Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl XLI Preview

Super Bowl XLI
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) vs. Chicago Bears (13-3)
Miami, Florida; Dolphin Stadium
Line: IND -7

The time has come. This is the best day and the worst day of the year for us football fans.

The best because after a lengthy preseason beginning in August, through an exciting and surprising 17 week regular season followed by a fast & furious postseason, the NFL has reached its pinnacle, its premiere game, its showcase, centerpiece and final destination.

The worst because after tonight it will be another 7 months before we will see meaningful football again. For some, that is a reason to cry; for others, a reason to rejoice. But let's leave the wives out of this post.

And let me tell you after 2 weeks of dull, repetitive coverage of these two milquetoast teams, where the most exciting thing that happened was former Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan getting arrested at the Miami airport Friday for passing bad checks in Nevada (yawn), I can safely say that yes, I am ready for some football. Even if it is between 2 teams I could care less about.

That brings me to my Super Bowl preview.

The Bears are going to win.

I was going to leave it at that, but it made for a pretty dull post. So I thought I'd better back up my prediction with some reasons.


5- Peyton Manning & Marvin Harrison
Together these two are truly Regular Season Wonders, hooking up for the most completions and touchdowns by a quarterback/receiver combo ever. But in the playoffs these guys just can't seem to get it together.

Harrison especially has found the going much tougher when the games matter the most; he has only 55 catches and 2 touchdowns in 3 career playoff games. Manning has fared better this year as far as wins go, but he is still a subpar 72-115 (63%) with just 2 touchdowns and 6 picks this postseason. Coming into this season, Manning's career playoff record was 3-6. Not stellar stuff from the two most important guys on the team. Could they have a monkey-shedding coming out party Sunday night? Absolutely! I just don't think they will.

Of course, now that I've said that you can bank on them lighting it up, Manning will probably throw for 400 yards and 4 TDs while Harrison rakes in 10 grabs for 150 yards with 3 scores and they'll share the MVP trophy & head off to Disney together.

4- Tony Dungy
Let me start off by saying Tony Dungy is a great man and a great leader of men, and I respect his character, integrity and attitude.The man just can't win the Big One.Which is the reason why the Glazers jettisoned him out of Tampa and hired hot shot Chucky Gruden to steer Dungy's steeds towards Super Bowl glory.

Everyone on the planet knows that Buccaneer team that won it all in 2003 was built on the foundation that Tony laid, along with Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, and the rest of that staff. Trouble was Tony couldn't get the team over the hump, and he finds himself in that position again in Indianapolis. Here he is on the brink of his biggest game ever, yet the man cannot relax because he has to know that if he doesn't get it done here he may wear that unattractive label the rest of his career and life. And wouldn't it be something if it is Tony's former protege who denies him his ultimate shot at glory.

3- RB Joseph Addai
1,081 yards and 7 touchdowns in the regular season, 217 yards and two more scores in 3 postseason games, including the memorable game-winner against the Pats in the AFC title game (god it hurts to write that phrase.) Kid's good, alright. But the key is he's just a kid, a rookie, and we know how most rookies fare in big games. Especially when they are going up against a good defense like the Bears, which ranked 6th against the run in the regular season and held the Saints to a mere 56 yards on the ground in the NFC Championship game.

And a closer look at Addai's playoff totals shows that he gained 122 of those 217 yards in the Wild Card game against the Chiefs, a team ranked 18th against the run in the regular season. In the other two games, he gained 39 (vs BAL) and 56 (vs NE) yards. My guess is his totals are going to resemble those numbers rather than the Chiefs' total. So, the Colts running attack should be nullified.

2-The Curse of Adam Vinateri
The Sports Guy put it best when he said it made him sick to see Vinateri at media day wearing a Colts jersey while talking about the biggest game in the sport. It's just not right, like seeing Britney wear panties or a city overreact to a bunch of Lite Brites.

I mean this guy is a New England legend, a man who won more games for the Pats during their dynastic run than Brady and was nearly as popular as Tom Terrific around the Commonwealth. He is one of the greatest kickers of all-time and probably is the greatest postseason kicker of all time.

He's automatic. He's money. He's a bleeping Colt!

If there is a Football God, hopefully, he will make sure justice is served when and if Vinateri lines up for any potential game-altering kick. Because if the Patriot Nation has to witness that man make a Super Bowl-winning kick for that team, well there's not enough anti-depressants in the country to get everyone down from the Zakim Bridge.

1- Relocated team= bad karma
Don't think the football gods have forgotten the fact that Indy is a carpetbagging team that stole out of Baltimore in the dead of night back in 1982 and relocated to America's heartland. Although the Rams escaped the Relocation Jinx back in 2000, the Gods (and Vinateri) caught up with them in 2002.


5- Rex Grossman
Sure the questionable quarterback is as unstable as Junior Soprano and about as predictable as an M. Knight Shamalayan film, but there is one thing he has got in his favor going into the biggest game of his life:

2006-'07 is officially the Year of the Gator.

As much as I hate to admit that those smug, pompous, Poupon sniffers are on top of the sports world right now, it is indeed an inconvenient truth. The hoop team won it all last April, and after the everyone returned, they are poised for a possible repeat; the football team, well the memory of them, whipping mighty Ohio State into submission less than 4 weeks ago is still fresh in everyone's memory, and former players like Reche Caldwell, Jabbar Gaffney and Bear Alex Brown had terrific seasons, further enhancing the gaudy orange & blue aura surrounding the league right now.

Then again, as we all know, Gators are prone to choke at any moment (see Caldwell's two wide- open drops in the AFC Championship game- sorry, still not over it.)

4- Brian Urlacher
The fearsome linebacker for the Bears is the single most dangerous player that will be on that field come Sunday night. He is a one-man wrecking crew, who roams the entire field looking for people to put a hurt on, and his drive & will to win can single-handedly propel the Bears to victory.

He could have a Ray Lewis-like impact in this game. If you remember, RayRay came into Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV sporting a nasty snarl, a (alleged) murder rap, and a chip on his shoulder; then went out and willed his team to victory over the Giants and captured the MVP trophy.

Urlacher has the ability, and most of all the desire, to echo that performance. Minus the murder rap.

3-WR Bernard Berrian, RB Thomas Jones & KR Devin Hester
Everyone talks about the "skill" players for Indy- Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Clark- but the Bears have a trio of devastating weapons that are all capable of changing the flow and outcome of a game.

Berrian is a devastating deep threat who led the league in plays of 20 yards or more this season and leads the Bears in receiving this postseason. He averages over 15 YPC and has had long catches of 62, 49 and 68 yards this season. If he can get behind Indy's banged up secondary (S Nick Harper is questionable with an ankle injury), look for big gains for the Bears, shortening the field for...

...Jones, who has battled for the starting tailback spot all year with Cedric Just Gimme the Night Benson but refuses to give it up with strong running and clock-eating ball carrying abilities.

Jones had a decent regular season (1,210 yards, 6TDs) but has taken it to another level in the playoffs, putting the team on his back with 189 yards & 4 TDs in 2 games, including a solo effort soul-crushing 69-yard drive that knocked the hope out of the Saints in the NFC Championship game. Get him the ball and let his powerful legs do the rest, then mix in the elusive Benson for a devastating 1-2 punch.

Hester was the talk of the league when he returned his 6th kick for a touchdown back in November but tailed off considerably since then. With entire special teams units driven to wipe him out on every play and/or kickers kicking away from him, Hester got into a rut of trying to run before catching the ball, leading to numerous muffs down the stretch and no more TDs.

But a game like this is a perfect place for a player like Hester to make his mark. Special teams play is often huge in the Super Bowl and if my Vinateri hex works, then this is the guy I would pick to have a breakthrough play.

Hey, if Desmond Howard can win the MVP, why not Hester?

2- Everybody is picking Indy
That alone is reason enough to go opposite and take the Bears. Whenever everyone is picking one team that is always a sign to go the other way, because 'everybody' is almost never right (right, Gators?)

Besides who doesn't love an underdog?

1- The Power of Chicago Bob
When Lovie Smith was hired to take over my good friend Bob's Bears team 3 years ago, I told him that it was a good hire, that he would get the team back to focusing on defense like the great Chicago teams of old, and that he would turn the team around within a short period of time. Bob seemed hopeful yet doubtful, but he could see the improvement from 5-11 to 11-5 and then 13-3 this season and a Super Bowl appearance.

Unfortunately, Bob did not make it to see the Bears great run this year, as he passed away due to complications from a brain tumor last July. His wife Barb firmly believes that Bob has been guiding this Bears team from above, probably while hanging out at Heaven's version of Buffalo City, throwing back a few cold buds with Papa Bear, Sweetness, and the Big Guy himself. And you can be sure he's got a load of cash on the game, too.

If there is such a thing as karma, fate, kismet and shit like that, then the Bears will win this game if for no other reason than that's what our friend Chicago Bob would have wanted them to.
And that's plenty good enough for me.

Go Bears.

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