having got the monkey off their back, casting out the demons or whatever similar terminology you may choose. Fact is, until they win the Super Bowl there’s always gonna be a little thought sitting in the back of your mind that it could all go horribly, horribly wrong. In fact, if you’re a Colts fan you may be a proponent of Murphy’s Law now and be convinced that whatever can go wrong will go wrong to see them miss out once more. I think though that whether it’s how they’re actually feeling, Dungy and Manning will try to make sure all the players are thinking that they think they’re more than ready, and if that helps them get off to a good start then it could turn into the real thing. Confidence is growing, but I’d find it hard to believe that there isn’t any element of doubt, and as I’m talking about psyche more than confidence here, it’s hard to judge just what exactly is the attitude in Indianapolis. Publicly: “We’re on our way, at last.” Privately, in the minds of the players? Hard to say.

Chicago Bears
The Bears always seem to project a mentality of “Us against the world,” and their fans wouldn’t have it any other way. With the amount of people saying they can’t win the big game this Sunday (which is foolhardy) it’s looking to be a fully justified, too. And it’s this that took them to a bye in the NFC side of the playoffs. Admittedly, their NFC rivals were for the most part uninspiring this season, but they’ve had some rough games against plucky opposition where steely determination has got them through more than technique. Lovie Smith has the team believing that the way they can play, opponents can’t stop them playing and winning, it’s entirely in their hands. That they won’t drop the ball at this late stage.

Indianapolis – 7.5 Chicago – 9

Indianapolis Colts
This is a key difference between psyche and confidence for Indy. While underlying issues may scupper things when it comes to the big game, on the face of things, in current form and current mood in the Indianapolis camp will be buoyant. Big wins, big performances, and proof that they can display a never-say-die attitude should have helped make up for what seemed like mid-season jitters at Indianapolis this year. They’ve started to believe they can stop people, and thanks to that win over New England, they now believe they can rack up yards and points against even the biggest playoff performers. Having Vinatieri in the team for those clutch kicks will be a boost too.

Chicago Bears
As angry as they may be (or as angry as they may be making themselves for the purposes of getting psyched up) about the way some areas of the media have talked about them since they got to the Super Bowl, one thing the Bears –as a unit- haven’t really lacked this year is confidence. Yeah, okay, so sometimes individual players have had a shaky game and at times the offence has looked like it either couldn’t do anything or thought it couldn’t. But they trust the defence to cover their backs, and the defence itself thrives on that workload to put in some hugely impressive days at the office. The locker room will be just fine before the Super Bowl as Lovie Smith will strive for the players to maintain that trust in one another, and it’s this that may give Chicago an edge when it comes down to it. It’s crucial that the defensive players maintain the wall of solidarity with its sometimes floundering offence, refusing to criticise and saying that they’ll fulfil their half of the bargain.

Indianapolis – 9 Chicago – 9.5

Indianapolis Colts
The Colts now have two aspects to their game. With Peyton Manning having the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to aim for the passing game is pretty much set. The running game isn’t particularly missing Edgerrin James as Dominic Rhodes has been complemented by rookie Joseph Addai and the two have formed a fairly potent tandem. They’ve even added the ultimate big-game kicker to their ranks. But more importantly, as I mentioned earlier, the Colts have started scrapping for points when they can’t really open up the engine on offence. So working on the assumption that what is probably the best offence in the league still gets slowed down by the Bears, they’ve got more hope now of stealing points than they would have had in years gone by. A team who can kill you with huge plays and can doggedly churn through the downs with shorter yardage until they get within scoring distance is a dangerous team to play.

Chicago Bears
The Bears offence might have put up 39 points against the Saints, but put that into perspective and you still tend to think, “Thank God –for their sake- they have an excellent defence.” The Saints were tired, they were forced to expose themselves as they tried to decrease the deficit and Chicago slowly buried them with a pounding running game that made up for another faulty performance from Grossman. To match the Colts on this side of the ball, Jones and Benson need to have a stormer, and Grossman needs to at least stay mistake-free in terms of interceptions and fumbles and what-not (which is what he did against New Orleans in the Championship game.) It’s not gonna set the world alight, but if the defence is doing it’s best the Bears offence is serviceable.

Indianapolis – 9.5 Chicago – 6.5

For Indianapolis fans the defence has made this season a bit of a roller-coaster ride. The start of the season the Colts looked reasonably comfortable, they spent the middle to the end of the season having a pretty terrible season with people throwing run after run smack through the middle of the line. Then they inexplicably knuckled down to it and started being much more effective by the time the playoffs hit. The boost may have been helped by a poor performance from the Chiefs, but it helped them shut up Larry Johnson none the less. It helped them get a win in the field goal-fest against Baltimore, and it probably helped keep the Pats down to just a seemingly unassailable lead, rather than an actually unassailable one. They shouldn’t have such containment problems with the Bears defence, but they’re gonna need a game plan for Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson if the Saints game is anything to go by.

Now we’re talkin’. No real weaknesses, plenty of strengths, a deadly combination of power and precision, defensive touchdowns, sacks a-plenty, stuffing up the holes the offence might try and get through. Generally, just not very nice to play at all. There’s really not much to say about the Bears defence. These guys are very, very good at what they do.

Indianapolis – 6.5 (two games doesn’t give you a great D) Chicago – 9.5

Special Teams
In terms of kicking, there’s not much beating Adam Vinatieri. Of course, he isn’t infallible, but is there a kicker you’d rather have on your team in the Super Bowl? Of course there isn’t. As for the other areas, they have a reasonable return man in Terence Wilkins. He’s unlike to do what Devin Hester (see below) was doing to teams, but he’s a safe enough pair of hands, and Hunter Smith completes the mostly safe-but-not-exciting special teams line-up at Punter. As for the defensive side of special teams, the Colts numbers in the season just weren’t that great, not a patch on the bears.

He’s hardly Adam Vinatieri, but Robbie Gould is a good kicker who’s had a good season with 30/36 field goals successfully converted. What might make the big difference though in a game like the Super Bowl where the ability to make big plays is often vital, is that he hasn’t attempted a 50+ yards field goal. Don’t got me wrong, Vinatieri has tried one and missed it, but we know he can kick those kind of distances in the Super Bowl pressure cooker. Elsewhere, Devin Hester may have quietened down a little in the latter stages of the season since his flurry of touchdown returns, but he’s still a big threat along with the adept Rasheed Davis (the main kick-off return man) and the rest of the special teams on-field personnel have helped this be so, as they’re very well drilled for these situations.

Indianapolis – 8.5 Chicago – 9

Big plays
Peyton Manning can almost make big plays to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne with his eyes closed at times, and Joseph Addai has proven himself an explosive addition to the offence. Even if the Colts are getting better at taking bits and pieces of yards to scrape a first down, the fact that at any given moment they might burst through your line or chuck a ball way over the back of your frantically back-pedalling defensive backs. Defensively though, they’re not a team that’s especially going to make you fear for your life every time you get your hands on the ball. There’s a few guys who’ve piled up the sacks, and they have a healthy number of interceptions, but even since their post-season defensive revival, it’s been a lot more about toughness and stuffing the holes at times than making huge plays.

Basically you can see what I said about Indy and turn it on it’s head. The Bears forced turnovers, throw themselves all over the ball if the opposition cough it up and they’ll get at the quarterback with bad things in mind. Whether they can do it to Peyton Manning –usually the calmest of quarterbacks in the face of a nasty pass rush- remains to be seen, but they’re pretty good usually so Archie’s Boy will need to watch out for it. On offence the Bears can pull something from their sleeve in both the running and passing games, but usually it’s when they’ve worn the opposition down. They do it with force, as opposed to Indy doing it through guile and pure, unbeatable flashes of ability. I think the Bears probably have more of an overall big play threat, more balanced throughout the whole of their squad, whereas Indy is more concentrated on offence and (now) their kicker.

Indianapolis – 8 Chicago – 8

Team Leader
Peyton Manning is the leader of this team. He’s the archetype. Big strong boy, exudes calm and confidence, barking orders on the field, star quarterback. He leads by example, though this is perhaps what’s caused the team falling apart at crucial times in the past. If it is to be assumed that it has been Manning who’s been failing when he gets to the biggest games, this will naturally have a hugely detrimental effect on the team’s performance when it happens. Still, looking good so far, Peyton is getting the job done more at the times when the opposition aren’t allowing him to be spectacular.

Brian Urlacher is the key man here. He marshalls his defence like your typical on-field general, commanding respect but earning it as well, and they’ll need him as they head into their biggest challenge yet. He’s mastered a fine combo of technical ability with physicality as you’d hope for from a line-backer. What makes him the player he is though is that he’s got the mentality to drag other players up to his level and the smarts to cope with the wiliest of opposition and organise his team mates accordingly. He should thrive on the huge stage that awaits him.

Indianapolis – 10 Chicago – 10


Indianapolis – 86.5 Chicago – 87.5

Well then. This is where I go ahead and justify my system by picking the Bears. ‘Fraid not, and the reasons are threefold.

Firstly, I don’t know what I’m talking about nearly well enough for this to be too precise, so one point difference is negligible.

Secondly, I’ve often gone for a different prediction from what logic was telling me to this season for the “hunch” factor, and it go me something like a 161-94 (roughly) prediction record so I’m not going to abandon it now.

Thirdly, I had the Colts as my Super Bowl pick for about the first twelve weeks of the season and then shamefully abandoned them when their form stuttered and joined the Chargers’ bandwagon. Well, it’s time I start giving them credit again after having abandoned them as though they should have been perfect all year, and the time is now. So I’m afraid my pick for this is Indianapolis.

Don’t get me wrong, if I’d done this (I made a point of not thinking about previous scores for different areas when writing) and the Bears had a five or ten point lead I couldn’t have not picked them, but I’m afraid my pick has to be the Colts now that I’ve tried to think long and hard about it. I’m not saying it’s a definite by any stretch of the imagination though, don’t think I’m saying the Bears can’t win this, because I still believe them to be an incredibly dangerous team against any opposition.

Final Prediction
Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Champions 2007

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