Monday, January 22, 2007

Da Colts

I didn't even make it to the end of the first half of last night's Pat-Colts game. It was already 14-3 and I couldn't "bear" to watch anymore of it. I knew how it would end. By the time I clicked off the Internets last night and retired to bed for some good reading, it was 21-6.

I didn't find out the Colts stormed back for the win in the NFL's answer to Oklahoma-Boise State until this morning.

Well. Obviously a big "getting the monkey off his back" win for Peyton. But it was a big win for someone else, too: Tony Dungy. Dungy, you'll remember, put together several winning, playoff-competing seasons in Tampa, only to get canned when the owners tired of not winning the "big one", which they promptly did the very next year when they landed Jon Gruden from Oakland and beat the Raiders in the next year's Super Bowl. But Dungy landed on his feet quickly enough by taking over for Jim Mora senior in Indy. And in Indy, as in Tampa, Dungy had Da Colts winning and in the playoffs on a regular basis. But the big playoff win, especially when the game involved Bill Belichek's Pats, eluded him in the Hoosier state, too. Then after last year's monumental regular season, the Colts lost a heartbreaker--at home--to the future Super Bowl winning Steelers. Compounding the professional disappointment for Dungy was a far more serious human tragedy, as Dungy's son committed suicide in December 2005.

And even though Dungy, through Peyton, went on the conquer the Patriots during the regular season last year and this year (both in Foxboro), as well as go into Denver and beat the Broncos when that team was riding high, the Colts seemed thoughout much of their games this year to just be squeaking by, a sense that was amplified when they were routed by Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and later run over by the Jaguars.

In many ways, this Colts team is similar to Da Bears team they'll be facing. Both teams carry the label of underdog to a certain effect. Both had strong regular seasons in terms of wins and losses, but both were dogged by perceptions of softness on defense (Chicago's mostly due to injury depletions), under-achievement more generally, and overshadowed by more exciting teams in their conferences; for the Colts, there were the Ravens and Chargers; for the Bears, there were the resurgent Eagles and the Saints. And both teams present a two-headed running back tandem: the Colts with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes; the Bears have Thomas Jones and the second-year man, Cedric Benson. And while Peyton Manning overshadows Rex Grossman, both team's QB's struggled this year with doubts as to their being able to come through when their teams needed them the most.

I like the Colts chances here, but not by much. I think the Bears will again need a big day from Rex Grossman and need to do what they did against the Saints--create turnovers. The challenge for the Colts on defense will be to again slow down their opponent's running attack. With their first two opponents, the Colts faced all-star running backs in Larry Johnson and Jamal Lewis. But for the Chiefs and Ravens, their running-back attack was largely centered on one man. The Pats presented a more rigorous challenge in some ways than either the Chiefs or Ravens in that they could come with both Corey Dillon and Mahoney. That will be a good test for what they will face with the Bears.

Both the Colts and Bears faced friendly environments Sunday. Both were at home. And especially for the Bears, and I know I'll get some hate-mail for this, they benefitted from the snow and slop on Soldier Field. Despite their running attack, the Saints like to pass the ball and the weather and field made that difficult. And that failure played into the hands of the Bears, defense-centered, turnover needing, run-first mentality.

I don't think the Bears will have the same privileges in Miami. We can guess there won't be any snow. But it won't be a dome either, something Peyton usually thrives in.

This is a hard game to predict, but here goes--

Colts 30, Bears 21

It'll be a close game throughout but the Colts will tack on a score at the end to put the game out of reach and make it appear less competitive that what it was.

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