Friday, February 2, 2007

Super Bowl XLI Preview

So many storylines surround this game, as noted earlier. I’ve been absorbing very little information as the game gets closer, opting to go more with a gut decision.

The fact that Indy is even here is a bit mind-boggling, given the performance of Peyton Manning thus far. Conventional wisdom dictated that this team could only go as far as its superstar QB could take them, but save for the second half against New England in the AFC Title game, he’s not even been as highly rated a QB as……wait for it……Rex Grossman! Tony Dungy’s defense has risen to the occasion in each game, perhaps getting sick and tired of hearing how bad it was heading into the tournament. Getting the Patriot monkey off their collective back would have to see Manning, Harrison, Dungy et al heading into the game with clear heads, ready to go out and just play football.

The Bears, on the other hand, are playing up the disrespect angle. Given that it was a forgone conclusion that whichever team won the NFC Championship would be the automatic underdog, this is an easy route to take. While the defense is not the dominant unit it was earlier in the season, it is still is a formidable bunch. Full of speedy ball hawks, it can give opposing offenses fits. Was anyone else surprised to see who the closest Bear defender was to Reggie Bush on the 88 yard catch-and-run play in the title game? Brian Urlacher, that’s who. The man outraced two DB’s to get within sniffing distance of perhaps the single most explosive player in the game. Unreal. Manning and Co. will always have to know where #54 is, and adjust accordingly. Additionally, running the ball on these guys will not be easy for Indy.

On the offensive side, Grossman has done exactly what has been expected – manage the game, don’t take crazy chances, limit turnovers and put the team in position to win. The offense hasn’t been flashy, but it has been effective. The key in the Super Bowl for either team will be getting the lead. Both teams play much better from ahead, as most teams do. The Colts pass rush becomes lethal in obvious passing situations, while Chicago seems to simply bury teams once it has the lead – check the Saints game for a perfect example.

Which team, then, gets the edge? Initially, I was all over the Colt bandwagon, with the whole monkey off the back angle. Lately I’ve been wavering back to the Bears, and it’s been like a tennis match in my head. The predictions:

The game will be unusually high scoring - Two teams with very little Super Bowl experience between them could be easily forced into mistakes, which will lead to quick points.

Special Teams will be a huge factor – the Indy units have been among the worst in the NFL, and Devin Hester is a weapon the likes of which the NFL has never seen before. How he got less press than Dante Hall in 2003 puzzles me – he had a much better season, and Hall was getting MVP consideration at one point that year. Hester will be a factor even if he never touches the ball, but the hunch here is that he makes some magic at some point in this game.

Turnovers will be the key – The Bears thrive on them, shortening the field for the offense, while Indy has come up with several huge picks in the post season thus far, including the momentum crusher on the goal line in Baltimore in the Divisional round. Methinks a key fumble or pick will factor in the final score of the game.

Rex Grossman is under absolutely no pressure, but Peyton Manning is – He’s been expected to stink all year. In fact, Coach Lovie Smith was answering questions at the end of the regular season as to whether or not Brian Griese would be his QB in the playoffs. Smith stuck by his QB, and has been rewarded nicely. Of the two QB’s, Manning clearly has the most to prove, with the legacy of Dan Marino and early John Elway hanging over his head. A subpar performance here will do nothing to enhance his legacy, though some have said simply reaching the Super Bowl is acceptable enough at this point. I’m getting a kind of a Trent Dilfer vibe about Grossman this week.

Where is Marvin Harrison? – The Colts have struggled to get their #1 wideout involved in the offense thus far, to the point where two critical interceptions tossed by Manning involved simple in routes to Harrison. One would think that #88 needs to be a significant part of the offense if Indy is going to win this game. The Colts have done a good job getting just about every other receiver involved, including O-Lineman, but at some point the future Hall of Famer will need to play a role.

The Pick:
I’ve picked against the Colts each and every week of the playoffs so far, accounting for three of my four losses. One would think I would have learned my lesson and finally jumped aboard the Indy train.

I’m not. I think the Bear defense will throw too much at the Colts, and ultimately being the first Championship to the Second City since the Super Bowl Shuffle bunch in 1985. Given my track record with Indy, I’ll probably be eating these words on Monday morning.

Bears 34 Colts 26

No comments: