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Super Bowl XLI PICKS


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Super Bowl XLI BLOG

Fearless Rick's Super Bowl Picks

Super Bowl Quiz

Super Bowl Scores, MVPs, 1967-2006

Super Bowl Picks Schedule:

Wednesday 2/24: Offense Comparison
Thursday 2/25: Defense Comparison
Friday 2/26: Special Teams
Saturday 2/27: Coaching and intangibles
Sunday 2/28: Other expert picks
Monday 2/29: By the numbers (stats)
Tuesday 2/30: The Pick
Wednesday 2/31: Over/Under, Props

Super Bowl XLI Analysis, Picks & Props

1/31/07, by Fearless Rick

Props: Take Jones over, Billy Joel under

According to my pick, 27-20 Bears, the under 48.5 would appear to be the play. I would skip the over/under and put a little extra on the Bears' money line, which, last I checked was +210. Pretty healthy and if I'm right, 2-1 isn't bad.

How long will it take Billy Joel to Sing the National Anthem? - I love the under on this one. 1 minute 44 seconds. The clock starts when Billy sings the first note. Considering that he's probably short-winded from his raucous lifestyle, don't expect him to hold notes very long. He could do it in 1:33.

Indianapolis first score of the game will be? - Touchdown-190 Field Goal or Safety+155. I love the field goal aspect. Bears will give ground grudgingly and Dungy doesn't gamble on 4th down, so this is almost a lock.

Will Chicago Bears score more points in the? - (Overtime counts towards 2nd Half point total) 1st Half Pts. -12 (-110) 2nd Half + OT Pts. +12 (-120). Take the 2nd half. The Bears aren't going to really wear down the Colts until the 4th quarter.

First team offense to cross 50 Yard Line - Indianapolis Colts -125 Chicago Bears -105. If Indy wins the coin toss, this is almost a certainty. The -125 isn't too much to risk. This one should be in before the first good commercial.

Highest Scoring Quarter for Chicago Bears - 1st Quarter +330; 2nd Quarter +210; 3rd Quarter +300; 4th Quarter +235; Two or more tie for the highest+350. An interesting proposition. Note the 4th quarter is low. Take the 3rd and 4th quarters. If either comes in, you cash.

Will the team that scores first win the game? - Yes -180; No +150. Take the no here. My analysis says Indy scores a field goal first but loses.

Team to have the most 1st downs in the game - Indianapolis -212 (-130) Chicago +212 (EVEN). Take the Bears, obviously.

Dallas Clark yardage on pass receptions Over 50 (-140); Under 50 (+120). Take the under. Clark may be shut down completely in Bears' romp.

Who will have more total rushing yards - Joseph Addai +23 (-110). Thomas Jones -23 (-110). Take Jones. He may surpass 120. Addai will be lucky to get 12 carries and 50 yards.

1/30/07, by Fearless Rick

The Pick: It's Chicago by a Touchdown

Indianapolis and Chicago had four common opponents during the regular season: The Giants, Jets, Bills and Patriots.

The first thing noticeable is that three of those teams are from the AFC East, one of the better divisions in the league. The Giants played both teams in the Meadowlands, so that's even, but that's where the similarities end.

The Colts won all four of those games, beating the Giants on the road, 26-21, New England on the road, 27-21, the Jets on the road, 31-28 and the Bills in Indianapolis, 17-16.

The Bears lost at New England, 17-13, but won the other games handily. They beat the Giants on the road, 38-20. The following week, they did in the Jets, also at the Meadowlands, 10-0. The humbled the Bills in Chicago, 40-7.

These scores can be read a number of different ways, but the Bears beat their opponents convincingly, while the largest margin of victory for the Colts was just 6 points. The big one, at New England, you have to give to the Colts, but that isn't enough to overshadow the hurts Chicago put on the Jets, Giants and Bills. I rate the Bears a slight edge in common opponents.

All of the relevant stats point to a victory for the Bears. The own edges in overall defense, margin of victory, turnover margin (though only by one), record, special teams and common opponents. The Colts hold a decided edge in total offense, but that's negated by Chicago's defense and rushing offense. Third down conversions will be critical, as will efficiency in the red zone.

So too, will be the success of gambles by the coaches, or, especially in Tony Dungy's case, the decision to not take risks. Indy may well settle for field goals rather than touchdowns on more than one occasion, and the Bears may be willing to take their chances with their running backs or Rex Grossman on 4th downs inside Indianapolis' 40.

The long and short is that the teams have distinct strengths and relatively few weaknesses, which should be the makings of an exciting and close game. Nothing will be settled in the first half, and especially in the first quarter. Neither team is likely to enjoy offensive success early on, but in the second half, one will, and that will be the Bears.

By the 4th quarter, the Bears' advantages will take their toll, especially in the play of both lines. The Bears are bigger and will wear down the Colts with brute force. Indy will be forced to play from behind, and though valiant, they will not find much success.

Great teams find ways to win, outside their comfort zones. The Chicago running game will be lauded with praise, but the receivers will be the unsung heroes who will provide the winning edge. The Colts' secondary will not be able to cover Berrian and Muhammed all day, while the Bears' corners should be able to stay with the Colts' Harrison and Wayne without needing much help. Additionally, coach Smith may make extensive use of a nickel defense if he realizes that the Colts cannot move the ball on the ground and if that happens, expect to see the Colts backs - Addai and Rhodes - more useful in the passing attack.

In the end, the Bears will once again prove that defense wins championships.

FINAL SCORE: Bears 27 Colts 20

1/29/07, by Fearless Rick

Two Key Stats

A few key stats stick out in Super Bowl XLI, but none more than 3rd down conversions. I like to call it the money down because that's where the game is won or lost. Convert on 3rd down in key situations and you put the defense into a funk, wear them down and win the game.

No team was better in the league at doing that than the Colts, who converted a stunning 56.2% of their third down opportunities through the regular season. But the Bears were 2nd best in the league (behind Baltimore) allowing only 31% of third down attempts to be converted. Yes, they are a great defense.

But looking back at the Colts-Baltimore divisional playoff game, Indy was held below their average, converting only 8 of 19 3rd downs. The result was 5 Adam Vinatieri field goals and a 15-6 win.

The Bears will do a similar job on third down, but it's doubtful that the Colts will hold the Chicago offense to just 6 points. If the Colts can't find a way to keep their offense on the field, they may be in big trouble because the Indy defense allowed a league high 47.1% conversion rate. On the other hand, the Bears offense only converted 36.8% of their 3rd downs, slightly below the league average.

One other stat worth noting is the average margin of victory. Both teams scored a total of 427 points in 16 regular season games for an average of 26.7. The Colts allowed 360 points in their games, the Bears only 255, and therein lies the difference. With average points of 26.7 and allowed at 22.5, the Colts won their games by an average of just 4.2. The Bears, at 26.7 and 15.9, won theirs by an average of 10.8, and that also is huge. The number is skewed just a little because the Colts lost one more game than the Bears, but the difference is still large enough to be considered, well... considerable.

Chew on that for awhile. Tomorrow I'll tell you who's going to win, by how many points and why.

1/28/07, by Fearless Rick

Expert Picks: Not much from which to choose

I had hoped to get the dope from some other experts and/or celebrities, but most are playing it close to the vest.

For now, President George W. Bush likes the Colts

Tiger Woods called to congratulate Peyton Manning after the Colts won the AFC Championship, but Tiger didn't explicitly endorse the Colts.

Ed Schultz, progressive talk radio host, likes da Bears.

Senator Barak Obama is picking the Bears. (no kidding)

That's all I got for now. Crunching some numbers tomorrow.

1/27/07, by Fearless Rick

Coaching: Will Dungy Roll the Dice?

The pairing of coaches - Indy's Tony Dungy and Chicago's Lovie Smith - pits experience against daring and trusting. Dungy is invariable one of the NFL's most conservative coaches, though the offense which flows through Peyton Manning is often dictated by the defense and initiated by Manning himself.

It's been widely reported that Manning is routinely given three plays prior to getting to the line - two runs and a pass - and chooses whichever he believes will be successful on particular downs and distances. This system has been in use by the Colts for at least the past two or three seasons and it's been successful.

The coaching decisions Dungy will have to make in this game are probably going to number no more than ten. Whether to punt or attempt field goals in given situations, going for it on 4th down, and possibly when to throw the red flag for a coach's challenge are the biggest. Everything else in pretty much in place. The players know their roles and will stick to their assignments.

Lovie Smith may have a bit more on his plate. He'll be talking to coaches in the booths throughout, getting information and suggesting minor changes, mostly on defense. When it comes to offense, Smith is much more of a gambler than Dungy, so expect a bit of trickery from the Bears - maybe some new sets and a flea-flicker or two - to keep the Colts' defense on their toes.

The Bears will also gamble on 4th down situations. During the regular season they converted 1st downs on 9 of 13 4th down opportunities. Don't expect much in the way of anything new from the Colts. That would be a real departure from Dungy's style. He's confident in his team's ability to execute the plays they already have in their arsenal. Indy's record on 4th down is a blank slate. They had 0 conversions during the regular season. The subdued Dungy would rather punt than be second-guessed.

The two coaches are personal friends and know each other well. Smith was an assistant under Dungy at Tampa Bay, though a stretch of time has passed since then.

The best estimation is to call the coaches roughly even, despite Dungy's experience. In a close game, however, expect the Bears to take more risks than the Colts.

Intangibles: Who wants it more?

Desire is usually the determining factor in close games and this Super Bowl will likely be close at many points due to the unstoppable nature of the Colts' offense. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison can nearly taste the sweet nectar of victory and if they fall behind, it won't be for long.

How badly Bears' players like Brian Urlacher, Nathan Vasher and Rex Grossman is unknown, though running back Thomas Jones has lately been playing with a chip on his shoulder. His running has been purposeful and his play resolute. He's an unassuming, quiet leader who lets his play do most of the talking. That kind of restrained demeanor may speak loudest in the end.

The underdog status afforded the Bears will also be a motivating factor. The Colts must be prepared to face a team that will be emotionally charged from the first hit until the last. Coach Dungy should have little problem keeping his troops engaged. The Colts will feel like the hunted on offense, the Bears a worthy defensive hunter.

1/26/07, by Fearless Rick

Special Teams: Hester's a Concern for Colts

When it comes to returning kicks and punts (and oh, yes, missed field goals), nobody in the league was better than the Bears' exceptional Devin Hester. During the regular season, Hester took 3 kickoffs to the house, scored on a pair of punt returns and sailed 108 yards off a Monday night missed field goal against the NY Giants.

The Colts are well aware of Hester's abilities and will do their best to keep the ball out of his hands.

In the two playoff games, both Seattle and New Orleans did a good job containing the dangerous Hester. Seattle only allowed 53 yards on 3 kickoffs and 3 punt returns netted a paltry 5 yards. Against the Saints, Hester only managed 39 yards on 3 kickoffs and 24 yards on 2 punt returns.

The Colts would surely be happy with similar results though the 220 yards on 5 kickoffs (including one 80-yarder) by Ellis Hobbs in the AFC Championship game is cause for concern.

Through the regular season and the first two playoff games, however, the Colts weren't susceptible to long returns. They held KC's Dante Hall to just 58 yards on 3 kickoffs and 8 on one punt return. Baltimore's Cory Ross amassed 124 yards on kick returns in the divisional round, but that was on 6 kickoffs. His longest was only 27 yards.

Meanwhile, Indy's Terrence Wilkins was a steady, if unspectacular, performer through the regular season and playoffs. He averaged 24.5 yards per kick return and 9.2 yards per punt return, taking just one 82 yards for a score.

The Bears are solid as a rock on kick returns, allowing an average of only 20.8 yards per return, tied for 4th best overall. The average punt return against them was just 9.7 yards, around the middle of the league.

By contrast, the Colts were the third-worst in the league, giving up an average of 26 yards per kickoff and 2 for TDs. They were 2nd-worst on punt returns, allowing 13.1 yards per return.

When it comes to scoring via field goals, nobody is better under pressure than the Colts' Adam Vinatieri. He's nearly automatic in the clutch and is no stranger to the Super Bowl atmosphere. On the season he hit 25 of 28 tries. The only knock on him is range. Outside 50 yards he's a bit erratic.

The Bears' Robbie Gould has proven himself this season to be more than just reliable. While he hit on 32 of 36 field goal attempts, he also hit tying and game-winning field goals in the playoffs against the Seahawks. His range is good enough that the Bears can depend on him anywhere from 50 yards in. Gould did not attempt anything longer than 49 yards this season.

Punters Brad Maynard (Bears) and Hunter Smith (Colts) are both reliable and can directional kick with the best in the league. Maynard landed 24 punts inside the 20, Smith 14, on fewer attempts. Both averaged just over 44 yards per punt.

With most of the special teams specialists pretty evenly matched, the one standout is Chicago's return man, Hester. Against the Colts' suspect return teams, he could be a game-changer. 1/25/07, by Fearless Rick

Defense: The Bears Have It

No single broad element of this game stands in such stark contrast as the defensive attributes of the Bears over the Colts. During the regular season, the Bears ranked 3rd in scoring defense at 15.9 points per game and 5th in yards allowed (294.1). The Colts were far behind, 23rd in points allowed at 22.5 and 21st in yards allowed (332.3).

What makes the differences even more alarming - especially to Colts' fans - is the Colts' seeming inability to stop teams from running the ball at will. The Colts finished dead last in the league, allowing 173 rushing yards per game on average. The next closest team was not really that close - the St. Louis Rams gave up 145.4 per game, almost 30 yards less.

A good number of analysts point to safety Bob Sanders' absence on defense for Indy's woeful run-stopping inability, and though Sanders is a tough hitter and emotional leader, he's still only one man. The Colts probably have a tough time stopping the run because of a number of factors.

First, defensive end Dwight Freeney, the Colts' only bona fide pass rusher, is often caught upfield and susceptible to draws and traps. For all the air time and press praise Freeney gets, he only had 29 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

Second, the linebackers - Cato June, Gary Brackett and Gilbert Gardner - are simply not that good. Gardner, especially, is a weakness with only 34 solo tackles on the season.

Third, behind them is a group whose key responsibility is to defense against the pass, not the run, and if they're making tackles it's usually an effort to prevent a touchdown. Antoine Bethea and Nick Harper rank 3rd and 5th on the team in tackles, indicative of a team that's been run through all too often. They also lost Mike Doss, a solid safety, in game 7 and he has not returned nor will he for the Super Bowl.

The Colts recorded only 25 sacks this season, tied for second worst with Tampa Bay. They don't apply much pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Consequently, the secondary is only slightly above average. Most teams could either run effectively against the Colts or were so much in a hole that the defense knew that passes were coming. Nevertheless, Indy only accounted for 15 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles.

So much for the bad, now for the good, which is heavily on the side of the Bears.

Chicago's defense got a bad rap at the end of the season because they allowed an average of 26.2 points in their final four games. What was unfair about questioning the Bears' defenders was the fact that they were cruising to the NFC North title at 10-2 and ostensibly all they were playing for was home field advantage. As it was, they won all but their final game down the stretch.

Taking those final four games out of the equation, the Bears' defense allowed 11.7 points per game though the first 12 weeks of the season. That's very good. When they got to the playoffs, they showed up, especially against New Orleans, the top offense in the league.

Against Seattle in the divisional round, they were forced to overtime, allowing 24 points and 309 yards of offense, but they were playing a talented offense that was in the Super Bowl the previous year, but they were not at their best.

That all changed in the NFC Championship game. Though the Saints rolled up 375 yards of offense, the Bears came up big when needed, stopping the Saints twice on 4th down efforts, forcing 3 fumbles and picking off a Drew Brees pass. The most impressive stat in the game was the 56 yards rushing allowed by the Bears. Though New Orleans had two stud backs - Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush - they were barely used on pure run plays.

The Bears' defense made the Saints one-dimensional, and though Drew Brees passed for 354 yards, 88 of it was on one play, much of it was when the game was already decided and he was harassed all day and sacked 3 times.

The Bears' defense is the real deal. They begin by stopping the run 99.4 ypg, 5th overall) and usually finish by chasing down scrambling quarterbacks and covering the whole field.

Their corners, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, are among the league's elite, especially Vasher, a true game-changer. Safeties Danieal Manning and Todd Johnson are steady and disciplined, and for good measure, the Bears will bring in Ricky Manning Jr. in nickel situations. Between them, the secondary had 15 interceptions. Overall, the Bears were second only to Baltimore in interceptions, with 24. Additionally, they led the league with 23 forced fumbles. Their 40 sacks were tied for 8th.

Of course, any discussion of the Bears' defense must include pro bowler Brian Urlacher, who led the team with 142 tackles. Urlacher is strong, fast and athletic and moves from blitzing to coverage with ease. Fellow linebacker Lance Briggs is often overlooked because of Urlacher's mobility and greatness, but he led the team with 113 solo tackles and was second on the team with 134 total.

When it comes to defense, the Bears have it. The Colts only wish they did.

1/24/07, by Fearless Rick

Offense: Is Manning the Man?

Everybody knows that the Indianapolis offense is one of the best in the league - maybe the best. But what they don't know can hurt those people who don't look at stats much, such as the fact that the Chicago Bears scored exactly the same number of points as the Colts - 427 - during the regular season, for an average of 26.7 points per game.

Naturally, those numbers are skewed a bit by defensive scores (the Bears had 3, Colts 1) and TDs scored on returns (Bears 6, Colts 1), but not by much, about 2 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Bears scored 66 points in 2 games for an average of 33; the Colts managed 76 in 3 playoff rounds for an average of 25.3. Both teams can score, and will.

The Colts ranked 3rd in total yards gained, averaging 379.4 per game, behind the Saints and Eagles. By contrast, the Bears were well down the list. Their 324.9 yards per game was good for 15th overall. But, they were efficient, as the points total suggests. Also, the Bears defense and return teams routinely set up the offense in good field position, making scoring points a lot easier.

In the quarterback comparison, Peyton Manning is undeniably better. His QB rating of 101 is light years ahead of Rex Grossman's 73.9 and the rest of the numbers bear that out. Manning completed 65% of his passes, averaging 7.9 per attempt. He threw 31 TDs and only 9 INTs, was sacked just 14 times and lost only one fumble.

Grossman was far less efficient. He completed 54.6 of his passes for an average of 6.7 per attempt with 23 TDs and 20 INTs. He was sacked 21 times and coughed up the pigskin 5 times. Obviously, if Grossman holds on to the ball better and doesn't throw interceptions, he gives the Bears more than just a fighting chance against most teams. His turnovers (or lack thereof) will be critical to the Bears' success.

Likewise for the Colts. Manning doesn't cough up the ball often, but the Bears' defense was one of the best in the league at taking it away. However, if there are turnovers, they're more likely to come from players other than Manning. The Colts' backs lost 5 fumbles in the regular season; the Bears' backs lost only one.

In comparing the running backs, the Bears and Colts are virtually even. Both carry two quality backs: the Colts have Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes; the Bears, Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Between them, the Bears' backs totaled 1857 yards on 453 carries, averaging a solid 4.1 per carry. Addai and Rhodes toted the ball for 1722 on 413 carries, an average of 4.2.

The similarities don't stop there, however. Addai and Jones are more the slashing type, while Rhodes and Benson are better suited for runs between the tackles. Each tandem scored 12 TDs between them. Both the Colts and Bears can and have produced yards, first downs and scoring drives with just the running game, though the team more likely to do so would be Chicago in the context of the Super Bowl.

Indy's receivers get most of the press, but Chicago's are not to be overlooked. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne get most of the touches, but the Indy offense really clicks when Manning distributes the ball to slot receiver Dallas Clark and tight end Ben Utecht.

The Bears can spread out any defense with burners Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammed. They use their tight end, Desmond Clark as an integral part of their offense. He grabbed 45 balls for 626 yards and was the 3rd leading Bears' receiver. Rashied Davis is the slot guy and if the Bears need to go 4-wide, they'll bring in Jason McKie.

The one glaring offensive stat is on 3rd down. The Bears converted a shamefully-low 36.8% of their third down attempts, while the Colts converted a mind-boggling 56.2%. The next closest was Dallas at 48.8 and then New Orleans at 44.9. Indy's extraordinary ability to keep the ball in the hands of their offense (or the Bears' defense to stop them) may be the most important aspect of the game.

On the flip side, if the Bears convert their third down chances more effectively, they keep Manning on the bench, control the clock and gain field position. As importantly, they would keep their defense fresh.

Play-calling and 3rd down conversions will be of paramount importance in this game.

Tomorrow: Defensive comparisons.