Monday, January 15, 2007

Game of the Year, Part II

What a weekend of seeming oxymorons in the AFC. On Saturday, the Colts, one of the statistically worst rush defenses in the history of the National Football League out-slugged a Baltimore Ravens team with stars all over the defensive side of the ball in an uncharacteristically ugly 15-6 win.

Then on Sunday, the New England Patriots, who if you listened to the media last week, would have you think that aside from Tom Brady, they have less talent than your local Pop Warner team, came from behind to defeat a supremely talented Chargers team that had made come-from-behind wins one of their staples this season. (And what a cruel turn for (at the moment) Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who must feel like Charlie Brown getting the football taken out from under him by Lucy over and over again.)

And now, the two old nemeses meet again in the playoffs, for the third time in four years, for the AFC Championship, which for a lot of people, will be tantamount to the Super Bowl, given the weak state of the NFC. But this time, the Colts get the Pats on their own turf, the RCA Dome, where they were unbeatable this season. This time they won't have to deal with the extreme New England elements that helped to doom them in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs.

That's just one reason why I like Indianapolis to finally break through and reach the Super Bowl after so many years of frustration. As Tom Brady reaffirmed for everyone on Sunday, picking against him usually ensures that you will look like a fool, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Though the stakes were much lower, the Colts have shown that they are capable of beating the mighty Pats by taking the last two regular season meetings. While they still have quite a lot to prove, those two wins shouldn't be forgotten - the Colts surely won't be shaking in their boots when it's time to take the field.

Second, it seems like Indianapolis has finally learned how to play winning playoff football. They've showed the last two games that they don't need Peyton Manning to play spectacularly in order to win. Particularly in the Ravens game, they've shown that they just need him to make plays when it counts, (to be Tom Brady-like in a sense), and the suddenly stout defense and run game will bring it home. Unlike the 2003 team, an offensive juggernaut that stormed into New England for the AFC Championship with their hair on fire only to be meekly put away on a cold day, this team can win ugly, and it may take that against New England.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Colts look to have the resolve of a team that has learned from its past mistakes and the hunger to prove everyone wrong who doubted them. The late-season slump they suffered may in the end be their best friend, because it has forced them to dig down and find out what they are really made of. And right now, they've shown to be a resilient team that has the ability to go all the way.

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