Why the Indianapolis Colts can't lose, Reason 1: The Colts, favored by a touchdown over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl 41 Sunday in Miami, can't lose because Peyton Manning, the best quarterback in the NFL, will slice and dice a Bears defense that was supposed to make everyone forget 1985 -- at least until it started giving up 24 points a game in the last six games, playoffs included.
Why the Bears can't lose, Reason I: I'm sorry, did that just say Peyton Manning, best quarterback in the NFL? Maybe, and maybe only if we consider the NFL to be the 31 teams that play outside of New England. But come playoff time Peyton Manning is the best choker in the NFL. It was true at Isidore Newman High, it was true at the University of Tennessee and it's true in Indianapolis.
2. Is not.
II. That so does not count as reason No. 2.
2. OK. The Colts can't lose because they represent the AFC, and the AFC was the vastly superior conference this year, as usual. The Bears couldn't get arrested in the AFC. They'd have been lucky to make the playoffs. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but most of the teams in the NFC playoffs would have been lucky to make the AFC playoffs. The AFC went 38-24 against the NFC this year. The six playoff teams went 21-3.
II. And the six NFC playoff teams went 10-14 against the AFC. That's not very impressive, and there's no arguing the AFC isn't much better than the NFC, but the Bears aren't the whole NFC, and 10-14 isn't exactly hopeless, "can't win" stuff. The Bears managed two interconference wins in four games and the Colts an interconference loss. The Bears don't have to beat the whole AFC. They just have to win one game against the Colts. Same as the Dallas Cowboys did. You remember the Cowboys?
III. And it's my turn to go first. The Bears have a two-headed running attack, Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, and those two are going to have a field day against the Colts run defense, which had a couple of dominant games against Kansas City and Baltimore, but a couple of games do not a season make.
3. A couple of games do not a season make. That's catchy. You mean like the Bears' couple of wins against AFC teams? The Colts' defensive improvement is real, and the defense also did a good job stopping the New England run, though it wasn't dominant. Injured safety Bob Sanders, a huge key to stopping the run, has returned to the lineup, and the Colts have simply picked up their game. They're tackling better, making the plays they should have been making all year but weren't.
And with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis rushing from the edges, the Colts can put pressure on the quarterback, and that's exactly the thing that turns Bears quarterback Rex Grossman from Super Rex to Bad Rex.
IV. Everybody talks like Grossman's a plumber, but look at what he did vs. Buffalo and the Giants, two pretty good pass defenses. He also carved up lesser defenses like Detroit, San Francisco and St. Louis. He's inconsistent, but he can play, and he has been fine in the playoffs so far. Not great, but fine. And you have to admit it just seems to be a year for Florida Gators.
4. Well, speaking of two-headed running attacks, the Colts have one too, with Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai. Which attack is better? Oh, flip a coin, or just say the Bears if you want, but when you go beyond the backs and look at the rest of the offensive skill players, I don't think you want to get into comparing the Colts and the Bears.
V. Fine, then let's compare special teams, shall we?
5. Do we have to?
V. Yes. Two words: Devin Hester. He has six return touchdowns this year, including three punts. He averages almost 13 yards per punt return and more than 26 yards per kickoff return. He can change a game in a heartbeat. And here's two more words for you: Colts special teams --
5. Suck. Yeah. Although that's four words. It's true that punter Hunter Smith only averages a net of 34.5 yards per kick. And while the good news is that that's not last in the league, the bad news is that it's tied for last. But here's more good news: The Colts hardly ever punt. They only booted the ball away 47 times this year. The Cowboys are the only other team that punted fewer than 65 times. The Bears, a middle-of-the-pack team in this regard, punted 77 times.
The Colts have punted 10 times in their three playoff games, more often than their regular-season average, but still below the regular-season average of every other team, including the Cowboys. So Hester will have limited opportunities to inflict damage, at least on punts, though if the Colts score enough he'll have his chances on kickoffs, where he's not quite as dangerous, though still plenty dangerous. Then again, he's also kind of an adventure. He has fumbled eight times this year. He's more likely to fumble than to run one back for a touchdown.
VI. You beat the Colts by disrupting the rhythm of their passing game. Everybody knows that, everybody tries to do it. But it's easier said than done. The Bears, though, can do it. They have three good corners, Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Ricky Manning Jr., who can jam the Colts receivers at the line, which the Colts receivers don't like, and still stay with them downfield.
Their ability to cover man-to-man allows the Bears to put eight men in the box to guard against that two-headed rushing game while still not leaving Peyton Manning with much to throw at. And if you're thinking of tight end Dallas Clark over the middle, he'll have to contend with Brian Urlacher. The Bears are fast and opportunistic in the back seven. If they can get Manning out of his rhythm and into forcing a throw or two, they can get some take-aways, and that's how the Bears win games.
And speaking of those Colts receivers, let's talk about the great Marvin Harrison. One of the big stories of Super Bowl Hype Week II came from Media Day, when the reticent future Hall of Famer finally opened up, finally unburdened himself of the secret he's been keeping through all these years of silence:
"I just don't think there's that much to talk about."
But what there is to talk about is that Harrison isn't playing very well in the playoffs, with only 10 catches for 134 yards and no touchdowns in the three games, and several drops.
6. Yeah, but he's still Marvin Harrison.
The fact is that the Bears, with those good corners and Brian Urlacher, haven't faced an offense as good as the Colts or a line as good at preventing quarterback sacks as the Colts' line -- with an assist from Manning's quick decision making and lightness afoot in the pocket. And the Bears were a lot better at getting to the quarterback before tackle Tommie Harris got hurt in early December.
A lot better. Before he went down for the year, right after halftime of the win over the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 3, the Bears had allowed 12.2 points per game in 11 and a half games, counting the three points allowed in the first two quarters that day.
Since Harris got hurt, the Bears have allowed 23.5 points a game in six and a half games, including the two playoff games and the second half against the Vikings, when they surrendered 10. The Bears are also missing safety Mike Brown, who plays a similar role in their defense that Bob Sanders plays in Indy's, though he has been out since mid-October.
This is simply not the same Bears defense that looked so dominant in the first three quarters of the season, that gained this team a reputation as a defensive powerhouse and got itself mentioned in the same sentence as the 1985 Bears defense by serious people who were not obviously intoxicated at that moment.
It's hard for us all to shake off our picture of a team like the Bears once they've established that dominant defensive reputation. I've been taking advantage of that quirk in human nature for my whole adult life, working like a dog and being a great guy in my first six months on a new job, then coasting on that reputation as a hardworking team player for years while slacking and undercutting co-workers and bosses.
Want to know who gave up 23.5 points a game this season, as the Bears have done since Harris' injury? Washington. In that same defensive neighborhood: Houston and St. Louis. We're talking bottom fifth of the league. This is the defense that's going to neutralize the Colts offense? It didn't neutralize the Detroit Lions.
7. Well, that's my best reason. That's why I made it No. 6, a good football number.
VII. The Bears defense neutralized the New Orleans Saints. Remember them? They were going to beat the Bears too. Everybody thought so, including, not to name names, this column. The Bears were coasting in the last few weeks of the season when they were giving up a lot of points, and "Bad Rex" was showing up a lot, which leads to shorter fields and more points allowed.
7. Six is a great number. Gooooood football number, yessir. So's 7. My sixth reason is so good I'm just going to point to it and call that Reason No. 7. I could quit here. Why do we have to do 10, anyway? Wanna just do seven?
VIII. No. With Nick Harper hurting and possibly out, the Colts secondary is vulnerable to the big play. If Grossman can stay out of trouble, the way he has done the past two weeks, take the sack or throw the ball away when the rush gets to him, he can make those throws to receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian and tight end Desmond Clark.
8. Sigh. All right, but big games often come down to which team stays away from the big mistakes and doesn't turn the ball over. I'm not big on comparing quarterback with quarterback because a quarterback doesn't have to be better than the opposing quarterback, he just has to do better against the opposing defense than his counterpart does. But having said that, and even taking Manning's past playoff failures into account, whom do you want to bet on to make fewer big mistakes, Peyton Manning or Rex Grossman?
9. And besides, the Colts have great uniforms.
IX. So do the Bears!
X. All right, here's the hammer, the trump card. The real reason the Bears absolutely, positively can't lose.
King Kaufman's prediction: Indianapolis Colts.
10. Nice try. But here's the real reason the Colts can't lose. This column's son, Buster, denied the chance to flip his first quarter as the coin-flippinest 4-year-old in the Western Hemisphere by that seven-point spread, is also picking the Colts.
It's a paradox. We're just going to have to let them play the game.
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