Saturday, January 20, 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, Peyton couldn't sleep, he just sat on the couch'

Some thoughts while wondering what Complainian Tomlinson and Marty Schamenheimer must be thinking today, knowing they'd be facing that porous Colts rush D tomorrow...

- I love how everyone and their brother has become a football analyst over the past year or so. I can't tell you how many e-mails I've gotten with guys talking about 'Cover-2,' or 'putting 8 men in the box.' Why just the other day, my 65-year old mother in law said to me, 'Brady and Manning have an average QB rating of 47.52 in these playoffs. Which one's going to reverse the trend on Sunday?" Ok, I made that up. But you get the point. It truly has become America's game, and we're all a bunch of know-it-all's.

- I don't think we could ask for two better games. The Bears and Saints were clearly the best teams in the weak-sister NFC all year long, and the Patriots-Colts battle is tailor-made for TV from a gajillion different story angles. Let's dive in to Bears-Saints first...

Saints @ Bears, Sunday, FOX, 3 p.m.

The Bears suck. Plain and simple. Worst No. 1 seed in the history of the NFL, if such records were kept. For the first half of the year, their vicious defense masked Grossman's warts. Through the second half, though, their defense - particularly the secondary - has played like a bunch of Spanish bullfighters. I think I saw a stat that they're allowing 285 yards per game through the air over the last couple of months. That's not a good omen, especially with Drew Brees coming to town. You can talk all you want about home-field advantage for the Bears, and the bone-chilling cold - in my humble opinion, it ain't gonna matter. Not only can the Saints air it out, they've also got the best 2-back tandem left in these here NFL playoffs in Deuce McCallister and Reggie Bush. Not having seen much of the Saints on TV this year (except for their Dallas demolition one Sunday night), I was hugely impressed with Deuce last week against Philly. The guy's a friggin' bull. And when you pair him up with the silky smooth Bush catching passes in the flat, you can take your Cover-2, 8 men in the box, and whatever else and stuff it up your anus. Can I name a Saints defensive player? No - wait, maybe that chicken Fajita guy. And that corner they kept picking on last week, Fred something or other. I still think the Saints take this one, and march on to an absolutely improbable berth in Super Bowl XLI.

Saints 26, Bears 16.

Patriots @ Colts, CBS, 6:30 p.m.

You may have heard. The Patriots are playing the Colts again in a big game. Peyton tries to rid himself of those little gray-sweatshirt wearing demons he sees in his sleep one last time. And that annoying all-american QB who's standing in his way. Tom Brady's like that guy in your circle of friends who's good at every goddamn game. You know the guy I'm talking about? Never picks up a golf club, but shoots a 77. Runs the table in pool. Draws a full house in high-stakes poker. Kicks your ever-loving ass in Scrabble. We all know guys like that. Throw in 'dates an ultra-hot Brazilian supermodel,' and Christ, he must want to kill him. But I digress.

The game. Let's just say 6:30 tomorrow night feels like an eternity. Most of the experts across the country are calling for a long overdue Colts win. It's Peyton's time, they say. The Colts have made themselves better, to that there's no doubt. They've got the clutchest (I can make up words, it's my blog) kicker in NFL history on their side, two All-Pro wideouts, a stud TE, and an extremely impressive rookie RB. They've also got Bob Sanders, who just might be the greatest football player of all-time, period. (Sarcasm). And of course, they've got the hayseed throwing seeds. I actually don't mind Peyton that much, and I respect his skills, but I do engage in a bit of schadenfreude whenever I see him windmilling his arms, bitching out his receivers or the refs, and generally acting like an over-tired 3-year old. The Colts have also supposedly improved their defense - which, like the Texas Rangers and pitching - has always been their Achilles heel. They added some big dude named Booger, and along with HOFer Sanders, they're the modern-day version of the Steel Curtain. Sorry - I ain't buying the whole deal.

All the pressure here is on Peyton and the Colts. They've finally got their home game that they've whined about for the last five years. Unfortunately, the hillbillies at the RCA Dome are going home sad tomorrow night, victims of another Brady-Belichick theft. Having OD'd on all the analysis and dissection this week, here are my keys to the game:

1) Laurence Maroney needs to be a factor. Look for the Pats to come out with a much more balanced offensive game plan between the pass and the run. The Colts are good at stopping the north-south type runner that Dillon is, so it's going to be imperative for Maroney to eat up some huge chunks of yardage and get into a groove. If he shows some success on the edge early on, look out. I also think he's going to do something special on a punt/kick return during this one.

2) The Pats D-line needs to get angry. The prideful unit of Seymour, Warren, Wilfork, Green, Wright, et al, got pushed around last week by the massive Charger offensive line. Look for them to come out possessed and put a number of hits on Peyton. Getting him out of his rhythm starts with these guys, and they've been the anchor on D all year long.

3) Special teams. I know it's a cliche. Special team play is always crucial. And I know the Colts now have our Hall of Fame kicker. But I think New England will win the battle of field position in this one. Todd Sauerbrun has been a godsend, Stephen G kicks 'em off farther than Adam (keep it in bounds, please), and I like how our coverage team is playing.

4) Manning will throw more picks than Brady. Just a hunch, but if you had to make a bet on which QB will reverse this trend, wouldn't you go with Brady? I thought so.

What worries me? PLENTY. The noise is going to be insane. Reggie Wayne. Dallas Clark. A quick Colts lead. That the Pats had their Super Bowl last Sunday. That about sums it up. If the Colts ride the early emotional momentum and go up by 10 or 14 in the first half, it's over.

What excites me? That the whole country is sick of the Patriots. That this franchise has been to 4 of the last 6 AFC Championship games, a remarkable feat in any era, let alone the parity-ridden NFL of this decade. That Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won't lose to the Colts twice in one year. That the Colts will see something they've never seen before.

When they beat the Colts, the experts and naysayers across the land will all have to admit that we're witnessing the greatest modern-day dynasty in professional sports. I can't even process the hatred toward the Pats if they're fortunate enough to face America's Team, the Saints, in the Big Game.

Okay, enough with that kind of talk. Let's just say 6:30 can't come soon enough.

Patriots 28, Colts 19

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