Allow me to let you in on a little secret. The "real" NFL season came to a close about two weeks ago. No, I'm not directing a cheap shot at the inferior NFC's presence in this year's Super Bowl. Here's what I mean: Professional football (as we know it for twenty consecutive weeks) ends every year the second the clock shows 00:00 at the conclusion of conference championship weekend. Everything after that is only about the hype, the show and second-guessing.
Think about it. ESPN becomes borderline unwatchable (if you even half-way agree with that statement, please do yourself a favor and check out this link. Sheer genius and right on the money). The bye week is about as interminable as a Bill Walton rant (See? I told you we'd start talking NBA! By the way, basketball stories next week, I promise). And don't even get me started on the lunacy of having an extra-long halftime during the MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON just so we can watch Prince strut around on his artificial hip for 10 minutes. Add it all up and it's no wonder we're often treated to a contest that delivers as much drama as a preseason game in mid-August. It's like watching a movie that features Scarlett Johansson in every scene until the thrilling climax, when she's inexplicably replaced by Paris Hilton.
Look, I know I'm coming across like Statler and Waldorf (the two crotchety old men who sat in the balcony during the Muppet Show) right now. I promise I'm not trying to rain on your parade if you're a Bears or Colts fan. Heck, I'm sure when the Texans make the Super Bowl in 2050 I'll be peeing in my Depends with delight, especially when the 90 year old members of U2 get on stage and rock the halftime show from their wheelchairs. I'd just like the NFL's biggest game to, you know, be about football. And Scarlett Johansson. She can stay too.
So... speaking of football, we've got a game to dissect. If you were paying attention, you'll notice I mentioned something about second-guessing in the first paragraph. I have to admit, that extra week gets me every time. No, I'm not backing off the Colts. But as time goes by, I'm finding myself about as nervous as a Nebraska wrestler.
Here's why: When you break this game down to its core, you discover three irrefutable truths and two x-factors. They are as follows:
1. The Bears have the best defense. This one goes in the "no, duh" category, despite the fact Chicago's D is nowhere near as dominant as it was in the first half of the season.
2. The Colts possess the best offense. Also a no-brainer. Although, let's dispel the myth of Chicago's inept offense right now. The Bears and Colts BOTH averaged 26.7 point per game during the regular season, good enough for 2nd in the NFL. Still, Indy gets the nod here because of their obvious advantage at QB and the fact that the Bears offense was often the beneficiary of great field position thanks to their defense and superior...
3. ... Special Teams. Sure, there's no one else you'd want more than Adam Vinatieri when the game's on the line and you need a field goal to win it. But Devin Hester scores touchdowns and flips field position, even when he doesn't touch the ball. Making matters worse for Indianapolis is the Colts' leaky kick-off coverage unit. I'm guessing Russ Purnell (Indy's special teams coach) needs an entire bottle of Ambien to get to sleep these days.
1. Rex Grossman. There's nothing new to be said here. I mean, has there ever been a bigger X-Factor in sports history than this guy? They should just make it his nickname, introduce him to Charles Xavier and get it over with.
2. Colts' Defense. Who are these guys? The group that gave up 375 yards on the ground to Jacksonville and then followed that up by getting gashed by Ron freaking Dayne and the Texans two weeks later? Or the unit that performed admirably once the postseason got underway? There's just no way of knowing. I'm guessing we'll see something in between the two this Sunday.
That's right, in honor of the NFL's tribute to "X"-cess, I give you one final X-Factor: None other than the star of this blog so far (besides Gollum, that is), Mr. Peepee (Playoff Peyton)! Let's not forget, Manning hasn't exactly set the world on fire this January. Yes, he's done enough to win, but he's also averaged two picks per contest. And when you read articles like this, you're reminded why you never feel safe backing the Colts in big games.
So what does my crystal ball reveal? A low-scoring, tight first half. Devin Hester busting loose for a punt return touchdown. The Colts' receivers finding more openings as the third quarter bleeds into the fourth. A late thundershower allowing Phil Simm and the CBS crew to re-open Tony Romo's wounds by discussing his fateful gaffe. And both shaky and spectacular play from Manning and Grossman. You know where I'm headed. We've seen this story before. The clock winds down, Adam Vinatieri steps up and the Colts escape with a 22-20 victory. That's right. Five more field goals and a Super Bowl MVP trophy for Mr. Clutch.
What, you thought I'd give it to Peepee?