I didn't want to cover up the predictions post just yet, so I am posting John Morgan's final breakdown. It is negative and I can't have negativity in the main area.
The comforting thing for a Bears fan is, if Indy gets a lead Chicago is fit to smother the Colts rushing attack. Not only does Chicago feature the fifth best rush defense in the NFL, their combination of speed and intelligence at LB makes them especially well suited to combat a Colt rushing attack that depends on deception. Indy uses it's passing attack to open the field to draws, stretch plays and delayed hand-offs. Chicago is weakest against smash mouth running up the gut, as seen by Shaun Alexander's performance in the divisional round. Indy is going to be sorely disappointed when their delays are met by Urlacher staring down the rush lane.
Run D is Chicago's best chance to force turnovers. That's because the Colts rushers feature one guy who can't shoulder the load, and another who can't hold onto the ball.
Joseph Addai/Dominic Rhodes: For all the praise for Addai, in the limited time I've seen him, I haven't been impressed. Sort of like Emmitt Smith, his numbers are more impressive than his rushes. With that said, Addai is very polished. He has avoided the mistake many rookies make by attempting to break a long one on every rush, and instead has simply taken what his blockers have given him. He runs very upright and tends to get pounded--if one key player gets hurt during the game, I think it will be Addai. Urlacher and Briggs should be in overdrive for the Super Bowl, and while fumbling has never been a major concern for Addai, he lacks the ability to avoid hard hits. It's an underappreciated skill, but the best halfbacks simply know how to get tackled. Whether he gets hurt or not, he will need to be spelled and that's when the Bears can capitalize.
When Edgerrin James hurt his knee in 2001 it thrust rookie Dominic Rhodes into the starting spot. In many ways Rhodes proved that not only is he a capable starting HB, but that James performance was largely a product of the Colts offense. I guess Arizona didn't get that memo. Unfortunately for Rhodes, what will likely forever keep him from ever starting fulltime is, quite simply, fumbles. In `01 Rhodes laid the ball on the ground an unacceptable six times. This year while splitting time with Addai he coughed it up three times. For his career he fumbles once every 61.1 carries--think he's scared? I wouldn't be able to sleep if I were him, because he's about to face the best team in football at forcing fumbles.
Ok, so I've broken down both teams offense and defense and elaborated on the match-ups I think will decide the Super Bowl. What prognosis can I divine from this soup? Here are the three ways I can see the game playing out. I'll call the scenarios: Stampede, Mauling and Toss-Up A & B.
Stampede: The Colts establish an early lead through the air. Their resurgent defense is for real, and Grossman is forced to shoulder playing from behind. Mathis and Mr. Spin-Move can completely ditch defending the run, Grossman gets rattled and begins firing panic throws. The Indy lead becomes clearly insurmountable by the third quarter when an emboldened Colt DB jumps a rout and returns the interception for a score. Griese starts the fourth and puts up superficially strong numbers against a soft zone. Final score: 44-17, Colts. Manning puts up an efficient showing threw the air but no real money numbers. Berrian breaks a hundred yards receiving on a meaningless bomb in the fourth. MVP: Addai, with 100+ yards padded by shouldering the load in garbage time.
Mauling: The Colts stumble in the first quarter, a retarded series leads to a punt that Hester returns deep into Indy territory/scores a TD. Good Grossman arrives because the Colts can't collapse the pocket and lose containment deep. Manning keeps it close with a second quarter scoring drive, but the Bears retain the lead going into the half. Sanders possibly reinjures his knee, regardless, by the third quarter Chicago begins to explode through the run game. Manning plays well, connecting on deep throws to Harrison/Wayne but the offense stagnates in the red zone. The Colts are answering TDs with FGs. Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson put together a Maurice Jones-Drew/Fred Taylor style drubbing on the ground. No drama by the 4th quarter as Chicago's ground game swiftly eliminates any chance of a comeback. Manning throws for 400 yards and 2 scores but Bears win easily 34-20. MVP: Grossman, with 250 yards, two TDs and no picks.
Toss-Up A: Both offenses initially overmatch the opponent defense. Both sides trade big plays and turnovers in what becomes an exciting but ugly back and forth. Things slow down in the second half, but the Bears continue to be strong on the ground and Indy strong through the air. Manning gets the 4th quarter come-back of his dreams, keying a drive that puts the Colts ahead late and for good. Final score: 28-27 or 24-23, Indy. MVP: Manning, who forever cements his legacy as one of the games all-time great quarterbacks.
Toss-Up B: Both defenses initially overmatch the opponent offense. Both sides trade efficient field goal scoring drives with punts. Hester is kicked around but still manages a couple stellar returns. Grossman plays poorly but not disastrously, and Chicago is able to grind it out on the ground. Manning is good but not explosive through the air, and although Indy badly out-gains Chicago their inability to convert in the red zone allows the Bears to hang around. Berrian breaks free and Grossman hits him for a fourth quarter score that puts Chicago ahead. Manning cannot orchestrate a scoring drive late and is forever labeled a loser and choker. Final Score: 19-16. MVP: Berrian with 90 yards and a TD.
I would order the likelihood of each scenario: Toss-Up A, Stampede, Toss-Up B and then Mauling. I think the odds clearly favor Indy. The chance that the Colts turn this into an early nineties style Super Bowl blowout is very real. If the Bears can't slow down Harrison and Wayne early, they will lose their biggest match-up advantage: the ground game. That's the key: Indy can negate their biggest weakness and Chicago's offensive strength by taking an early lead. The Bears, however, can't--short of injury--negate their biggest weakness and Indy's greatest strength no matter the score. This means the Colts can "put away" Chicago, but Chicago can't "put away" Indy. Vegas is giving the Colts 7, I don't think this reflects a belief that Indy is certain to win but only that the Colts may win big. Chicago is, undoubtedly, an underdog, and to win, they must play like an underdog: Fierce, hungry and unrelenting.