News flash: We live in a very selfish, self-absorbed world. Sure, we pay lip service to high-minded ideals such as human rights and world peace, but at the end of the day all we really want are our Hummers and High-def TVs. No, it's not something to be proud of, but it is the truth. However, there's no reason to beat yourself up about it. Because as bad as you may be, I'm here to tell you that I'm even worse. Want proof? Try this on for size: I am so egotistical and self-absorbed that I fervently believe my predictions and picks can alter the sports universe. How else to explain Peyton Manning's presence in this year's AFC championship game?
As I've touched on in previous posts, I believed Manning and the Colts would be Super Bowl champs in years past. In fact, I'm pretty sure I predicted a title for Indianapolis every year since 2003. But after Mr. Peepee (Playoff Peyton) and the idiot kicker conspired to sabotage last year's postseason game against Pittsburgh, I promised myself I was off the Colts' bandwagon for good. And now here I am, one year later, incredulously watching Indy defy football logic by advancing to within 60 minutes of the NFL's biggest stage.
How did this happen? In practically every respect, this Colts' team is inferior to the one that started last season 13-0. Their defense is worse. Peyton has played poorly (again) in the playoffs. Joseph Addai is a very solid running back, but you can't honestly tell me he's better than Edgerrin James. Now, Indy did replace Vanderchump with Adam Vinatieri, so that's obviously a major upgrade. But Adam hasn't been a true difference maker... yet. So what brought about this cosmic shift in the NFL universe? There's only one logical conclusion: I stopped predicting victory parades in downtown Indianapolis.
Well get ready, Colt fans, because I'm ready to put my self-absorbed theory to the ultimate test. That's right, I'm back on the bandwagon, baby! The Colts have homefield advantage, favorable match-ups and me riding shotgun. Can you handle that sort of pressure, Peyton? Let's see how good you really are, you 6' 5'', 235 pound, laser-rocket armed stud.
COLTS (-3) over Pats
Seriously. How on earth can the Colts possibly lose this game? They've beaten the Pats twice in a row (in the regular season, to be fair) so that monkey should at least be somewhat dislodged from their backs. Their defense is playing out of its mind (although Indy's playoff wins came against a pair of rather inept offenses). And New England's secondary appears ripe for the picking (once again) thanks to a rash of injuries at the safety position. Sure, Brady and Belichick are as menacing as a pissed-off Jack Bauer, but even Jack lets the bad guys win at least a round or two, just to make things interesting. So think of this as Indy's opportunity to unleash a nuke before the Pats return to kick-ass and set things straight down the line (i.e. next season).
Having said that, this thought still sticks in my craw: When the Colts and Pats faced-off earlier this season, I fully expected Indy to win because I figured New England would hide its best cards, knowing a rematch in the playoffs was imminent. Sure enough, the Patriots displayed a rather plain-vanilla gameplan and produced a half-hearted effort which led to a not-nearly-as-close-as-the-score-indicated 27-20 defeat. This time around, I expect the Pats to really make an effort to pound the football with Maroney and Dillon, knowing full well they don't have the firepower to win a high-scoring game with the Colts. Defensively, I'm sure we'll see plenty of zone-blitz schemes from Belichick and co. in order to test Mr. Peepee's patience and to (hopefully) pound him into submission.
But will it work? Certainly, it can... especially if the Patriots jump out to an early lead and really apply the pressure (to Manning, Dungy and the entire RCA Dome). But I just don't see that happening this week. Believe it or not, I actually think Peyton is going to carve up the Pats and enjoy a HUGE day emotionally and statistically. After all, this might be his final opportunity to summon the sports-spirit of MJ and overcome his nemesis New England the same way Jordan punished the Pistons for making him wait his turn atop the NBA mountain. But just remember two things: 1.) Mr. Peepee is involved. 2.) I'm backing him (again). What can I say? Some people never learn.
Colts 31 - Pats 17
BEARS (-2 1/2) over Saints
I'm going to apologize in advance for giving the NFC the short end of the content stick here. Trust me, it's not from lack of interest on my part. Because the truth is, while the AFC title game provides the week's marquee match-up, I'm actually more emotionally invested in the Saints-Bears tilt. Like most Americans whose clubs have already been eliminated from Super Bowl contention, I've designated New Orleans as my interim team of choice. Plus, Reggie Bush's siren song still tugs at my heart strings when I think about his name on the back of a Texans' jersey.
Nonetheless, I find myself at a loss for words when it comes time to breakdown this match-up. Yes, the Bears' defense needs to return to form for Chicago to send the fans home happy. Yes, New Orleans needs to do everything within its power to keep Fred Thomas far away from Bears' deep-threat, Bernard Berrian. And, yes, Rex Grossman needs to summon his inner Trent Dilfer and just stay the hell out of the way.
But to me, this pick 'em game comes down to one thing: Sean Payton's transformation into Mike Martz. Watching the Saints' game last week, I was shocked at how Payton seemed disinclined to hammer the Eagles' defense with Deuce McCallister, despite the fact Deuce was devouring Philly, 7 yard chunks at a time. I know the Saints have thrived thanks to Payton's aggressive play-calling, but maybe he's let the "offensive genius" label go to his head (ala Mike Martz). Hey, I'm all for sophisticated, cutting-edge passing attacks, but sometimes you just have to line up and punish the guys in front of you. Does Payton possess the discipline to know when to go medieval on the Bears' collective posteriors? We should find out this Sunday. Frankly, I'm more than a wee bit skeptical.
It comes down to this: As good as Drew Brees has been this year, I think New Orleans has to win this game on the ground, not through the air. The Bears are vulnerable up the middle. But I just have this sneaky suspicion that Payton is going to outsmart himself and cost his team a trip to Miami. After all, there's no way we can have two Mr. Peepees (Peyton and Payton) in the Super Bowl, can we? I just don't think the world is ready for that.
Bears 20 - Saints 17
By the way, yes, I realize the Saints were my Super Bowl pick before the playoffs began. But, hey, as long as I'm cursing Peyton and the Colts by jumping back on their bandwagon, I figured I might as well reverse-jinx my adopted team, New Orleans, and give them a puncher's chance. Whatever happens, I win. What else could the world's most selfish, self-absorbed person ask for?