Pregame notes . . . and a programming note
Quick notes on The Showdown while wondering which rules Bill Polian will want changed should the Colts lose . . .
Can't wait to see how the Patriots will attack the Colts' defense on the first series. Will they come out five-wide with Tom Brady in the shotgun? Will Dillon and Maroney (who apparently had a bye last week) test that previously porous Indy run defense with four or five consecutive carries? Or will the approach be something that will come as a surprise to you, me, and Tony Dungy? Probably the best thing about the Patriots' offense is how malleable it is. The offense has an uncanny knack of morphing into exactly what it needs to be to defeat a specific opponent. So what is it that they need to be today?
And in case you can't tell, I am not buying this whole "rejuvenated Colts defense" nonsense one bit. Oh, I know Bob Sanders is a fine player, the closest thing the Colts have to Rodney Harrison, and he certainly makes a tangible difference when he's healthy. But a team that allows 178 rushing yards per game over the course of the 16-game regular season, then has the good fortune of playing A) the Chiefs, coached by the comically inept and stunningly unprepared Herm Edwards in the first round and B) the Ravens, who relied on the mummified remains of Steve McNair and Jamal Lewis at its two most important skill positions . . . well, that's a defense that strikes me as having a whole lot left to prove, particularly against a balanced offense.
Is there any way the Patriots can make sure Ty Law is in the building today? Maybe give him a fake beard and mustache, put him in a No. 31 Pats jersey, and tell him his name is "Antwain Spann" until further notice? You know Manning would throw two interceptions his way just out of habit; Law has to be among Manning's leading receivers in the postseason. As it is, I suppose we have to hope Asante Samuel has a Law-type game today. The Pats' chances would be greatly enhanced by a Manning mistake early, just to plant the seed in his skull that while he's beaten the Pats twice in a row in the regular season, things haven't changed when it's all on the line. I want to see him rip off that chin strap in disgust at least twice in the first quarter.
Tully Banta-Cain, 2006: 5.5 sacks, 43 tackles. Dwight Freeney, 2006: 5.5 sacks, 29 tackles. Just thought that needed to be pointed out.
A Pats fan has to take some comfort in the fact that Ricky Proehl now plays for the Colts, having been signed to replace the injured Brandon Stokely during the season. Proehl's presence has been something of a good luck omen for the Patriots during this six-year run of excellence. He was on the losing side in the Patriots' first two Super Bowl victories, and every Pats fan I know still gets a good snicker out the video of Proehl's "Tonight, a dynasty is born," proclamation in the moments before the Pats-Rams Super Bowl. The damn fool didn't know how right he was. I wonder if anyone has asked him about that this week.
It's not difficult to find legitimate football reasons why Manning can lead the Colts to victory today. He's beaten the Patriots twice in a row . . . he believes he's solved the puzzle of the Belichick defense, to the point that he actually claimed Chad Scott was out of position on an interception in the previous game this season, the suggestion being that Manning knew where Scott was supposed to be . . . he throws on the run better than he has in any previous season . . . he has a cadre of offensive weapons . . . what the heck is a cadre, anyway? . . . he's 6-5, 230 pounds, with a laser-rocket arm, if you like that sort of thing . . . my point here, is this: so many alleged experts have picked the Colts to win this week for no other reason than "it's Manning's time." Really? That's the best analysis you can come up with? Talk about hackneyed reasoning - that's the pinnacle of laziness. And besides, wasn't last year supposed to be Manning's time . . . and the year before . . . and the year before Tee Martin won it all at Tennessee . . . and . . .
Of course, 9 of ESPN's 10 "experts" picked the Chargers to beat the Pats, and according to Boston Sports Media Watch, 19 of 26 national "experts" are taking the Colts this week. We all know the "they disrespected us" angle is a tiresome device, but if the Patriots want to use it as motivation again this week, there's certainly enough evidence for them to make their case.
As for my pick, it's an easy one: Saints 34, Bears 20. Deuce gets loose on the Bears' no-longer-dominant run defense. (Oh, right . . . as for that other game, if you know anything about my track record with Patriots predictions this year, you know I'm damn sure not about to take a shot at this one. Let's just say I'm very nervous and even a little bit worried, and as we've learned over the course of the season, my paranoia usually ends up being a good thing.)
Finally, be sure to pop back in around 6:30ish - the odds are we'll be blogging this one live from the Official TATB Couch. I'm not on the desk at the Globe tonight, and I was going to head up to Portland to watch the game with a couple of buddies, but then my little boy came down with a bug and I figure I should be a decent husband and dad and stay home and . . , um, ignore the family for four hours while I watch football, eat, drink, and peck away furiously on the computer. Yup, it's January, and damned if I don't have the Father of the Year trophy locked up already.
As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
Bert Jones. Now there's a Colts quarterback we could dig. Injuries altered his career, but at his best he might have had better all-around ability than Manning. Know what's weird about this, though? Belichick was on the Colts' staff in '75, right around the time this photo was likely taken. You kind of forget he's been around so long.