Championship Sunday concludes with the much heralded and over-hyped New England-Indianapolis rematch. This game features all the elements you love to hate. Two successful talented quarterbacks. High-powered offense vs. stifling defense. And a chess match between a likable coach who gets to the big game but hasn’t yet won one and his less likable, but more successful counterpart. You’ve seen this game before my friends, but we don’t know how it will end.
|Peyton Manning||Advantage Pats||Tom Brady|
Peyton Manning is great. Don’t get me wrong. He is. But until he wins the whole thing, his reputation for being a regular season record setter and a playoff choke artist will never go away. The Peyton Manning face is the stuff of legend in New England. Pats fans love seeing the petulant sulking on the sidelines as the Patriot offense moves the ball. Brady meanwhile is the best playoff quarterback in the NFL right now. He was not great in San Diego. he was good enough to win. Neither Manning nor Brady have shown their customary brilliance in this year’s postseason. But when asked, I’ll take Brady, every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
|Advantage Pats||Corey Dillon
Addai and Rhodes have been a formidable two back combo on a team that doesn’t do a lot of running. The Patriots ran the ball 60 more times than the Colts 499 -439 int he regular season. Dillon and Maroney however are a slightly better combo, and the Patriots also have Kevin Faulk who is an excellent weapon out of the backfield catching passes as well as a third down option for New England. They are fairly evenly matched, but the advantage goes to New England.
|Advantage Colts||Reche Caldwell
New England’s ragtag receiver corps pales in comparison to the tandem of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Reche Caldwell Troy Brown and Jabar Gaffney have done a good job in the fire of an NFL season, but they are nowhere near as good as the two primary weapons that Peyton Manning found 181 times for 2,676 yards of offense and 21 scores. The numbers are gaudy. The three listed Patriot receivers combined for 9 touchdowns, for example. And this is the biggest edge the Colts have. One positive for the Patriots, Jabar Gaffney has more catches and yards in the postseason than in the regular season with back to back 100 yard games.
|Advantage Colts||Ben Watson
Ben Watson was one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets, but he hasn’t shown much since getting hurt in Week 14. He has caught five balls for 33 yards. But neither game featured tight end play on New England’s part. The Kansas City game showed how well Indy integrates their tight ends into their offensive game plan. Clark had 9 catches for 103 yards, as Manning found him again and again.
|Advantage Pats||Richard Seymour
Freeney and Robert Mathis anchor a strong front four and Cato June is always busy on the weakside. Antoine Bethea and Nick Harper key the secondary that was second best in the NFL at shutting down the pass. But as with past Colt defenses, this one is built for speed and not for brawn. Freeney and Mathis spend lots of time in opposing teams backfields, but that didn’t mean anything towards slowing down the opposing teams running game. The Patriots defense was the second toughest to score on in the league. They also stuffed the run exceptionally well. The biggest question is whether Manning nemesis Rodney Harrison plays. He is listed as doubtful. I would not be surprised if Harrison sees half of the defensive snaps and a majority of third and longs.
|Advantage Colts||Stephen Gostkowski
Adam Vinatieri, hero of two Patriot Super Bowl victories, now wears Indy’s Horseshoe on his hat. He’s a key weapon who has accounted for 26 of the Colts 38 total points scored this post season. Hunter Smith has boomed punts all season for the Colts and Terence Wilkins has handled the Kick and Punt return duties. Each has been better than their Patriot counterpart. Rookie Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has not missed a field goal this post season. Todd Sauerbrun is getting the punting job done and if the Patriots used Lawrence Maroney exclusively at returns he would post better numbers than Wilkins, as it is Kevin Faulk and Ellis Hobbs help out on kick and punt returns. The Colts edge here is not all that big, but it is there.
|Tony Dungy||Advantage Pats||Bill Belichick|
These guys have both been in this game against each other. Belichick always seems to game plan better than Dungy in the big games. Dungy is a good coach. Belichick is the best of the this decade. Like Manning against Brady, until Dungy beats Belichick in this environment, Belichick holds the advantage.
The Patriots figure to spend more time exploiting the Colts weakness at stopping the run. New England meanwhile stifles opposing rushers. Indianapolis had good success defending the pass, or was it that teams did so well running on Indy that they didn’t throw the ball much? New England’s very good defense against Indy’s excellent offense. It’s the same recipe as it has been. New England game plans better. New England has the swagger, even though the Colts have beaten the Pats in each of the last two meetings. Sunday evening in Indianapolis two rivals meet again to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
New England 24 Indianapolis 9 – Adam Vinateri can’t kick his way past the Pats
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