As I was reading through the multitude of sports posts this afternoon, simulatenously hacking up branches of my lung brachioles I apparently didn't need and won't miss, I began to get that uncomfortable, queasy feeling in my stomach about the Colts matching up against the Bears. While 68% of Americans polled believe the Colts to be the favorites of the game, many columnists on a wide array of websites (re: SI.com, foxsports.com, espn.com, etc.) believe the Bears are going to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy. Of course, we all know that so called experts are often wrong, and that when you get to the super bowl, nearly anything can happen.
Many of those who say the Bears will win all have the same tag-line: "Defense wins championships." Sure, it does. But offense does as well. If your defense is great and only gives up 9 points, but your offense barely gains 150 yards total, then you'll still probably lose. It will be interesting to see which quarterback lets their nerves rattle them more than the other; will it be Peyton, who needs to shake concerns that he'll end up being another Marino, or will it be Rex, who, let's face it, is a terrible quarterback and wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for his special teams and D helping him out.
So, gameplan? Since both teams play cover 2 defense (with the occasional shift to man or cover 1) by and large, there won't be many surprises as far as formations. Both teams usually drop a safety back deep in order to prevent long passes from happening. While Peyton obviously throws the better long ball, Rex has tossed up a few this year that have been excellent throws and his receivers have excellent hands. Bernard and Mushin have caught some crazy stuff this year, and Reggie and Marvin typically run excellent routes and have an easier ball to catch if they beat their man. But the real story this year I think will be the check-down and the tight end play. Chicago typically does not employ slot formations for 3 WR sets, Indy does. Desmond Clark usually comes off the line and with Freeney and Mathis coming from the ends, he won't be too far down field for Rex to pitch to. Clark, on the other hand, lines up in the slot position quite often for Indy, and is very athletic for a tight end. He's been able to run slant routes over the middle quite well against previous opponents, but then there's the problem. Urlacher could end up shutting down Clark over the middle, and if Chicago goes with man, then it will probably be Ricky Manning Jr., a cornerback, covering a tight end. I don't care how fast you are as a tight end, you better damn well be packing some badass headfakes or you're going to be smothered like Waffle House hashbrowns. Indy, on the defensive side, already knows that once they take Rex's deep game away by playing cover 2, he will have to either check down, throw inside routes, or hand off. You will probably see a lot of defensive end contain formations, with Cato June and Bob Sanders staying put in zone formation until the play takes shape. If Chicago happens to pull out a 3 or even 4 WR set (I don't think I've seen them do that but 3 or 4 times all year), then Sanders and June will most likely drop into a man zone. The key for Indy will be closing down on the run up the gut and off tackle; Jones seems to love running behind left tackle.
In consideration of all these points, I think the biggest so-called X-factor is managing each team's respective QB nerves. Neither Manning or Grossman have been in this position before. They both have a lot to prove (Manning that he can win the big one, Grossman that he truly doesn't suck). I think if I were an offensive coordinator, I'd take the ball out of my QB's hands as much as possible for this game. Both teams employ excellent two RB sets and both run off tackle and stretch plays very well. Indy will most likely take this approach except with the option play, while Chicago will most likely just stick with the run 75% of the time. Indy will most likely run stretch to the outer tackle to prevent Urlacher from closing too quickly, while I expect Chicago to run it down Brackett's throat.
And here's what you're all waiting for, my 10 super bowl predictions:
1. Colts will win. It will be close the first half, but Indy will pull away in the second half as bad Rex's time at the ball nears midnight. Colts 28, Bears 17.
2. The longest kick or punt return Chicago will have will be 40 yards. I know this is a big number, but there won't be a TD return. There hasn't been a punt return for a TD YET in a super bowl.
3. Peyton will throw 1 INT.
4. Grossman won't throw any. He'll just be terrible.
5. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne will both be held under 100 yards.
6. Brian Urlacher will have 10+ tackles.
7. Jones will score 2 TD for the Bears.
8. Addai will score 2 TD for the Colts.
9. Hunter Smith will prove to be an incredible punting weapon for the Colts, keeping Devin Hester from getting too set up for a return by either kicking it OB or high enough for Colts defenders to reach him for a fair catch.
10. Super Bowl XLI MVP- Joseph Addai