Underdog status gives Bears edge

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February 2, 2007

8:02 PM

It was a mere five months ago that I wrote to you with my preseason NFL predictions. While a couple of my choices may not have panned out (Arizona, Detroit, Carolina, Miami, etc.), I did get something right: the Indianapolis Colts are now one win away from the Super Bowl Championship I promised. So who is my pick to win it all, now? Da Bears, of course.

p. Now, I fully expect my esteemed colleague and competitor Graham Williamson to present some half-baked, ill-construed, poorly-worded attack against me, saying that I’m now picking the Bears so that, either way, I will have chosen, in writing, the Super Bowl champion. This argument is as weak as someone saying that Tony Romo was the second coming of Tom Brady and would lead the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory (oh wait, that was you, too, wasn’t it Graham?). I have my reasons for picking the Bears, and here are the top five:

p. 5. Peyton Manning — While he’s proven a lot of skeptics wrong this postseason by getting his team to the Super Bowl, he’s also been very lucky. His very shaky performances against the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in the first two rounds of the playoffs would normally have been enough to lose it for his team, but he was bailed out by running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, as well as pathetic quarterbacking performances by counterparts Trent Green and Steve McNair. He redeemed himself somewhat in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, but that was in a game that nobody expected him to win. The pressure is on Manning now, and he’s had two weeks to not only hear about how the Super Bowl will define his legacy, but also to over-prepare for the Bears’ intimidating defense. The extra week of preparation will be a detriment for him in this case, because if there were ever an athlete who thinks too much, it’s Peyton Manning. If he throws a couple of early interceptions (as is his playoff trademark) to ball hawks Ricky Manning Jr., Brian Urlacher or Nathan Vasher, Manning could be in trouble.

p. 4. Rex Grossman — Him? It may be hard to believe, but Grossman is a major reason the Bears will go back to Chicago as Super Bowl champions. The reason has less to do with Grossman’s playing ability and more to do with the fact that he clearly has some incredibly good karma on his side. Let’s look at some of his most recent feats: he maintained his starting job and subsequently led his team to the Super Bowl after publicly admitting that he was not totally focused on the Bears’ regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers because, among other less-than-valid reasons, it was New Year’s Eve. Clearly, somebody upstairs is looking out for this guy (did I mention he began to run off the field of the NFC Championship game before the first half actually ended, unaware that his own team, which was on offense at the time, had called a timeout?). If Grossman pulls off a victory, he’ll be the most unlikely Super Bowl champion quarterback since Trent Dilfer, which is saying something.

p. 3. Special Teams — At first glance, this area seems like an obvious advantage for the Colts because they have the most clutch kicker in the history of the game in Adam Vinatieri. But it’s important to keep in mind that Bears kicker Robbie Gould is no slouch, either. Plus, the Bears have rookie kick returner Devin Hester at their disposal, a man who is capable of taking a return back for a touchdown every time he touches the ball. And Colts punt returner Terrance Wilkins has looked very shaky in recent weeks handling punts. A big run back or muffed punt in the return game would be enough to outweigh the Colts’ advantage in the kicking game.

p. 2. Bears’ Defense — The Bears’ defense experienced a fall from grace after their impressive start to the season, but they still are among the best in the league when it comes to forcing turnovers. They have several big play guys, led by the always-dangerous Urlacher, who will pose major threats to Manning and the rest of the Colts’ offense.

p. 1. Underdog advantage — The Bears have really been sliding under the radar the past two weeks, with most of the attention on Manning and the Colts. The pressure is not on the Bears for this reason, and they have played their best this season when the focus has been on their opponents.

p. Final Score: Bears 24, Colts 21

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