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The 2006 NFL season and the 2006-2007 NFL playoffs all came down to one game on Sunday evening. The Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning vs. the Chicago Bears led by Brian Urlacher was the game. The beginning of the game didn’t look very good for the Colts as Chicago returner Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

After an early Peyton Manning interception by Chris Harris, the Colts settled down and dismantled the Bears. Indianapolis’s two running backs, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, combined for 190 yards rushing and Addai also contributed with 10 receptions for 66 yard, tying a Super Bowl record for number of receptions and setting a Super Bowl record for the number of receptions by a running back.

While Super Bowl announcers, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, contemplated a co-Super Bowl MVP Awards to running backs, Joseph Addai & Dominic Rhodes, the Super Bowl MVP Award was fittingly awarded to quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning’s only flaw of the night was an early interception, but was overlooked as he went on to complete 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown to Colt’s receiver Reggie Wayne.

With the win Indianapolis head coach, Tony Dungy, became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. “I’m proud to be the first African-American coach to win this. But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that,” was Coach Dungy’s surprising response during the Super Bowl trophy ceremony.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have quite a history against each other. In their first 5 meetings, 2 of which were playoff games, Brady and the Patriots prevailed. In their final 2 meetings, both regular season games, Manning and the Colts were the victors. Those 7 games meant nothing tonight, as the two teams faced off to determine who would be the AFC representative at Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

Peyton Manning and the Colts had something to prove, having bad playoff experience after bad playoff experience. In last years playoff, the previously most accurate kicker in the NFL, Mike Vanderjagt, missed a pretty easy kick in the AFC Championship game last year against the Pittsburgh Steelers as time expired which would have given the Colts the nod onto Super Bowl XL. This year they replaced Vanderjagt with ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who is widely considered the most clutch kicker currently in the NFL, if not in NFL history.

brady-vs-manningI didn’t expect how poorly Indianapolis would come out of the gates, quickly falling to a 21-3 margin. The scoring began when New England offensive lineman Logan Mankins recovered running back Lawrence Maroney’s fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The Colts responded with a field goal, but the Patriots piled up their early scoring with a 7 yard Corey Dillon touchdown and a Peyton Manning interception returned 39 yards for a touchdown by New England cornerback Asante Samuel. Adam Vinatieri tacked on one more field goal before half-time, leaving Indy down 21-6.

That marked the low point in the game for Indianapolis who came out fired up in the second half. Manning drove his team down the field for 2 consecutive 76 yard drives capped by touchdowns of a 1-yard rush by Manning and a 1-yard touchdown reception by offensive lineman Dan Klecko, who was lined up and declared as an eligible receiver on the play.

The Patriots and the Colts then traded touchdowns, the first a controversial catch in the back of the end zone by New England receiver Jabar Gaffney, the next a recovery by Colt’s center, Jeff Saturday, of the fumble by running back Dominic Rhodes. Saturday’s touchdown was the third touchdown of the game by an offensive lineman and in the words of John Madden from the Keanu Reeves movie, The Replacements, “I love to see a fat guy score.” Pat Summerall: “Why?” Madden: “Because look, first you get to see a fat guy spike and then you get to see a fat guy dance!”

After a few more field goals, the Colts trailed 34-31 and Manning got his opportunity to prove how great of a quarterback he is with a 4th quarter comeback with only 2 minutes and 17 seconds left on the clock. Indianapolis wasted little time and crossed mid-field before the 2 minute warning. A completion to wide receiver Reggie Wayne brought the Colts to the 11-yard line and after three straight runs by Colt’s running back Joseph Addai, the last of which was a 3-yard touchdown run, the Colts had a 38-34 point lead.

Their defense then needed their defense to come up big and stop Tom Brady and the Patriots from a final season saving drive. Marlin Jackson did just that when he intercepted a pass from Brady intended for tight end, Brandon Watson, and clinching the win for Colts and thus giving Peyton Manning the victory in the latest chapter of the Brady vs. Manning saga.
This win makes history for the NFL as it means that not only is the first (and second) African American head coach leading their team to a Super Bowl, but one of these coaches will win, which will make either Indianapolis coach, Tony Dungy, or Chicago Bear’s coach, Lovie Smith, the first African American head coach to lead their team to a Super Bowl victory. I wish the best of luck to both of them, though because of my general disgust in Rex Grossman as a quarterback, I feel it necessary to root for Tony Dungy to achieve this feat.

Ok, ok, so I didn’t do so hot in my predictions for the divisional playoff round. Indy beat Baltimore in a very defensive game with zero touchdowns. If you were to tell me that nobody was going to score a touchdown in this game, my money would have been firmly on the Ravens. Instead, Indy showed up to play, holding Jamal Lewis to only 53 yard rushing and picked off 2 passes from quarterback Steve McNair. Honestly, I didn’t see this one coming, I didn’t think Indianapolis’s defense could hold up this well on the road. The Colts’ offense did just enough to win this game, giving Adam Vinatieri 5 field goal opportunities, which he converted on all of them.

In my only correct prediction of the week, New Orleans held off the Philadelphia Eagles to win 27-24. Reggie Bush & Deuce McAllister combined for 195 rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns, one rushing from each of them and a touchdown reception by McAllister. Two John Carney field goals gave the Saints just what they needed to advance to the conference championship game.

A game that was played out exactly as I thought, turned out with different results as the Chicago Bears held off the Seattle Seahawks in overtime. The Bears, quarterbacked by perhaps the worst starting quarterback in the league, Rex Grossman, is a grossly overrated team. They win games because of their defense, but can only go so far with such an inept quarterback. The Seahawks, a team with a depleted secondary, only making it to the divisional playoff game because of a botched Tony Romo field goal hold (sorry Tony, I’m going to keep bringing that up), was hardly in a position to run the table in the NFC, let alone the NFL. Despite these facts, they were in a position to beat the “mighty” Chicago Bears in overtime. This shouldn’t have happened and I simply don’t see the Bears beating the Saints in the conference finals.

Prediction: I said it before the season and I’ll say it again now, The Saints will win the Super Bowl (once again, I won’t get into why just yet, let’s wait for my prediction to come true first). The Bears will do very little to slow them down this week, Saints are going to Miami after a 31-9 win over the Bears.

How do you lose a game where you intercept 3 passes and hold the opposing team’s leading rusher to only 25 yards? This is a question I cannot answer, especially when your running back rushes for 123 yards. I thought football, especially playoff football, was won by running the football and stopping the run. Somebody should tell this to Marty Schottenheimer, whose gross incompetence as a playoff football coach is notorious. Somebody should tell him that when you have the best running back in the league, you shouldn’t allow your first year starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers, to get into a shootout with Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest playoff quarterback since Joe Montana. You don’t let your quarterback throw the ball 32 times (with a completion ratio of only 43%) when you have a running back averaging nearly 6 yards a carry, it’s just stupid football. San Diego has a great team, LaDainian Tomlinson is the best running back in the game, and Phillip Rivers has a bright career in front of him, but Schottenheimer can only get you so far and a Super Bowl just isn’t in the cards for him. I think a coaching change is in San Diego’s best interest.

In the AFC Conference Championship we have a great matchup. The question, “Who is the best quarterback in the NFL?” announces another chapter as the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts play in a rematch of the 2003 AFC Championship game, this time in Indianapolis. Manning vs. Brady has become one of the most debated quarterback rivalries in recent history. Both of the two having a large following touting each as the best quarterback in the game. This game will write another chapter to this rivalry.

Prediction: Peyton Manning wins this chapter of the Manning vs. Brady rivalry by quarterbacking a flawless game. Colts win with a Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expires, 34-33. How’s it feel to be on the other end Tom?

After this weekend’s NFL Wild Card games, only 8 teams remain in the bid for a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLI. My predictions for the opening playoff week were nearly perfect, flawed by a failed botched hold by Tony Romo on a 19-yard field goal attempt by Martin Gramatica which would have given the Dallas Cowboys a 23-21 lead over the Seattle Seahawks, the defending NFC champions with about a minute remaining.

Though Romo took full responsibility for the loss following the game, he was a big reason that the Cowboys even made it this far, having turned their season around by winning five of his first six starts after replacing Drew Bledsoe and blossoming into a Pro Bowl selection. Romo certainly wasn’t the only player to deserve a piece of the loss. The Dallas defense made an impressive stand in the shadow of their own end zone to hold onto a 20-13 lead with less than 7 minutes remaining in the game. On the subsequent series, the first play from scrimmage resulted in a safety and nearly a Seattle touchdown. A quick screen pass to wide receiver Terry Glenn was fumbled into the end zone after weak Kelly Jennings tackle. This play led to the Seahawks taking a 21-20 lead after a Jerramy Stevens touchdown reception and a failed 2-point conversion. The Seahawks will head to Chicago next week to take on the Bears.

Prediction: Bears roll … over, even Rex Grossman should be able to throw against the depleted Seattle secondary, right? Wrong, the only chance the Bears have is to replace Grossman with Brian Griese, which I think they will do by the second half. Too little, too late, the Bears fall 27-23.

The Indianapolis Colts, despite early struggles by quarterback Peyton Manning, defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, with a strong defensive effort led by defensive end Dwight Freeney who had two sacks on the game, after finishing with only 5.5 on the season. The Colts will play the Baltimore Ravens next week on the road.

Prediction: The highly physical Ravens will beat up on a soft Colts team. 31-17, Ravens.

Unfortunately I have put off the remainder of this post for two long and I have other much more important things to get too, like the BCS National Championship and the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. So here are my predictions for the remainder of this coming weekend’s Divisional Playoff Games.

Tom Brady, with an impressive 11-1 post-season record, and the New England Patriots travel to San Diego to play LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers.

Prediction: San Diego shows New England why they are the number one seed in the AFC as Tomlinson rushes for 170 yards. San Diego handles the Pats, 37-24.

Jeff Garcia and the hot Philadelphia Eagles go to the Big Easy to face Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, and company.

Prediction: No hurricanes this year, clearly the NFL would love to see the Saints win it all in a bounce back season after Hurricane Katrina took out their home stadium, the Lousiana Superdome. Seems like nothing should get in their way this postseason (more on that another time). Saints pull off a close one, 27-23.