Seven Reasons the Bears Can Cover
by Trevor Whenham - 01/31/2007
Who is going to win the Super Bowl? That's a very good question, and one that has had a whole lot of ink spilled and breath wasted over it this week. I think I finally know which way I am leaning. Obviously, this is an unofficial pick that is mine and no one else's, but at this point I tend to favor the Bears. I'm not certain that they will win, but I feel that there is a fair bit of value in taking the seven points. Certainly a lot more value, anyway, than there is in taking the Colts and giving up a full touchdown. There are a million ways to break down this game, and it's been so long since we've seen a game that we have had a chance to look at, but in my mind there are seven factors that are key to making this decision. Here's a look:
Rex Grossman - Chicago's QB is the factor that has been the most discussed and, in my mind, the most overcompensated for in this game. Grossman has had reasonably solid starts, with passer ratings over 80, in three of his last six games. That's one more than Peyton Manning has had in that stretch, and Manning hasn't gone over that mark in the last four games. Grossman has shown that he plays well when elements aren't a factor, as they shouldn't be in Miami on Sunday - he played great games down the stretch in domes in Detroit and Minnesota, he was excellent in warm weather in September, and he was pretty darned good back in Gainesville in his college days. The biggest factor is that his team believes in him and he wins. No matter how bad you may think he is, he is still the quarterback of the winningest team in the league that is still playing. He didn't play great against New Orleans, but he didn't make mistakes, and, most importantly, his team scored 39 points and won handily. I'm not guaranteeing that Grossman will be great, and I'm not saying that he isn't going to be the defining negative factor in this game, but I'm certainly not willing to bet that he will be.
Special teams - The Bears are significantly better on special teams, and that goes way beyond Devin Hester. Hester is the most dangerous returner in the league right now, and it doesn't hurt that he is returning to Miami where he was so good in college. Beyond that, though, the Bears are much better at covering the run, and come up with more big plays on special teams. In a game that could be as close as this one, special teams stand a real chance of making the difference. That's gives Chicago an edge.
Chicago defense - I'm not blindly endorsing this unit, because I think that they are vulnerable in some places. The pass rush could be better, especially if there weren't injury problems, and the secondary is far from the best at defending the pass. There are, however, a couple of reasons that I feel good about what the Bears are bringing to the table. First, the Colts have been relying on the rush more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season - more than 25 yards per game more. The Bears are a very good team against the rush, and they showed against the Saints that they can completely shut down an important dimension for teams that rely on the run to set up the pass. Second of all, the Colts wide receivers haven't been very good, so Manning has been relying very heavily on tight end Dallas Clark in the playoffs. That worked very well against Kansas City and New England, but was totally ineffective against Baltimore. Like Baltimore, Chicago has outstanding linebackers, and Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher will make it very hard for Clark to establish himself. With two parts of the offense below full efficiency I think the Colts could struggle.
Turnovers - In a game that I think is going to be closer than most people imagine it will be, turnovers are going to be very important. By now you've probably heard the well-worn statistic that no team has ever lost the turnover battle by two or more in the Super Bowl and won the game. The Bears have significant advantages in interceptions and fumble recoveries over the season. Manning hasn't been particularly good at keeping the ball out of his opponent's hands in the playoffs, and the Bears aren't going to help him change that trend.
Colts defense - The Colts have an underrated pass defense, so Grossman could struggle to pass. I still find it very hard to believe, though, that the Colts run defense is as miraculously reformed as it has appeared in the playoffs. New England, for some bizarre reason, totally gave up on the run in the second half, despite having decent stats in the first half. Baltimore also gave up on the run relatively early, and Kansas City never even bothered to show up for their game. The Bears will almost certainly try harder to establish the run than those other teams. They know how important it will be to their offense, and they will also realize that they need to keep their defense off the field for as long as they can so that they don't get tired like the Patriots and Ravens did because of Indy's hurry up offense. Jones and Benson have been running very well for the Bears in the playoffs, and I am not willing to bet that the Colts will be able to stop that.
The Manning Factor - There is a sense that Manning has a date with destiny here. I'm not willing to buy into that. He is among the greatest regular season quarterbacks of all time, but he deserves every bit of the reputation he has for not performing in big games. He has been pretty lousy for five of the six halves of the playoffs, and he has had people telling him how big this game is for him for two weeks straight. He has historically given me no reason at all to have any faith that this time will be any different than the last nine times that he has faced 'the biggest game of the year' and hasn't got it done. He's the better quarterback, but the facts don't support that that is enough here.
Once bitten, twice shy - I'll admit it - I thought that Florida didn't stand a chance against Ohio State. I didn't see how it could be close. Maybe that's why I am not comfortable with the perceived feeling that Indianapolis has this thing sewn up. I remember less than a month ago when many people were picking Kansas City as a popular pick to upset the Colts. Indy hasn't completely redefined themselves or shown us something dramatic that we hadn't imagined since then. In fact, other than their run defense, they haven't been as good as we would expect. The Bears haven't done anything to make us doubt them and they pretty emphatically showed us that they were the best the NFC has to offer last week. It is certainly true on a grand scale that the AFC is much better than the NFC, but I'm not completely convinced that it is true in this instance. That makes the Bears a reasonable value at +7.