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01 Feb 2007

Super Bowl XLI Preview

by Aaron Schatz

There aren't a lot of hidden stories in Super Bowl XLI. The Bears have a strong defense and a weak offense. The Colts have a strong offense and a weak defense. That defense improved dramatically in the playoffs, but nobody knows how much to trust that turnaround compared to the 16 games that came before. The coaches are best friends and they run the same defensive scheme. Peyton Manning is looking for his legacy and Rex Grossman is looking for people to finally stop giving him crap. Miami is a nicer place to visit than Detroit. Dwight Freeney and Lance Briggs are ready to get paid. If Adam Vinatieri misses a field goal with the game on the line, the universe may implode. Bob Sanders may be the most important defensive player in the league, and you can say the same thing about Tommie Harris. They are important because Sanders is playing and Harris is not, so score one for the Colts there.

This year's previews are a little more numbers-oriented than in the past, but that's because we've actually split the previews in two for FOX. Michael David Smith and Mike Tanier wrote a more scouting-oriented preview last week that complements this article.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. We've got more numbers below than a roulette wheel manufacturing plant. Of course, Football Outsiders tracks so many stats that I can guarantee I missed something. Probably a few things.

For discussion during the game, we're going to try something new, an actual message board. Hopefully this will help with our server issues and we won't crash in the middle of Super Bowl Sunday. Click here to go to that board.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

  IND OFF CHI DEF
DVOA 33.8% (1) -20.3% (2)
WEI DVOA 29.7% (1) -12.2% (4)
PASS 56.7% (1) -24.5% (2)
RUSH 7.5% (6) -14.7% (5)
1st DOWN 28.8% (2) -6.2% (13)
2nd DOWN 20.3% (2) -29.7% (1)
3rd/4th DOWN 71.5% (1) -31.8% (4)
RED ZONE 25.1% (7) -1.0% (12)

We all know that offense is the strength of the Colts, and defense the strength of the Bears. By this point, Taoist monks in the highest reaches of the Tibetan mountains know that offense is the strength of the Colts, and defense the strength of the Bears, and they don't even have televisions.

2006 Colts are the second-highest offense in the decade for which we have DVOA stats, ahead of any Rams or Broncos offense from their Super Bowl years, but behind the 2004 Colts. They are number one or two in nearly every imaginable statistical split except the red zone. They allowed the fewest number of sacks in the league. They converted 56 percent of third-down opportunities, and no other team converted more than 50 percent -- in fact, only one other team converted more than 45 percent.

The Bears defense was also the best in the league for much of the season, but took a tumble after defensive tackle Tommie Harris was injured against Minnesota in Week 13. (A "tumble," of course, looks like the line moving up in the graph below because DVOA gets worse the higher up you go.) The "Tampa-2" defensive style used by both of these teams depends on getting a pass rush from the front four, so that seven players can be in pass coverage, and Harris may be the best pass-rushing tackle in the league.

Here are the same splits as we listed above, but for Chicago's defense only, separated into the 12 games with Harris and the six games without him (including the playoffs):


Bears defense before and after Harris injury
  Weeks 1-13 Weeks 14-20
DVOA -30.2% (1) 0.4% (13)
PASS -42.3% (1) 2.5% (17)
RUSH -16.2% (6) -3.3% (12)
1st DOWN -4.3% (14) -10.4% (9)
2nd DOWN -40.8% (1) 4.6% (16)
3rd/4th DOWN -63.4% (1) 10.9% (22)
RED ZONE -35.9% (3) 81.0% (32)

The Bears have actually been better on first down, but the defense has declined in nearly every other situation. The biggest collapse comes in the most important situations: third down and the red zone.

In Weeks 1-13, Chicago opponents converted only 30 percent of opportunities on third or fourth down. Since Week 14, they've converted 40 percent of opportunities.

In Weeks 1-13, the Bears defense faced 73 plays inside the red zone, and only allowed touchdowns on 11 of them, with three takeaways. Since Week 14, the Bears defense has faced 39 plays inside the red zone, and allowed touchdowns on 13 of them, with zero takeaways.

The good news for Bears fans is that the Chicago defense finally reverted to form in the NFC Championship victory against New Orleans. According to single-game DVOA, it was Chicago's best game since the Harris injury. It was the first game since the Harris injury where the Bears played above-average pass defense, and the first game where they had more than two takeaways.

The Bears didn't improve in the red zone, but they only faced one play in the red zone all game, the 13-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston at the end of the first half. It's interesting to note that the Bears have only faced one goal-to-go situation in the last three games, and that was a completely meaningless first-and-goal from the ten in the last two minutes of their loss to Green Bay.

The red zone matchup here is interesting because of the pass/rush splits. DVOA ranks the Colts fourth in red-zone passing and 15th in red-zone rushing. The Bears defense ranks 24th against red-zone passing but seventh against red-zone rushing. We often criticize the Colts for going pass-wacky near the goal line, but it's probably a good idea in this game.

Another Chicago weakness -- even before the Harris injury -- has been defending passes to the opposition's number one receiver. If your best receiver can find the holes in the Cover-2 zone, you can rack up a lot of nice medium-sized gains. If you go deep on the safeties -- the weakness of the defense since Mike Brown was injured early in the year -- you can get a few big plays too. The Bears ranked 21st in DVOA on passes to number one receivers.

But in the playoffs, the Bears have held the opposition's top receiver in check. Together, Darrell Jackson and Marques Colston caught 9 passes out of 23 for 111 yards. (Obviously, Colston's drops did contribute to this success.)

Yards per pass vs. Chicago, by position
Position Wk 1-13 Wk 14-17 Wk 19-20
WR 5.7 6.5 5.0
TE 7.7 4.8 5.2
RB 6.3 4.1 11.3

The defense against wide receivers is one of the things that has rebounded in the playoffs. With the caveat that two games is small sample size, the table to the left shows yards per pass against the Bears split into three time periods: 12 games with Harris, the final four games of the regular season, and the postseason. That running back number is huge thanks to Reggie Bush's 88-yard touchdown; without that, it's a more reasonable 6.1 yards per pass.

The Colts rarely move their wide receivers around, with Reggie Wayne on the left side and Marvin Harrison on the right. The Bears rarely move their cornerbacks around, with Nathan Vasher on the (offensive) left side and Charles Tillman on the right.

Wayne and Harrison were equal partners during the regular season, but the same can't be said for Vasher and Tillman. According to the Football Outsiders game charting project, opposing quarterbacks throw at Tillman nearly twice as often as they throw at Vasher. In fact, though the data is not yet complete, we've charted more passes at Tillman than any other defender in the league in 2006. Lest you think this is a one-year phenomenon, last year Tillman was thrown at 50 percent more often than Vasher, and was second in the league in pass targets behind Ike Taylor.

If Manning follows this same pattern, there are going to be a lot of passes to Harrison. That means that Harrison has to break out of his long-time playoff funk. People talk about Manning's struggles in the playoffs, but frankly, Harrison's playoff record is much worse.

Harrison was held under 50 yards in each of the Colts' playoff games this year. There's a good reason for this. Kansas City, Baltimore, and New England all concentrated on shutting down Harrison and Reggie Wayne. But Harrison's playoff problems didn't start this year. Harrison hasn't had a playoff game with more than 52 yards or five catches since the wild card blowout of Denver in 2003. That was the only 100-yard playoff game of his career, and the only playoff game where he ever scored a touchdown.

Of course, if you plug one hole in the dam, another opens up. Shutting down Harrison and Wayne leaves huge empty spaces in the middle of the field for Dallas Clark and, to a lesser extent, Bryan Fletcher and Ben Utecht.

During the regular season, Indianapolis averaged 9.1 yards per pass when Manning threw to wide receivers, 6.9 yards per pass when he threw to tight ends (including just 6.3 on passes to Dallas Clark). During the playoffs, Indianapolis is averaging just 5.8 yards per pass when Manning throws to wide receivers, but 9.2 yards per pass when he throws to tight ends (including 9.7 for Dallas Clark).

Clark is probably the Colts' playoff MVP so far, but now he has to go up against the best defense in the league covering tight ends. Lance Briggs is the best cover linebacker in the NFL, and Brian Urlacher isn't far behind.

What does it mean to be the best defense against tight ends? The Bears allowed a 57 percent completion rate on passes to tight ends, sixth in the league. They intercepted six passes to tight ends, second in the league. Ben Watson was the only tight end to have more than 40 yards in a game against Chicago. And the Bears allowed just three touchdowns to tight ends.

Of course, Dallas Clark isn't really a tight end most of the time, he's a slot receiver. The Bears ranked sixth against "other receivers," i.e. receivers who did not start the game. Wes Welker was the only one of these receivers to catch a touchdown against them. When you look at things from a scouting perspective, however, you can see where the Bears might have trouble with Clark as a slot receiver. Lance Briggs may be great in coverage, but there's a reason he's not a safety or cornerback, and, as noted above, safety is the weakest position on the Chicago defense. The Colts will probably try to send Clark deep to take advantage of those safeties.

The best way to keep Manning from finding an open man deep is pass pressure, of course. Can the Bears bring the pressure without Harris? Actually, even with Harris and a big rookie year from defensive end Mark Anderson, the Bears didn't really sack the quarterback that much. They had 40 sacks, but they faced a lot of pass attempts, so they ended up just 21st in adjusted sack rate.

The Bears did not blitz much during the regular season, but they've been doing it more in the playoffs. A lot of these are zone blitzes, with one or two linebackers coming, and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye dropping into coverage. The Bears like to come up the middle, so if Jeff Saturday is really the "non-QB non-RB MVP," as Gregg Easterbrook wrote this week, this would be a good time to prove it. The Colts ranked first in adjusted sack rate, but a lot of that has to do with Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly as well as his newfound skill for 2006 -- mobility. Yes, Peyton Manning was actually mobile this year. He had four rushing touchdowns, but that's not really what we are talking about here. We're talking about Manning's ability to feel pressure, move in the pocket, and keep plays going without throwing the ball away. (The best example of this all year was the play in the first Patriots game where Manning bought himself enough time to throw deep to Marvin Harrison, the same play where Rodney Harrison hurt his shoulder.)

In the Football Outsiders game charting project, we asked charters to mark whenever a pass was hurried. Again, this is unofficial data, and imperfect, but 12 percent of Colts passes were marked as hurried -- about average. Yet 56 percent of those plays ended up successful by the same standards we use for DVOA. Cincinnati was the only other team above 50 percent. Manning isn't as good when hurried as he is when he has time to throw. But "not as good" for Peyton Manning is better than almost any other quarterback in the league. (Ned Macey writes a bit about this in a FO FOX blog post today.)

As for the Bears, despite their low adjusted sack rate, the Bears ranked fourth in passes marked as hurried (16 percent) and third in success when they hurried a pass (offense had just 41 percent success). So again, strength against strength.

All this talk about passing, and we have yet to discuss the Colts' running game. Let's start with our adjusted line yards stats. Adjusted line yards takes each run and weights it based on an estimate of how much the offensive line bears the responsibility. Lost yardage is penalized extra, and no run counts for more than 10 yards. You can read the specifics here. We break that down into five directions. Here's how the Indianapolis offense and Chicago defense did during the regular season, along with rank among all 32 teams.


Adjusted Line Yards, 2006
Team All Runs Rk L End Rk L Tackle Rk Mid/Grd Rk R Tackle Rk R End Rk
IND OFF 4.56 5 4.55 10 5.62 1 4.72 5 4.39 10 3.64 21
CHI DEF 3.85 4 4.09 16 3.53 7 3.99 5 4.18 17 3.08 6

The Colts did not miss Edgerrin James one teeny bit this year. Edge averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year. Joseph Addai averaged 4.8 yards per carry this year. Regular FO readers may remember that last year, Edge set a record for consistency, with the highest success rate of any running back with at least 75 carries in a season. This year, Addai broke that record. The Colts have an offense set up to get the running back regular 4-6 yard gains. That doesn't mean that Edge wasn't talented, but it looks like Addai is just as talented.

Dominic Rhodes was pretty much the same player this year that he was last year. Addai outplayed Rhodes throughout the regular season, although Rhodes has been very good in the postseason.

Like their pass defense, the Bears' run defense also weakened without Tommie Harris. But the decline has been much smaller, and, just like the pass defense, the run defense bounced back against New Orleans. Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush combined for just 37 yards on the ground in 10 carries.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Colts running game and the strengths and weaknesses of the Bears run defense really match up. The Colts are better running up the middle than around the ends, and the Bears have better defense up the middle than around the ends. The Colts rarely break a long run, but the Bears allow more long runs than you might expect. The Colts' running backs are rarely stuffed for no yardage, except in third- or fourth-and-short situations. The Bears stuffed running backs more often than any team except Minnesota, but were just average in third- or fourth-and-short situations.

To beat the Colts, you have to be able to do three things. You have to stop the run. You have to put pass pressure on Manning. And you must have defensive backs and linebackers who are good enough to stop both the wide receivers and the tight ends.

The Ravens could do all this, but the offense self-destructed. The Patriots had the first two, but not the third. The Bears can stop the run, and they can have the coverage or the pass pressure. Without Harris it will be hard to have both, but last week's game against New Orleans is a very good sign for Bears fans. If the Bears play like that against the Colts, they should hold down Manning enough to give their offense a chance to win the game.

Some of you are probably giggling at those last nine words, right?

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

  CHI OFF IND DEF
DVOA -3.9% (18) 11.3% (27)
WEI DVOA -9.8% (24) -4.0% (12)
PASS -10.5% (23) 5.3% (18)
RUSH 2.8% (9) 15.6% (31)
1st DOWN -11.1% (22) 6.1% (22)
2nd DOWN 11.0% (7) 6.5% (22)
3rd/4th DOWN -13.3% (24) 30.1% (30)
RED ZONE 1.1% (16) 18.6% (29)

The weighted DVOA rating and the week-to-week graph below both show what's been going on with the Colts' defense over the past three weeks: a massive, historic turnaround.

If the Colts' defense plays as well this week as it did against the Chiefs and Ravens, this thing isn't even going to be a game. But just two games really aren't enough to tell us that the Colts have suddenly become one of the best defenses in football. And, as we expected, the Colts defense regressed a bit against the Patriots -- better than it had been most of the season, but not as good as it was in the first two playoff games.

The Bears offense has also declined over time, but not by much, and not equally for the run and the pass. Most of Rex Grossman's shaky games came in the second half of the year. But Thomas Jones improved from 3.8 yards per carry in the first half of the season to 4.4 yards per carry in the second half. Cedric Benson was even better, averaging 4.7 yards per carry over the last eight games and is finally fulfilling his promise as the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Analyzing how each team does on each down is also complicated by the Colts' playoff performance. The Colts have dramatically improved on both first and third down, and frankly, the third down performance is ridiculous. In the playoffs, only 10 of 40 third- or fourth-down attempts have converted for a new set of downs. During the regular season, the Colts allowed conversions on half of third- or fourth-down attempts, when no other team was above 46 percent.

The Bears offense has an intriguing split when it comes to third downs. The Bears ranked 10th in DVOA on third-and-long (7+ yards to go), but 23rd on third-and-short (1-3 to go) and 31st on third-and-medium (4-6 to go). At the same time, the Bears ranked sixth in DVOA on third-down runs, but 28th in DVOA on third-down passes.

How do you get a combination of "good on third-and-long" and "bad on third down passes?" It turns out that Grossman was reasonably good at converting passes on third-and-long, but horrible when it came to passing the ball on third-and-short. This reflects his general strengths and weaknesses -- he has problems with accuracy and decision-making, but does well with the deep ball.

Conversion Rates for Passes on 3rd/4th Down
  Bears offense Colts defense
Yards to Go Reg. Sea. Rank Reg. Sea. Rank Playoffs
1-3 37% 29 68% 31 0%
4-6 33% 30 54% 28 15%
7-9 40% 11 37% 19 11%
10+ 29% 3 22% 20 29%

The table to the right shows how often Chicago converted pass attempts on third/fourth down at different distances, with rank among the 32 offenses during the regular season. I've also listed where the Indianapolis defense stood during the regular season -- and how it has done in the playoffs.

Those Colts playoff numbers are ridiculous. Again, the sample size is small -- but the sample size is small for the entire concept of "the Colts defense has improved in the playoffs." The only place here where the Colts have not improved is third-and-10+ yards, which happens to be the place where the Bears' have the most success, compared to the league average.

Chicago's third down splits look even more interesting after we see how the Bears use their slot receiver. Chicago doesn't play a lot of multiple-receiver sets on first or second down, so there aren't many passes to wide receivers other than Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian. But on third down, the third receiver (primarily Rashied Davis) is Grossman's favorite target. 67 percent of passes to Chicago's non-starting receivers were thrown on third or fourth down. The league average was 40 percent, and Baltimore was the only other team above 55 percent.

This is not necessarily a good thing. Most of those third-down passes to Davis fall incomplete or end up too short of the sticks.


Chicago Intended Receivers by Down
Down Muhammad Berrian* Other WR TE RB
1st Down 38 40 12 45 43
2nd Down 45 34 14 30 41
3rd/4th Down 34 37 53 27 18
3rd/4th Conversion Rate 47% 35% 30% 52% 28%
*Includes Mark Bradley in Weeks 9-10, when Berrian was injured.

It's a good thing for the Bears that Muhammad is the go-to guy on third down, because that's a big Colts weakness. The league-average completion rate to number one receivers on third down was slightly below 50 percent. Against the Colts, it was 68 percent.

My guess is that a lot of those missed passes to third-and-short bad throws forced by pressure. But for all the talk about Rex Grossman getting rattled by the pass rush, the Bears only allowed 25 sacks this year -- and for all the talk of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Colts only had 25 sacks.

Many Colts fans would argue that the sacks don't matter, because all those times where Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis hurried the quarterback into a bad pass aren't counted. Again, the Football Outsiders game charting project comes in handy. 12 percent of charted passes against Indianapolis were marked as hurries, which is league average. And 50 percent of those passes were successful for the offense -- only Detroit and Cincinnati allowed more success on passes where the quarterback was marked as "hurried."

What about the flip side of that, hurrying Grossman? Guess what -- it certainly backs up everything our eyes tell us about the Bears' offense. 20 percent of charted passes for the Bears were marked as "hurried," the highest percentage in the league. The Bears were only successful on 42 percent of those hurried passes, not the worst figure in the league, but below average.

There has been some thought that fear of the Colts' speed-rushers causes offensive linemen to jump offsides or hold, but it doesn't seem to be the case. Colts opponents were only called for offensive holding 12 times during the regular season, the lowest total in the league. Of course, I wrote an article for the New York Times before the season suggesting that the officials may have more to do with what penalties are called than the actual teams involved. The Colts were only called for 11 holds, opponents for 12. The Bears were called for 23 holds, sixth in the league -- and their opponents were called for 26, third in the league.

(Super Bowl referee Tony Corrente called more penalties than any other official in the league this year, which should be interesting. Doug Farrar wrote more about this on the FO FOX blog.)

The fact that the Bears like to throw deep, and the Colts are going to be vulnerable deep, can also be seen thanks to a new feature in this year's NFL play-by-play. Beginning in 2006, official scorers marked passes with a direction as well as a distance, either "short" or "deep." Deep meant the ball traveled at least 15 yards through the air; short was everything else. Not every official scorer stuck with the program, and there are some passes unmarked, but it's still an interesting way to look at the passing game.

Here's a look at how often passes proved successful, based on length and direction. This doesn't include sacks, of course, but it does include pass interference. I've split the Colts into regular season and playoffs to show you the difference.


Success Rate on Passes based on Length and Direction
Length/Direction Colts Def.
(Wks 1-17)
Colts Def.
(playoffs)
Bears Off.
(Wks 1-20)
short left 60% 22% 44%
short middle 60% 43% 47%
short right 49% 41% 35%
deep left 33% 40% 39%
deep middle 34% 50% 58%
deep right 34% 33% 41%

Notice that the Colts' defense is much improved on short passes, but actually worse on deep passes. Bring Bob Sanders up to play the run, and what are you leaving open? That's right, the deep middle of the field, which happens to be Chicago's favorite place to throw the ball.

Tony Dungy's philosophy is to limit big plays and yards after catch, and the Colts definitely did that during the regular season. Yards per catch is not an official statistic, but we track it with the Football Outsiders game charting project. The Colts allowed only 4.2 yards after catch on the average charted pass, less than any team except Cleveland. The Bears had 4.6 YAC, slightly below the league average.

Also, as noted in this FO FOX blog post, we allowed charters to mark the defender on a pass as "Hole in Zone" rather than giving a specific name. The Colts had more passes marked "Hole in Zone" than any other defense -- more than 10 percent of charted passes.

Back to the standard play-by-play, the Colts allowed just 49 passes over 15 yards, the lowest total in the league. The allowed just 23 passes over 20 yards, and 12 over 25 yards -- again, both totals were the lowest in the league.

Cornerback Passes
Charted
Yd/Pass Stop
Rate
Pass Length
in the air
YAC
Nick Harper 60 6.2 53% 10.4 2.2
Jason David 51 6.2 51% 13.1 2.5
M.Jackson + K.Hayden 26 9.7 31% 8.9 4.0
M.Jackson only 14 10.4 21% 7.1 3.3
K.Hayden only 12 8.8 42% 10.9 4.9

There's one more issue revolving around the Colts pass defense, and that's the sprained ankle that Nick Harper sustained in the AFC Championship game. Right now, Harper is questionable, and Tony Dungy is calling him "iffy." If Harper can't play, either Kelvin Hayden or Marlin Jackson will share time opposite Jason David. Hayden and Jackson have both served as nickel back during the season, with Jackson, a better tackler, usually playing if Dungy feels a run might be coming. Harper isn't really more than an average cornerback, but either of those players is a step down. We don't have many charted passes for either Hayden or Jackson in the game charting project, but I can combine the two to get a more useful number, and it isn't pretty. I've also listed average pass length in the air to show that Jackson and Hayden aren't giving up extra yardage because they're stuck covering guys going deep on third-and-long.

When you are forced to play an inferior cornerback, you want to give him safety help. But you can only have one safety deep for help if the other safety is playing up close to the line. Bob Sanders cannot be two places at once. (He's fast, but not that fast.)

Of course, talking about eight in the box gets us to the improvement of the Indianapolis run defense -- and the improvement of the Chicago running game. Like we did for the Colts offense above, let's break down the adjusted line yards.


Adjusted Line Yards, 2006
Team All Runs Rk L End Rk L Tackle Rk Mid/Grd Rk R Tackle Rk R End Rk
CHI OFF 4.46 9 3.66 22 4.71 8 4.80 1 4.11 20 4.29 13
IND DEF 4.80 31 1.86 1 4.94 26 4.99 32 5.71 32 3.24 8

Make no mistake, the Bears like to run. Chicago had 471 carries from running backs during the regular season, tied with Kansas City for the most in the league. And the Colts faced 463 carries from running backs, more than any defense except Oakland -- which is particularly ridiculous considering that Colts opponents were normally trying to play catch-up.

61 percent of runs against the Colts were marked as middle or guard, the second-highest percentage in the league. Interestingly, even though it was their best direction for running the ball, the Bears only ran middle/guard 44 percent of the time, below the league average of 49 percent.

Part of the reason for that low percentage might be that, when the rest of the Chicago running game improved at midseason, runs up the middle did not. Here's a look at adjusted line yards, split into the first and second half of the season. I've also added a third line that includes the playoffs.


Chicago Adjusted Line Yards, Before and After Midseason
Weeks All Runs L End L Tackle Mid/Grd R Tackle R End
Weeks 1-10 4.12 3.11 4.25 4.79 3.64 2.90
Weeks 11-17 4.90 4.62 5.14 4.81 4.50 6.22
Weeks 11-20 4.77 4.67 4.66 4.57 4.66 6.46

Given Dwight Freeney's reputation for playing poorly against the run, you are probably shocked to see the Colts defense ranked first against left end runs. I explored that paradox on the FO FOX blog back in December. The conventional wisdom is that Freeney takes himself out of running plays by constantly speed-rushing to the outside. If you run behind your guard and tackle, he's taken himself out of the play. But if you run a wider run around the end, you are going to run right into Freeney as he's on his way towards your quarterback. This is also true with Robert Mathis, to a lesser extent, which explains why the Colts also do well against right end runs.

The answer to this problem is simply to not run around end against the Colts. Only 13 percent of runs against them went left end or right end, compared to 22 percent of runs leaguewide.

Yes, you say, but what about the playoffs, when the Colts have been playing better defense against the run? The table on the right shows running back carries against the Colts in the playoffs. The yardage here is standard, not adjusted line yards.

RB Carries vs. Colts, 2007 Playoffs
Direction Runs Yards Avg
left end 2 8 4.0
left tackle 7 48 6.9
mid/guard 36 89 2.5
right tackle 7 48 6.9
right end 6 22 3.7

The Colts have been working to stuff the run -- not only with eight in the box, but with Freeney and Mathis rushing inside more often than they spin outside. That's worked against those runs up the middle, but running behind your tackles is still successful. Well, running behind your left tackle -- the right tackle numbers are skewed by Corey Dillon's 35-yard scamper on fourth-and-1. The Bears were better this year running behind left tackle John Tait, and that's what they should do a lot this Sunday.

Speaking of fourth-and-1, the Colts were the worst defense this year in what we call "power situations" -- stopping runs on third/fourth down with 1-2 yards to go. Opponents converted these runs 82 percent of the time. In the playoffs, even stopping the run up the middle, opponents have converted 4-of-6, and one of those failures was the messed-up handoff by the Patriots, which isn't really evidence of improved Colts defense. As for the Bears, they converted 71 percent in power situations, seventh in the league.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  CHI IND
DVOA 7.6% (1) -3.1% (26)
CHI kickoff 18.9 (1) 0.1 (15)
IND kickoff 3.4 (9) -15.7 (30)
CHI punts 2.0 (16) 2.5 (8)
IND punts 11.7 (2) -9.7 (29)
FG/XP 8.8 (3) 4.8 (8)

Football teams are made of three parts -- offense, defense, and special teams -- but these parts are not of equal importance. If they were, the Bears would be 14-point favorites in this game, not seven-point underdogs. That's how big their advantage is on special teams.

The Bears had the best special teams in the league in 2006. Actually, according to the FO ratings, they had the third-best special teams of any team from 1997 through 2006.

Yes, Adam Vinatieri is the greatest clutch kicker of all time, but the issue here is not the kickers or the punters. The Colts have terrible kickoff and punt coverage, and the Bears have Devin Hester and an excellent crew that blocks for him.

Combine Hester's dynamic returns with a defense that gets a lot of takeaways, and the Bears started their average drive this year on the 32-yard line (32.2, to be exact). That ranked fifth among offenses. The Colts' defense started its average drive at the 31-yard line (30.8, actually, which ranked 23rd). Each extra yard of field position makes it more likely that Bernard Berrian runs that bomb into the end zone instead of getting tackled on the ten-yard line, more likely that Robbie Gould gets a chip shot field goal instead of a riskier long one, more likely that a Rex Grossman interception becomes a simple change of possession instead of a pick-six.

And that's before we consider the possibility that Hester might just run one back all the way. Hester scored six special teams touchdowns this year, and the Colts allowed three, tied with St. Louis and Jacksonville for the league lead. Of course, Hester also has to get over his case of the dropsies. He didn't just lead the league in touchdowns on special teams; he also led the league with eight muffs or fumbles during the regular season, and muffed three more punts in the divisional round win over Seattle.

OUTLOOK

Chicago ranked second in DVOA variance during the regular season, while Indianapolis was 11th. If we include the playoffs, the Colts rank fourth in variance. It's easy to imagine the storyline for every possible outcome of this game. There could be a blowout victory for either team, or a close game won by either team. The oddsmakers have favored the Colts, but my personal opinion is that the game is a toss-up.

I wrote about specific issues above, but let's talk about larger trends. First, the trends favoring the Colts. The Colts ended the season as a better team than the Bears. They were fourth in weighted DVOA, while the Bears were just seventh. If we include the playoffs, the Colts are first in weighted DVOA. The Bears have been worse since a specific injury, the Colts better since the return of a specific injured player.

We also have to consider the AFC's current dominance over the NFC. The Bears were not an exception to this general rule. Prior to that disaster against Green Bay in the last game of the regular season, Chicago's only losses had come to AFC teams, Miami and New England. And some people feel that when all else fails, you go with the team with the better quarterback. In this game, that's like asking who would win a war between China and Luxembourg.

But there are also a number of trends that favor the Bears. First of all, the Colts weren't exactly spectacular against the NFC this year. They lost to Dallas, barely beat the Giants, beat Washington by a score that would have been closer if Nick Novak didn't suck, and stomped all over Philadelphia -- in Jeff Garcia's first start, when the Eagles offense was a mess.

Remember that research Bill Barnwell did about what wins in the playoffs? It suggested that total regular-season DVOA is actually a better predictor of playoff success than weighted DVOA. The Colts have the higher weighted DVOA, but the Bears had the higher rating for the entire season.

That research also suggested that defense really does end up more important than offense. If the question is "Is it easier to win the Super Bowl with a shaky quarterback or a bad defense," the historical answer is dramatically one-sided. In one corner, you have Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler, and the younger version of Terry Bradshaw. In the other corner, you have... nobody. From what I can tell, no team has ever won the Super Bowl after finishing in the bottom half of the league in points allowed.

This just gets us into all the numbers you've heard me recite before, all the history that the Colts' defensive improvement in the last three games is supposed to neutralize. The fact that no conference champion had ever allowed this many yards per carry. The fact that no conference champion had ever allowed a completion percentage this high. And the points, oh, the points.

Super Bowl champions with
Pythagorean Win Pct. below .700

Year Team Pyth% Pyth Wins Real W-L
1981 SF .699 11.2 13-3
1970 BAL .679 9.5 11-2-1
2001 NE .676 10.8 11-5
1987 WAS .663 9.9 11-4
1983 RAI .654 10.5 12-4
1988 SF .631 10.1 10-6
1980 OAK .601 9.64 11-5
2006 IND? .5998 9.60 12-4

The Colts gave up 360 points during the regular season. That's 22.5 points per game. No other team has ever made the Super Bowl after giving up more than 22 points per game. In the era before the Super Bowl, no other team ever won an AFL or NFL championship giving up more than 22 points per game. To find a team that even made it to the last game of the season giving up that many points per game, you have to go back to the 1965 Cleveland Browns, who lost to the Packers in the final pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship game.

Wait, there's more. Eight teams have made the Super Bowl after giving up at least 310 points during the regular season. Seven of those teams lost. In Super Bowl XVIII, the two worst defenses to ever make the Super Bowl happened to be playing each other, so one of those teams had to win. And the 1983 Raiders and 1983 Redskins actually ranked 13th and 11th in points allowed. It was a very offense-friendly year.

15 of the last 17 Super Bowls have been won by a team that ranked either first or second in Pythagorean wins. The Bears were second this year, with 12.4 Pythagorean wins. The Colts were ninth, with 9.6 Pythagorean wins. If the Colts win the Super Bowl, they will become the first Super Bowl champion to ever have a Pythagorean winning percentage below .600 (albeit by a tiny margin).

Of course, just because something is improbable does not mean it is impossible. In fact, not only is this not impossible, it already happened just four months ago.

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series with just 82 Pythagorean wins. They had the second-lowest Pythagorean winning percentage of any World Series champion in baseball history. Like the Colts, they were coming off two great seasons where they failed to go all the way. Like the Colts, they are led by a superstar who is probably one of the greatest players in his sport's history. Like the Colts, their defense (pitching) fell apart during the regular season, and they looked weak entering the playoffs. Like the Colts, their defense dramatically improved during the postseason, once again making them the formidable team they had been in 2004 and 2005. Like the Colts hope to do, they took home a title that they "deserved" more in previous seasons.

Of course, the Bears can take heart in the outcome of another recent major championship. Remember the line in the Ohio State-Florida game? Rex Grossman sure does.

I will stand by something that I wrote in the introduction to Pro Football Prospectus 2006. The Super Bowl does not tell us which team is the best in the NFL. It tells us which team is the champion of the NFL, which is something different. Judged by history, neither the Bears nor the Colts are a great team. But there were no great teams in 2006, and these happen to be the two teams that got it done when the chips were down. The winner of this game will go into the books as one of the weakest champions in Super Bowl history. As a fan of one of the other weakest champions in Super Bowl history, I'll let you in on a little secret: the celebration afterwards feels just as good.

STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We've also listed each team's rating split by down, as well as performance in the red zone.

WEI DVOA is WEIGHTED DVOA, which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). This is the same formula used in this week's FOXSports.com power rankings, and it includes the playoffs. All numbers except for WEIGHTED DVOA are regular season only except where noted.

In some cases, we'll simplify things by referring to "success rate." This removes some of the adjustments, and just looks at how often the offense gains 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense.

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice."

Numbers from the Football Outsiders game charting project are unofficial and are missing a handful of regular season games.

(Correction: It used to say that the team that finished first or second in Pythagorean wins has won 17 of 19 Super Bowls. That has been changed to 15 of 17.)

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 01 Feb 2007

143 comments, Last at 05 Feb 2007, 11:45am by Nathan

Comments

1
by J (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 5:39pm

First?

2
by Northrathsum (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 5:52pm

There is a signifigant chance of rain. Click on my sig for details. Has a superbowl ever been played in the slop? I'd love to see all those people who paid 2500 dollars a seat get pissed on the whole game.

3
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:02pm

Excellent article.

4
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:09pm

I think the Vegas lines express the fact that nobody believes in Rex Grossman, but this article just cements in my mind that there's really no obvious way to predict the way game turns out. I'm looking forward to it.

5
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:11pm

I really wish I understood why the Colts kickoff coverage was so mind-numbingly bad. It's not just a one year thing, and it's not Vinatieri. They've been bad year, after year, after year.

What I can't figure out is how the Colts can't notice this. Vanderjagt, with the Colts, averaged something like 22 yards per return on kickoffs. He goes to the Cowboys... and the average drops four yards. Pretty much same deal with the kickers in 2005 and 2004. Just ridiculously bad.

How hard is it to get mediocre kickoff coverage, really?

6
by Scott (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:14pm

Harrison hasn’t had a playoff game with more than 52 yards or five catches since that shootout with Kansas City back in 2003. That was the only 100-yard playoff game of his career, and the only playoff game where he ever scored a touchdown.

A little off here. Harrison had neither 100 yds (finished with 98) nor a TD in the 2003 KC game. The week before, however, he had 133 yds and 2 touchdowns against Denver.

7
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:16pm

Pat, I don't know for sure, but I recall seeing a number recently that the Colts have the smallest percentage of cap space dedicated to defense, and I imagine the same applies to special teams. I'd be interested to see.

The Bears, on the other hand, have made special teams a point of emphasis, including requiring all defensive and o-line starters to volunteer on at least one special teams unit. They have a special-teams probowler. They got lucky with Robbie Gould. They went out and got Maynard, who's a super bowl record-holding punter (ha ha ha. but he is good.) They had a ton of red-shirt (injury-delayed draft picks) offensive players and a pre-set defense, which gave them the luxury to draft a record-breaking kick returner in the 2nd round.

(As a side note, I'm surprised more people aren't trying to get comments from Gould and Vinatieri about each other, since Gould basically went from zero to PK superstar due to being coached up by AV in Pats camp 2005).

8
by Northrathsum (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:17pm

There is a pretty good chance of rain on Sunday. Could make things interesting.

9
by admin :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:18pm

Thanks for catching my mistake -- eyes having trouble following numbers across a line, I guess. Now fixed.

10
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:18pm

As a side note, reportedly the Colts are going to have some of their starting defense on special teams on Sunday to try to keep Hester in check. We'll see how that works.

Anybody know if the vegas line on Grossman being named MVP moved up or down after he came out and ripped the media as ignorant today?

11
by Savage Towel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:20pm

In fairness, the Bears defensive 'success' against the Saints was mostly the product of four forced fumbles. Take those away, and their defense didn't do that wonderfully. For the record, they forced 27 fumbles this year, or less than 2/game.

12
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:28pm

Accuscore (whatever it is) likes the Colts.

13
by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:33pm

Most teams use backup defensive players for punt/kick coverage (or sometimes starters), while the Colts barely have enough players to field a descent defense. So they don't have the backups to make a good special teams unit.

14
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:36pm

Re 4

I think it's that the Colts really love to fill out their roster with undrafted and/or cheap players. Those roster fillers are the ones most likely to get put on special teams. That's just my opinion though.

15
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:41pm

#10: Yep. 60-39-1 (they don't model overtime) in favor of the colts, and the median margin of victory was the colts by 3 1/2. Interesting.

Chicago Sun-Times link in my name with the story (and some Accuscore background info).

16
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:43pm

With the game a tossup, and the Colts a 7 point favorite, I guess the smart money is to take the Bears and the points.

17
by Seth Burn (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 6:44pm

The Vegas line is pretty much entirely viewing the Bears as the team they have been post injuries to Brown and Harris. That tosses out their great start to the regular season. Furthermore Vegas is viewing the Colts as the team they've been post Sanders return. That is why the line is 6.5-7. It isn't that everyone is taking Manning over Grossman.

In an unrelated note DVOA goes back to 1997. Assuming a team with a DVOA of 30 should be a 7 point favorite over a team with a DVOA of 9 here are the Superbowls of the DVOA era:

1997: Denver 27.6, Green Bay 26. Green Bay was an 11 point favorite, Denver won 31-24.

1998: Denver 30.3, Atlanta 32.5. Denver was a 7.5 point favorite, Denver won 34-19.

1999: Tennessee 21.0, St. Louis 42.2. St. Louis was a 7 point favorite, St. Louis won 23-16.

2000: Baltimore 32.6, New York Giants 9.1. Baltimore was a 3 point favorite, Baltimore won 34-7.

2001: New England -1.4, St. Louis 39.6. St. Louis was a 14 point favorite, New England won 20-17.

2002: Oakland 30.9, Tampa Bay 34.0. Oakland was a 3.5 point favorite, Tampa Bay won 48-21.

2003: New England 20.6, Carolina -5.8. New England was a 7 point favorite, New England won 32-29.

2004: New England 35.6, Philadelphia 28.7. New England was a 7 point favorite, New England won 24-21.

2005: Pittsburgh 26.1, Seattle 28.2. Pittsburgh was a 4 point favorite, Pittsburgh won 21-10.

The DVOA favorite has been a cumulative 12 point favorite over these 9 games. They have been 128 points of DVOA over their opposition. That would make them a cumulative 42.67 points above their opposition using my simple divide by 3 methodology. Actual results have the DVOA favorite scoring 238 points and the DVOA dogs scoring 193. I don't know if this means the Bears will win but it suggests that the Bears might not be as big a dog as Vegas thinks.

18
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:01pm

#9:

27 forced fumbles over the course of a season is really good. The Bears are very talented at punching the ball out. Keep in mind the Bears led the league in takeaways this season, with 44. 20 of those were fumble recoveries.

Actually, the NFL has the Bears as recording 32 forced fumbles over the season, or two a game. That was third in the NFL. Two forced fumbles a game is pretty impressive if you ask me. As has been said before on the site, who recovers the fumble is left up to chance. Forcing the fumble itself is a skill.

19
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:03pm

#6: Except while Gould may give a lot of credit to Vinatieri, Gould was noticeably mediocre in 2005. The Bears worked a lot to change his technique in the 2006 offseason, and now he's placekicking gold.

20
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:04pm

I think it’s that the Colts really love to fill out their roster with undrafted and/or cheap players. Those roster fillers are the ones most likely to get put on special teams. That’s just my opinion though.

I don't buy it. The Colts have been mediocre on kickoffs for enough years that it's not personnel. Tons of teams have cheap, undrafted players (see the Redskins) and they haven't had the consistently godawful kickoff coverage the Colts have.

It's got to be coaching.

21
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:31pm

Yeah, when I see a bad coverage unit, my usual first suspect is mediocre overall team speed, but I don't think that is the case here. I really would like to have a breakdown among teams as to who plays the first stringers more frequently on coverage units, but then I think special teams is ripe for a lot for further research. Could be coaching.

Seven points is entirely too many to give to a team with a clearly superior defense and special teams, along with an offensive line which is at least as good as the opposition's. The Bears are clearly the smarter play, but like Aaron, there is no outcome that would deeply surprise me, including either team getting blown out. If either squad gets a hot hand in the twenty minutes of play or so, look out.

On a more trivial note, I know a lot of people think the guy is ancient, but the Artist Once Again Known as Prince is one of the great, great, all-time guitar players, and if just comes out and works the axe for 20 minutes, it actually will be a halftime show worth watching.

22
by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:35pm

Re 9: Basilicus already mentioned that a cornerstone of the Bears' D is creating turnovers. I'd like to mention that while Brees threw for 350 yards they completely shut down the Saints' running game. I understand that the Saints were behind and forced to throw for a good portion of the game but they also couldn't get anything going on the ground even before that. They also consistently got to Brees, forcing fumbles and the safety. I would certainly agree that since Tommie Harris got hurt it's been a different team but that game against the Saints was by tfar their best performance without him.

23
by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:36pm

Will Allen: I could not agree more whole-heartedly about Prince. If only the NFL could have gotten him to play 20 years ago in his prime.

24
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:41pm

A headline from the Onion that sums up this game better than any non-FO article I've seen:
Bears Lead Rex Grossman To Super Bowl
http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/bears_lead_rex_grossman_to

25
by cabbage (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:48pm

I thought Tibet was full of Buddhist monks who live atop mountains and know that the Colts have offense, and the Bears have defense.

26
by cabbage (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:02pm

When Aaron uses baseball history to help explain a bit of football, it feels like Justice Kennedy citing to foreign court opinions.

27
by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:03pm

19 Blatant Minnesota homerism.

Actually, never a fan of his music, but I'm no judge and I've heard the guitar thing before. So I'm willing to believe it, but doubt he'll just let his fingers do the talking.

28
by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:17pm

I see 1 of 2 things happen:
1: Peyton tears it up and all the Bears can do is put in more effort and special teams only to see the Colts drive drive after drive.
2: Peyton plays well, Urlacher better, Bears special teams tear it up and Vinatieri misses the game winner and Manning has a mental break down.

29
by M (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:19pm

Prince should have performed 15 years ago, when the Super Bowl was at the Metrodome. Instead, his 80's arch-rival Michael Jackson got the gig.

30
by Nathan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:31pm

It's so weird. Usually I am constantly reading about my Colts, and posting on here, but with us being in the Super Bowl, I can't do anything but stay quiet and avoid the hype. I just want the game to get here.

31
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:36pm

Describing Michael Jackson as an "arch-rival" to Prince is like calling Trent Dilfer an early arch rival to Peyton Manning. Jackson sold more records, and Dilfer won a ring, but that's about as far as the "rivalries" go.

Prince may have peaked in terms of writing chart-topping songs, but if the last couple times I've seen him perform recently are any indication, he hasn't lost much at all in terms of being a musician. I may be a homer, but the little fella can just flat-out play.

32
by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 8:38pm

But Nathan, are you wasting three hours a day reading stuff...? I work til 2 am because I am so inefficient during the day (and have a few deadlines next week). Looking forward to getting my life back, but happy it's taken this long to do it as opposed to recent years.

Man, sounds as if I have an addictive personality, but luckily it's just football and nothing that's actually harmful.

33
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:00pm

Re 18

It's not like they just took up that philosophy a week ago. They've been hitting the UFA market hard throughout the entire Polian era. I'm not discounting the role of coaching, but I'm also not going to discount the role of personnel.

34
by jim (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:12pm

8: The Colts have been playing more defensive starters on kick coverage since the playoffs began. With a few notable exceptions, this seems to made a big differences. I'd sure like to see the numbers on it.

35
by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:29pm

#17: But placekicking is inconsistent from year to year.

#20: I remember NO simply not running. That's a lot different from not being able to run. People have been able to run on the Bears the past couple months.

I also don't buy the "defence built around turnovers" argument. Even if you do believe that the defence is responsible for forced fumbles (I personally believe it is much more dependent upon the ball carrier), it appears to me that these turnovers are more or less randomly distributed between games (and even within the game). If you have no idea when your turnover is coming, the only real benefit to "basing" your defence upon it would be to give better field position hopefully in a spot where the offence can take advantage of it- but again, random distribution.

People put way too much emphasis on turnovers, especially turnovers as "a strategy."

36
by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:32pm

I was never a big Prince fan but had heard the stuff off a few guys about what a great guitar player he was. A few years ago someone got me tickets for a gig of his. He played two sets, the second was mostly comprised of his hits (which I have never been overwhelmed by) and everyone else in the crowd loved it but I could have taken or left it. But the first set was him and his band playing a fantastic funk set which I absolutley loved. The only funk stuff I would say I saw that was better would be the P Funk Allstars (and saying that is no criticism). I would also agree that he is bizarrely good at the guitar. However I suspect he will play a load of his hits (I am unable to understand why Purple Rain is so popular), but it would be better if he just played a crazy funk gig.

I have read reports that it is going to rain on Sunday, anyone know if it is true?

37
by Jimi (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:35pm

An excellent article, and good luck to both teams on Sunday.

38
by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 10:37pm

Is this the first Super Bowl matchup where we get a top 5 offense vs. a top 5 defense, and a below-average offense vs. below-average defense? I checked as far back as DVOA goes and it is for those ten years.

39
by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 11:02pm

Fnor: I don't really know what you're getting at. Of course no one "builds a defense around turnovers". They build it with players who are better at causing turnovers than other players. The Bears defense is notorious for standing ball carriers up and stripping the ball.

I didn't claim that the Bears plan when they're going to force turnovers and use them as part of their game planning; that would be incredibly stupid. I said the Bears' defense is better at forcing turnovers than other teams. The benefit to turnovers is that you get the ball and deny your opponent a chance to score. Better field position is sometimes a secondary benefit. There is no such thing as a strategy based on turnovers.

As far as the NO game the Saints certainly abandoned the run too early but I'd call holding Deuce/Reggie to 37 yds on 10 carries one of the Bears better efforts at defending the run post-Harris.

40
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 11:27pm

#34, Purple Rain is popular because any moron can sing the refrain. I've always been much more enamored of him as a musician than as a songwriter, but to be fair, he's no slouch in that area. I've heard professional songwriters talk about how innovative, in terms of structure, "When Doves Cry", is, and I have to agree, even though I don't like that tune all that much.

I love to hear great musicians, though, and the twerp is so much better with a guitar than he is with his voice, and I'm not ripping his singing, that whenever I see him I end up wishing he'd just play the damn Telecaster.

41
by cabbage (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 11:35pm

Did anyone catch the press conference? Follow the link to the RealPlayer recording.

Reporter: "Prince, blahblahblah?"
Prince: "Onetwothreefour, "

dude can play.

42
by MRH (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 11:49pm

I think the 70 Colts are a better comp for the 06 Colts than the 06 Baseball Cardinals. A comparitvely weak team (see the Pythagorean chart or the blog linked by Aaron) that perhaps deserved a championship in two previous seasons (67-68), led by the best passer of his generation (no doubt the irrational Starr-Unitas ARPANET threads were something to read). Yeah, the 06 Peyton is still in his prime and the 70 Johnny U was past it but those Colts were much weaker than the 67-68 versions. The Evil Craig Morton came thru for the Colts despite the Doomsday Defense's best efforts. And a clutch (not really, but work with me here) kicker won it.

43
by Marko (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 11:56pm

"Eight teams have made the Super Bowl after giving up at least 310 points during the regular season. Seven of those teams lost. In Super Bowl XIX, the two worst defenses to ever make the Super Bowl happened to be playing each other, so one of those teams had to win. And the 1983 Raiders and 1983 Redskins actually ranked 13th and 11th in points allowed."

Nitpick: That was Super Bowl XVIII. Super Bowl XIX was between the 49ers and Dolphins.

"I have read reports that it is going to rain on Sunday, anyone know if it is true?"

If it does rain, will it be Purple Rain?

As for this article, good analysis. One other thing to keep in mind regarding the Bears' defensive decline in the last four games of the regular season is that Tommie Harris wasn't the only starter who was out. Obviously, the absence of Harris was and is huge. But in the last four games, the Bears also were missing one starting cornerback due to injury. Nathan Vasher missed two games, and by the time he came back, Charles Tillman was injured, and he missed the final two games. Both are back and healthy and playing well now.

Without Vasher and then Tillman, nickel back Ricky Manning Jr. started. He is a very good nickel back covering slot receivers, but he did not play very well as a starter on the outside. And Devin Hester played nickel back. Hester simply is not very good as a defensive back at this point. So the absence of Vasher and then Tillman really weakened the secondary, and it showed. They are both back now, and the secondary is playing much better. Todd Johnson, a backup safety who sometimes plays in the nickel defense, also missed several games at the end of the season, and he is back now.

So while Harris' absence was key to the defense's decline at the end of the season, injuries to the secondary also played a big part in that.

44
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:07am

#17: But placekicking is inconsistent from year to year.

Not THAT inconsistent. And especially not kickoff distance. Gould's average kickoff length went from 61.5 to 65.1. From 1 touchback to 11. He went from 3-8 on 40-49 yard field goals (which means he was worse in practice, as they never let him try one) to 12-14.

Yeah, I'm banking that the Bears offseason training helped him more than Vinatieri.

45
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:19am

Dr. Z's position-by-position preview (which really ought to be linked here) pointed out that Gould has never even attempted a field goal of 50 yards or more. I sure hope the Bears aren't down by one on the Colts 35 with three seconds to go on Sunday.

46
by admin :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:22am

Vinatieri has not hit a field goal of 50 or more yards since 2002. I doubt this is an issue either way. Thanks for catching the error on the 83 Super Bowl, bad counting by me.

47
by Jason Mulgrew (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:33am

This game will be nice. I guarantee it. Remember, I am the guy who, in July, said Alex Smith would be good in 2006.

48
by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:39am

#43 One, I addressed this in another thread. Gould hit a 52 yarder last year in Minnesota in the last game of the year, but it was wiped out by penalty. He can do it.

Second, and this has been discussed in the context of the 62 yarder hit by Matt Bryant against the Eagles this year (if you haven't heard that radio call by the tampa guy, it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard, track it down), field goals tend to go longer in Florida.

But we'll see. I feel more comfortable with Gould than Vinatieri at that distance, for sure.

49
by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:40am

Robbie Gould does not have an official attempt of a 50-yard field goal, but he did have one that was nullified by a penalty in the Bears' last game in the 2005 season at Minnesota. He nailed it. Also, most of his 40+ yard field goals cleared the crossbar easily and would have been good from 50+ (without drifting wide). One such example was his game-winning 49-yard field goal in OT against Seattle in the divisional playoff game.

Also, Soldier Field (home to half of Gould's regular season games) is a notoriously difficult place to kick, so it usually is pretty risky to try a field goal in excess of 50 yards. It can even be risky to try one at the end of a half there when it's REALLY windy - just ask the 49ers and Joe Nedney, whose 52-yard attempt at the end of the half last year on an insanely windy day was short and wide, and Nathan Vasher returned it 108 yards for a touchdown.

In addition, because Brad Maynard is good at dropping punts inside the 20 and the Bears' defense is an obvious strength, the Bears often punt and play for field position rather than attempt something like a 54-yard field goal. And if it's 4th and short and the Bears are around the 35 yard line, they are likely to go for it.

So it's not that surprising that Gould doesn't have a 50-yard attempt. But I don't doubt that Lovie Smith would trust Gould to try a 50+ yard field goal if the conditions are OK at the Super Bowl and the situation is right.

50
by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 2:50am

45, Jason Mulgrew. That's some pretty bold prognosticating. are you sure you want to go that far out on a limb? I think you should play it safe and just say that 'this game might be nice'. or perhaps, 'there is at least a small chance this game will be at least halfway decent.' i mean, what if you're wrong and it's not nice? you've put yourself WAY out there. be careful.

51
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:19am

Re: 44

Aaron, Vinatieri has a make from 51 in the playoffs this year, so I think that blows that streak. Although it did bounce on the crossbar ;o)

52
by RecoveringPackerFan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:21am

37: But, to a certain extent, the Tampa-2 IS based around turnovers. Even with a mediocre group of players running it, the scheme is designed to allow guys that can flat move to attack the ball rather than sitting back for a chance at one play in a more conservative (by player assignments, not playcalls) scheme would.

53
by t.d. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:58am

I don't normally put much stock in such things, but the Bears' one good defensive performance in over a month took place at home on a freezing-cold day against a warm-weather dome team that had a lot of passes bounce off receivers hands and couldn't hold onto the football. A lot of the Saints didn't look like they wanted to be out there. It's good analysis as usual, and the game certainly could go either way, but I think it's more likey that we see the Bears defense that showed up against Seattle than the one that dominated New Orleans. If that happens, the seven points will be an easy cover for the Colts.

54
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 5:20am

50 The Tampa-2 does emphasize TOs in a way nobody has stated explicitly (maybe I missed it) in this thread, and that is by keeping the plays short and in front of you, there are more plays per drive, and more chances of something going wrong for the offense. So even with the same personnel and ball-hawking from year to year, if you face 15% more plays one year, you will likely see 15% more TOs, no? Now will you recover all the fumbles? That's a discussion for another thread (you SD and NE fans). Then add in the "pop the ball free" focus and you have what might be called effective emphasis on TOs. Success is dependent on a lot of variables, but you do what you can do to put yourself in a position to win and hope for the best.

However, what I took from the Bears avg of 2 TOs per game during tghe season and the 4 they had in the NFCC was this: They played in crappy weather vs a dome team and doubled their average TO rate. No major surprise. But the game was very close with 20 minutes left. If the Bears had just 2 TOs how would it have turned out? I have no idea, but probably not the blowout it ended up being. Might have even gone the other way.

Now, can they reasonably be expected to get 4 TOs in mild (but some rain predicted) Miami vs a team with a better TO differential than NO? Not reasonably. Will they get 2? That's reasonable. Will Indy also get one or two? Also reasonable. After all, the two teams were neck and neck in TO differential this year.

It seems to me that staking one's money or hopes on a similar TO performance is far from cetain.

And Bruce (#48), if you go back a month or so in the discussion boards you may find that you prefer the tamer version of Mr. Mulgrew. He's more reader-friendly now.

55
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:04am

#52, Bobman

The Bears' turnover ratio is heavily influenced by the games Evil Rex played in, he had nearly 20 turnovers in 5 games on his own.

56
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 9:19am

Call this a preview? Where's the swagger, the clutch factor, the "{insert player here} just wins"? Bah, you're not a patch on Pete Prisco.

Seriously, this was terrific. While I'd like to see the Colts win (primarliy to end the Manning/Brady foolishness), I keep seeing the Raiders vs Buccaneers Superbowl. At the same time I wouldn't be shocked by a comfortable Colts win either.

57
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 9:28am

Oh, and the difference in the Bears 3rd/4th down defensive DVOA after week 13 is insane. -63.4% to 10.9%? That's astonishing.

58
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:27am

#53: Evil Rex is just Rex against a decent defence. He does the exact same thing, regardless of what game he's in. It's a lot of the other team's D and luck.

59
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:38am

Heh. I remember those Prince v. Michael Jackson debates. My sisters took different sides. It made the back seat very interesting on car trips.

I've always preferred Jackson, but that's because I'm more a fan of straight-ahead R&B than funk or, guitar solos. I've heard enough people praise Prince's guitar playing that I can respect it, but I'm not able to appreciate it for myself. Jackson's singing is as far ahead of Prince's as The Artist's guitar playing is ahead of Jackson on instruments. And let's not even talk about dancing.

60
by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:43am

They weren't just dealing with injuries, they were also experimenting with new defensive packages under game conditions, according to player interviews after the Tampa game in particular.

61
by Savage Towel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:50am

Does anyone else find that Peter King sort of embodies the archtypal charismatic sportswriter who knows nothing about the sport? It could just be a prejudice of mine.

62
by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:03pm

Re 59:
What's frustrating to me about King is that he does have insights and inside information, but it seems like that's reserved for his appearances on radio and TV. He's much better in those situations.

63
by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:17pm

#27: It's nitpicking, but Michael Jackson's halftime show (the best one ever, in my opinion) was the year after the SB was in the Metrodome, during the first Dallas-Buffalo matchup at the Rose Bowl. I don't remember what the Metrodome halftime show was, but I remember that it was so crappy that they decided to go out and pay big bucks for a known performer the next year.

64
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:31pm

Re:#61

Wasn't that the one with all the little kids and Jackson singing "Heal the World" or some such?

Really creepy in retrospect.

65
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:34pm

Bobman: I've explained that about the Cover 2 about once every few months for the past couple years.

At some point Football Outsiders needs an explaination of the concepts around some of the defenses and schemes. A way to get what the jist of a particular style of play is.

I'd go through it again, but no football discussion! Game must get here!

66
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:45pm

#63

The Strategy Minicamps do exactly that. The link on my name is to "The Cover-2 Explained", one of the earliest minicamps.

67
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:01pm

#63: They're in the archives. Either Strategy Minicamps, or just guest articles.

Saying that a Cover 2 or Tampa 2 is based around turnovers is a bit misleading, though. It's not like non-Cover 2 teams don't force as many turnovers as Cover 2 teams do, and it's not like there aren't Cover 2 teams that don't force turnovers.

I mean, I could make the same argument about a 3-4 defense (quarterback doesn't know where the rush is coming from, so sack-fumbles are common), or just any zone blitzing defense as well (quarterback throws to his hot read, which is covered for a quick INT).

I think Fnor's right in the sense that Chicago just has players which force fumbles more - D. Manning, Tillman, and maybe Briggs if you ignore pre-2005, all average about 1 forced fumble every 30 tackles or so. That's really, really good.

And again, it's not like there are only Cover 2 players who average that many forced fumbles (Dawkins averages 1 per 30), nor do all Cover 2 players average that many either (Vasher doesn't, Hillenmeyer doesn't, Urlacher doesn't).

68
by ch (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:12pm

"Deep meant the ball traveled at least 15 yards through the air; short was everything else."

Slight correction: deep means the ball travelled at least 16 yards from the line of scrimmage to the point where it was estimated to have been caught by the receiver.

69
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:14pm

Will Charlie Murphy be involved in the halftime show?

70
by Dr. Small Country Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:22pm

[...] that’s like asking who would win a war between China and Luxembourg.

China might occupy Luxembourg, but would they be able to drive the Luxembourgers from the casemates? Or would they just give up and appreciate the stunning geography of highly underrated Luxembourg City?

71
by shawndgoldman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:28pm

A suggestion for the charting of pressure:
track interception rate under pressure. I feel the biggest impact of putting pressure on the QB is not forcing incompletions, but creating takeaways. This is particularly true for the Bears this season, as their defense thrives on getting interceptions when the QB is under pressure, and on the other side of the ball Grossman is notorious for throwing off his back foot and into the arms of a defender.

I'd be interested in seeing how interception rates climb for the two offenses and against the two defenses when the QB is under pressure.

72
by billsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:51pm

Only way from China to Luxembourg involves invading Russia first. Advantage Luxembourg.

73
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 1:55pm

Re: 70

Actually, you can get to Luxembourg through France. Advantage China.

74
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 2:24pm

I can't believe the break the Bears might be getting in terms of weather. The rain would be one thing, but if it gets windy, that would be huge for the Bears. It really seems as if everything is going Chicago's way.

75
by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 2:28pm

Well, it's now official - Brett Favre is coming back. At least we'll be spared months and months of speculation on this. Peter King and John Madden no doubt are rejoicing.

76
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 2:50pm

Charles Jake: Michael Jackson is a great dancer and vocalist. Prince is a musical genius who can play tons of different instruments like a virtuoso, and he's a great singer and dancer to boot. If you prefer Jackson's style that's one thing but don't sell the Artist short. The real question, however, is this; which one of them would force more turnovers playing in the Tampa 2?

77
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:08pm

74: Prince would.

At least, he can dunk, so he's probably a better athlete.

78
by OMO (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:09pm

Best analysis of the game I have seen BY A LARGE MARGIN!!!

Nicely done Aaron. Thank you.

79
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:10pm

I'd give the Packers decent chance to win the division next season with Favre coming back. The Bears are unlikely to avoid a bit of a regression on defense compared to the past couple of seasons, and who knows if Grossman will improve much. The Packers, on the other hand, are likely going to get improved offensive line play, and their defense just might continue to play like they did in the 2nd half this season. If they get a decent tight end in the draft or via free agency, look out. I think the Vikings are going to have a tough time avoiding a battle with the Millens for third place.

80
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:26pm

Okay, time for my Cover 2 Spiel.

The Cover 2 is based on the concept of causing more plays to get to the endzone than otherwise. Allowing a few more openings underneath with the acceptance that taking them will cause more plays.

More plays, more chances for a mistake/turnover while limiting the risk to yourself.

So it's not that they cause more turn overs, it's that they cause more plays which should allow more turnover chances.

This allows an average defensive team to have outs.

A good indication of this would be seeing if Cover 2 teams cause the other team to have a higher play per scoring drive.

I base this on a football video game lifetime of playing mostly Cover 2, and being a huge Colts fan watching it work.

So I'd love to see some real evidence that what I'm saying is true. It is very real for me playing video games.

I cause a lot more plays to occur, and don't really go for a 3-out stop. I'm more concerned with trying to cause a long 3rd down, and allowing them to catch before the marker, and make a good tackle. If the defense isn't working, I don't change it.. i allow them to continue to dink and dunk up field hitting hard, good tackles to attempt to cause a turnover.

A pick or a fumble is a likely result if I do a good job keeping them throwing short and often.

81
by coldbikemessenger (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 3:37pm

What is up with the constant refrain of you have to pressure manning
In 2004 the pats rushed 2
Dropped 9
And Manning did nothing

82
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:07pm

The strategy minicamp on Cover-2 does a pretty good job of explaining it (particularly from the perspective of the pro game). Cover-2 also solves another problem. How do you defend 4 verts (4 WRs going straight up the field)? In a traditional Cover-3 scheme, you don't have enough guys to cover 4 WRs. In Cover-2 you can do this by having your corners trail their respective outside receivers, the 2 safeties split between the 2 WRs to their side, and the MLB (commonly called the hole runner) taking the gap right up the middle caused by the diverging safeties. By forcing air under the ball you can, at least theoretically, make a play on any deep ball. It's not a very difficult defense to run in terms of scheme (at least with regards to the secondary), but it does require speed and you're MLB needs to be an absolute stud (hello Derrick Brooks).

In terms of the run game, in a lot of C-2 schemes your corners become outside run containment. If they read run, they should get involved. So in theory you do have 9 true run defenders (in the pro game everyone's so fast it doesn't matter as much). Those guys need to be pretty damn good as well.

The Colts problem is that they really don't have the exceptional personnel to run the defense. They have the speed, but other than Sanders in the back 7 they don't have any other playmakers. Their LBs frankly stink.

But here's my question and I'll be curious to read what some of the statistical guys have to say about this. The Colts defense does force long drives and prevent big plays, but in so doing it keeps their great offense off the field. Why not play a more high-risk, high-reward defense that might force more mistakes (turnovers, 3-and-outs, etc.), but might also give up some big plays? Accept that you're going to give up 24+ points a game, but you'll give your offense another 3-4 possessions a game to easily make up for it. I understand from a personnel standpoint Indy might not be able to do that. But I'd like to think it's something that they can consider.

83
by Cid (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:07pm

"What is up with the constant refrain of you have to pressure manning
In 2004 the pats rushed 2
Dropped 9
And Manning did nothing"

And the same year, Baltimore rattled him with constant blitzes, and the Colts also did nothing. Force Manning to move and scan at the same time and like 95% of QBs he makes mistakes. The Bears defense is built to create and exploit turnovers.

What the Bears REALLY want is a healthy Tommie Harris, so they can generate pressure with the front 4 alone. They don't have that, so what they will do instead is play nickel and spend a lot of time blitzing with their safeties, slot corner, and linebackers.

84
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:08pm

79
That's because of the phenomenon known as "Colts recievers can't catch in the cold when looking over their shoulders"

85
by Frank (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:15pm

re 80: Brooks plays OLB.

re Cover 2: The Bears only actually play Cover 2 about 1/5th of the time.

86
by Cid (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:20pm

"But here’s my question and I’ll be curious to read what some of the statistical guys have to say about this. The Colts defense does force long drives and prevent big plays, but in so doing it keeps their great offense off the field. Why not play a more high-risk, high-reward defense that might force more mistakes (turnovers, 3-and-outs, etc.), but might also give up some big plays? Accept that you’re going to give up 24+ points a game, but you’ll give your offense another 3-4 possessions a game to easily make up for it."

1) You have to know that you are so good on offense that you WILL score on those extra possessions.

2) If you are that good, you don't need the extra posessions, since both teams will get roughly equal numbers of posessions and you will be very efficient with yours.

The number of possessions does not matter. What matters is the RATIO of possessions, the QUALITY of possessions (field position) and the EFFICIENCY of those posessions (how well you move the ball and ultimately how well you score).

Create turnovers, have great special teams play, keep the opponent out of the end zone, and score when you have the ball, and you win, whether you get 3 possessions in a half or 10.

87
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:22pm

#70, 71

If you are really looking for the best way to invade Luxembourg, the connoisseur's choice is to attack from the North through Belgium, thereby avoiding any military powers of any note whatsoever. The only things Belgium is known for are waeving and paedophile rings, neither of which are going to stop the Chinese army.

On second thoughts, you might as well attack through France because as soon as you set foot on French soil they will just surrender. I am going to London this weekend, I might just invade Paris through the channel tunnel on my own for a laugh. Its not like I would meet any resistance.

88
by admin :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:51pm

My counting is awful. I screwed up the history of Pythagorean wins. It said 17 of 19 above and in today's New York Sun. It says 16 of 18 in the new ESPN magazine. It is actually 15 of 17. I know the two exceptions are the 2005 Steelers and 2001 Patriots, but apparently I have a problem counting backwards to 1989. Sorry about that, folks.

89
by OMO (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 4:55pm

For those of you who remember...

Lil Ronnie is back...and this time with a SuperBowl re-mix.

And yes...it's beyond painful.

(My name links to the myspace page)

Enjoy!

90
by Doug (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 5:06pm

Has anyone tried running numbers to see if margin of victory in the conference championship game has anything to do with how a team performs in the Super Bowl? I can remember a few championship games in the past years, like the Giants 41-0 blowout before XXXV or Seattle dominating Carolina last year...anyone know anything? Probably nothing substantial to be found, but I'd be interested nontheless if somebody looked into it.

Only reason I ask: Chicago beat the snot out of New Orleans, so does that give them some sort of emotional advantage or could it be a bad thing to blow out good competition like that and get cocky?

91
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 5:23pm

MB,

No disrespect intended to Prince's singing and dancing skills, but I don't think he's in the same universe as Jackson in those areas. However, Prince would play much better in the Cover-2. He's a compact but aggressive player who can single handedly improve his teams run defense or drop into coverage.

92
by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 5:36pm

88: I don't know the answer to your question, but I don't think the Bears will be cocky. Confident, sure, but not cocky. How could they be cocky with the way the media has continued to bash them in general and Grossman in particular?

The media consensus prior to the NFC Championship game was that the Bears couldn't beat Drew Brees and the Saints, and the Bears certainly played the disrespect card and used that as extra motivation. (I have never understood why teams playing for a championship need any additional motivation, but that's an entirely different topic.) Again, the media consensus is that the Bears can't beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, and the Bears not surprisingly are playing the disrespect card and will be playing with a chip on their shoulders. I don't see how the Bears can come into this game cocky.

93
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 6:01pm

So it’s not that they cause more turn overs, it’s that they cause more plays which should allow more turnover chances.

Eh. If that were true, then Cover 2 teams would have more turnovers/drive than their yards/drive would indicate. Indianapolis has, over the years, but Chicago, not really, Tampa, not really.

If Chicago's defense is predicated on forcing fumbles, then why did they force the 25th fewest fumbles per drive in the league last year?

As I said - I'm pretty sure it's all about the players. Indy's been up there because Dwight Freeney is an awesome pass rusher. Chicago's got plenty of great players.

The number of possessions does not matter.

That's not true. In a faster game (few possessions), a worse team has a much better chance to come out on top, since the game's more decided by fluke plays.

I'd bet you could prove this pretty clearly, too, by plotting winning percentage for the team with lower Pythagorean wins versus number of drives. Or with more advanced statistics.

94
by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 6:06pm

79 and 81,

The Pats got a number of sacks and constant pressure with a 3 man rush against 6 blockers. At the same time, they dropped 8 in coverage on the four receivers; mauling, grabbing and hitting them constantly. With pass rushers knocking him down and no one open, Manning showed why he's only a human being playing QB -- just like Montana, Unitas, and Marino. There has never been a QB who could put up big numbers throwing while on the ground to receivers who are blanketed.

I seem to recall the Colts winning that game vs. the Ravens.

What is it with the media this week? Watching the coverage and reading some of the comments on threads, you'd think that the QB was the only person on the football field. Pass pro doesn't matter, receivers don't matter, running game doesn't matter, the defense doesn't matter.... only the QB. How freakin' stupid!

95
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 6:08pm

Why not play a more high-risk, high-reward defense that might force more mistakes (turnovers, 3-and-outs, etc.), but might also give up some big plays?

The Colts actually do this. They do it by player selection - the only player on defense they'll pay for are DBs and Dwight Freeney.

Best chance for Freeney to cause a sack/turnover is by forcing a team to have a large number of snaps. Too expensive to actually get linebackers who can cover the whole field, so get cheap linebackers and DBs. Unless you run up against a team who can target your linebackers ruthlessly, you're probably fine.

96
by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 6:11pm

91,

Absolutely. That's why weaker basketball teams want to take the air out of the ball and limit the number of possessions.

97
by Not saying (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 6:56pm

91 In a faster game (few possessions), a worse team has a much better chance to come out on top, since the game’s more decided by fluke plays.

Just checking, but you meant slower there, right? Cause then I agree with you.

98
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:04pm

Pat, The Colts play mostly a cover 2. Chicago doesn't.

Tampa I'm not sure about. I would expect the Colts to show it much more than the Bears.

And I don't mean just turnovers. Mistakes happen that aren't just turnovers. If you keep them in front of you and cause more plays, it's likely they will not be able to convert one of them on a dropped pass.

It's allowing less skill to produce good results still.

I play this tactic in every sports game, on every game where I'm not attempting to learn how a 3-4 works well, and failing.

The greatest thing about this is that the player you are against will get comfortable with moving the ball against you, which makes the INT or dropped pass just as heartbreaking. You lull them into a sense of security.

Man, when does this game come on. I'm dying here...

99
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:06pm

The more time a good team plays a bad team, the more time things should go in the good team's favor.

100
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:45pm

95 No, a game with fewer possessions/drives goes by faster, say in 2:50 whereas a game with many possession changes has many clock stoppages and might go 3:10.

More passes mean more clock stoppages on incompletions (and then punts) making the game take longer, i.e. be slower. If you run run run the clock never stops.

Okay, branching out into ROBO-PUNTER theory here: what is the slowest possible possession you can have (result in the fastest possible game)? Say you receive the ball on your 1 YL and run 2.5 yards every time (including 4th downs). No punts and no passes and milk the play clock each time. The runs only cover 2.5 yards, so say they take 8 seconds to execute. You'd get 9 first downs plus a TD at the end. How long is the play clock again? That's 40 runs of 2.5 yards at 8 seconds each plus 39 nearly-full expirations of the play clock. Could this theoretical drive consume a whole quarter? More?

That's what teams want against the Colts--make their D cry for mercy, shorten the game, and keep Manning and Co. off the field.

101
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:47pm

Oops, forgot to mention that this would require ROBO-POWER RUNNER, who guarantees you 2.5 yards on 4th and 2.5 100% of the time.

102
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:55pm

The last time Luxembourg assembled an army they assembled 80 men to go and fight for their feudal lord in a trade dispute in northern Italy. They never actually got involved in any fighting as the dispute was resolved peacefully before they even got to Italy, but when they got back a couple of months later there were 81 of them because they had made a friend. True story.

103
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 7:55pm

Bobman, assuming 47 seconds per play, it would take 31 minutes and 20 seconds.
So, the slowest drive possible would be 30 minutes.

104
by fungus (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 8:13pm

98: The shortest *possible* football game would be an hour long, not counting halftime and other breaks. If a team had an untacklable ballcarrier, he could just run up and down the field for 15 minutes, then step into the end zone. The resulting game would take a little over an hour, depending on how long the opposition had the ball.

105
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 8:27pm

#85 - Wait! That means there'll be TWO James in London?!?

There's gotta be a duel.

106
by Jason Mulgrew (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 9:16pm

I do not like Lil Ronnie. He is not nice.

Brett Favre is returning. This means John Madden will be excited.

107
by Gordon (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 9:23pm

Re: 89

However, Prince would play much better in the Cover-2. He’s a compact but aggressive player who can single handedly improve his teams run defense or drop into coverage.

Maybe the Eagles can sign him to play OLB.

Re: 96

I play this tactic in every sports game, on every game where I’m not attempting to learn how a 3-4 works well, and failing.

Keep trying; the 3-4 is monstrous if you know how to use it right. It's a great way to get pressure on the QB with a substandard D-line, and really lends itself to heavy blitzing. (Most of my regular opponents love to dance around in the backfield all day, so my defensive strategy revolves around pressuring the QB relentlessly.)

108
by ElTiante (not verified) :: Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:18pm

#54--That's exactly what I've been thinking. The best precedent seems to be Oakland vs. Tampa Bay.

Oakland entered the season as the SB favorites (as did Indy this year), with a star-studded, pass-based offense that could also run effectively. Oakland's offense was viewed as unstoppable. The AFC was viewed as superior to the NFC, and the Raiders were clearly the best team in the conference.

The biggest difference between that Oakland team and this year's Indy team, and one that bodes well for Chicago, is that Oakland had a much better defense.

Tampa Bay, like the Bears this year, got to the Super Bowl mainly because of a speedy, aggressive defense built around the Cover 2. As for other minor similarities, both TB and CHI had/have average QBs and great blocking WRs. The TB offense featured the run in the Super Bowl that year, as will Chicago this year.

The main difference between CHI and TB, and one that again bodes well for the Bears, is that the Bears have a better offense than the Bucs did because they run better, have a stronger offensive line, and can throw the ball long.

Differences in the situations that favor Indy are that the Colts receivers are faster than were the aging Jerry Rice and Tim Brown (although Harrison might be slowing down and the Colts are using a tight end as a slot receiver). Also, TB had at least 4 Hall of Fame quality defenders (S. Rice, J. Lynch, W. Sapp, D. Brooks), whereas CHI seems to have only 2 or 3. Also, Chicago might not be quite as good at protecting the ball on offense as the Bucs were that year.

In short, once again an offensive juggernaut from the powerhouse AFC faces a small, disruptive, and NFC-dominating defense. The situation, of course, isn't exactly the same; however, it seems close enough to suggest that a smart bettor should take the Bears and 7 points. Or better yet, take the Bears and the +$210 money line. (At those odds, Indy/Oakland would need to win over 66% of the time for the bet to lose money in the long run.)

109
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 12:37am

95 No, a game with fewer possessions/drives goes by faster, say in 2:50 whereas a game with many possession changes has many clock stoppages and might go 3:10.

Drives. Talk about game length in drives, not time. No one cares how physically long the game takes. All that matters is the number of drives.

A "fast" game has few drives (it goes by fast). A "slow" game has tons of drives. Of course, this also leads to a "slow" game is "fast paced".

It's probably easier to just talk about low-drive games and high-drive games than fast and slow. More obvious that way.

110
by hector (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 2:56am

I think it's interesting that Grossman's efficiency falls through the floor if he's playing from behind or in a tie game (link at name). I don't know what the league average is in this sort of thing, but given how he's handled pressure and adversity this year, it makes one curious. Don't fall behind, Chicago, because Rex is unlikely to lead you back.

111
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 4:26am

First off, 101/102, thanks. That's a way cooler concept than ROBO-PUNTER (who will now come to my home and punt my ass across the street).

To address a handful of disparate posts above, a low possession/fast elapsed time game would, by conventional wisdom favor the Bears--run run run and keep Manning off the field. But what Indy has done in the postseason (and a couple times in season) was have long grinding drives to save their D and wear out the other team. So say each team gets a mere two drives per half. Equal possessions. It's the opposite of a shootout but the same as well; the most efficient scoring team wins.

Most efficient offense in the NFL: Indy. Against better competition this year they scored 2.8 pts per drive (ranked #1) and Chicago scored 1.9 pts per drive (ranked #10). If you will each get the ball only 4 times all game... whom do you pick?

And regarding turnovers, I like the FF/tackle metric noted above. Here's another version: over their careers, Freeney and Mathis have forced an almost equal 0.52 fumbles per sack. Anderson and Brown have FF/sack ratios of 0.38 and 0.37 respectively.

Conversely, Manning has averaged 0.31 fumbles per game (this year was his career low at 2 all season), while Grossman has averaged 0.54 fumbles per game. Manning also had an INT rate of 1.6% while Rex had a 4.2% INT rate.

I know Chicago "thrives on turnovers" and all that, but the odds are that if these guys both drop back enough, Rex will fumble more and throw more picks than Peyton.

Based on my scattered reasoning above, if it's an all-run game with a relatively equal number of drives per team, I favor Indy to outscore Chi because they are more efficient. If it's an all-pass game, both point-scoring efficiency and turnover proclivity favor Indy (as well as every pundit, sentient or not, on the planet).

I know there are more moving pieces on the field than the 6 guys I mentioned, but since the QB handles the ball more than anybody (the centers have it for 1/2 second per play on the official clock, the QB up to 5 seconds on a pass, maybe 8-10 on a scramble, but probably only about 1-2 seconds on a handoff), his turnover potential is probably the most important. I picked the defenders who probably have the most effect on fumbles for the guy who handles the ball the most. (and don't have time to calc everybody's FF/game or FF/tackle stats)

112
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 4:35am

108 Hector, from the same source, Mannings numbers go up when tied or behind. That damn choker.

113
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 8:48am

106 - the biggest difference you failed to mention is that Tampa Bay was being coached by the previous HC of Oakland, and the Raiders had changed absolutely nothing about the offense that Gruden had installed, not even the audibles. Unsuprisingly, Tampa Bay had relatively little difficulty containing an offense which they'd had two weeks' preparation for from the guy who invented it. I was not aware that Tom Moore coached the Bears - consequently, that game can hardly be regarded as predictive.

Oh, and even if it was, in addition:

2002 Oakland offensive DVOA: 24.4%, ranked second
2002 Tampa Bay defensive DVOA: -33.6%, ranked first
2006 Chicago defensive DVOA: -20.3%, ranked second
2006 Indianapolis offensive DVOA: 33.8%, ranked first

That's a pretty major difference too, -9.2% projection for the strength-on-strength matchup as opposed to +13.5% (which is to say that DVOA thinks that the difference between the Indy O and the Chicago D is similar to New Orleans vs a league-average D).

Finally, Chicago's offense (-3.9%)isn't rated better than Tampa Bay's was by DVOA (-2.5%).

114
by Colin (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 1:20pm

The AccuScore thing is really interesting -- it puts the odds of victory at 60% Colts, 39% Bears. Ok, I can live with those odds as a Bears fan -- they seem a lot better than the chance most people give 'em.

But the average score for both teams? Not even a full point difference. So I want to know how you can be 20% favorites if you only outscore the Bears by an average of a point. You'd think that would shave the margin down by a bit, wouldn't you?

115
by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 2:03pm

Re 85: North of Luxembourg = Ardennes, not so great for attacking, but if you do get to the city itself, be sure to visit Patton's grave and have some Bofferding.

116
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 2:40pm

Re: 109

Excellent points about a low-drive game. If each team only had 4 drives all game, I'd take Indy because with so few drives there is a lot less special teams play which heavily, heavily favors the Bears (this wouldn't allow them to play their field position game which they do so well). I still think a high-drive game favors the Colts as well (despite the special teams problem, giving that offense more chances will hurt you). I'd be curious what the optimal amount of drives for the game would be for a Bear victory.

117
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 2:49pm

Re: 112

Colin, the pointspread is designed to have an equal amount of money placed on both teams. That spread involves the quality of teams as well as fan/bettor perception. As most of reading this site know perception can often be dead wrong. The oddsmakers have found that number to be Colts by 6.5 or 7. I think that number is pretty accurate and doesn't offer much value. I believe the Colts are getting too much value for the difference in QBs and the Bears are getting too much value for their win versus the Saints.

118
by Terry (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 3:46pm

80:It’s not a very difficult defense to run in terms of scheme (at least with regards to the secondary), but it does require speed and you’re MLB needs to be an absolute stud (hello Derrick Brooks).

I could be wrong.. but wasn't Brooks an OLB? Tampa's MLB was guys like Shelton Quarles and ..Dwayne Rudd, I think.

119
by Fielding (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 4:41pm

You need to factor in strength of schedule in your pythagorean wins analysis. If the Colts had the Bears' schedule, they would have led the league in pythagorean wins. It's analogous to park effect in baseball.

120
by admin :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 8:04pm

Re: 108. Damn, I knew I would forget something. I meant to update those stats in the preview. Sorry about that. It is something worth noting.

Re: 117. Um, no. If we factored in strength of schedule, the Colts still would not have come close to leading the league in Pythagorean wins. Jacksonville had more Pythagorean wins and played a harder schedule. New England and Philadelphia had more Pythagorean wins and played a not-as-much-easier-as-Chicago's-schedule schedule.

One more question. Has anybody else seen a preview that even mentions the Harper injury? Am I the only prognosticator who thinks this could be a factor that favors Chicago?

121
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 9:06pm

118: no, and I don't know why.

Re: the Cardinals-Colts parallel. The reason the Cards were mediocre in the regular season, and good in the playoffs is that the Cardinals had a sizeable amount of innings pitched in the regular season by pitchers who were beyond terrible. Like 6-7 ERA bad. Those pitchers were replaced by pitchers who were a little better than replacement level, and the Cardinals were a much better team.

Could there be something like that happening? Like, Gilbert Gardner and Giordano? were so bad anyone was a huge upgrade, the DEs playing the run a little has helped immensely (they're now replacement level against the run instead of the 11 vs 9 dynamic that was happening before, and other small factors.

If this is happening, the reason that it hasn't happened before is that there haven't been many teams with 'fixable' huge, gaping, monstrous holes that have made the playoffs.

122
by goathead (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 9:11pm

Aaron, I've seen other analyses mentioning Harper, I'm pretty sure at least one of the ESPN columnists did.

No question it helps Chicago, assuming Grossman is able to put the passes close to his receivers. I think everyone who watched the Bears-Cardinals game is still finding it impossible to pick the Bears though.

123
by SASO (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 11:36pm

I love this site, let me first say. I have my own way of analysing teams. Then let me share it with you.

I try and look at what a team will try and do, in an effort to understand what will happen.

So lets take Chicago on offense first. The standard attack against a cover 2, is to play s 3 or 4 receiver set. I do not think for a second the Bears will try that. They will go power sets, and rush the ball. With I think limited success in the first half.

The Colts will play there normal game against a cover 2. Spread the field. They will march up and down the field. No one can in the league can match up well against the Colts. when they spread the field.

The game will come down to how the Colts do in the red zone.

I see a lot of wank analysis about nearly every thing, but that will be the game, one way or another.

124
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 12:23am

#113 --

The French didn't think attacking there was so easy, either; that's why they only lightly fortified the area, which was like spreading out a welcome mat for the Panzers. (Sort of like depending on Cato June to cover Desmond Clark.)

Your last name Maginot, by any chance?

125
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 2:28am

I think everyone who watched the Bears-Cardinals game is still finding it impossible to pick the Bears though.

Sometimes I think the whole reason the Colts are favored was that the Bears-Cardinals game was a Monday Nighter, whereas almost literally no one saw the Colts lose to the Texans on Christmas Eve.

126
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 4:57am

112/115, Regarding Accuscore in particular (not Vegas), yeah, I thought that odd too. If you win an election 60-40 it's a freakin' landslide, but the expected or average point spread over those 10,000 simulated Accuscore games is only one point? You're freakin' kidding, right? How on earth can it be a 60/40 split?

In simplest math terms, if Indy wins 6,000 of those games by an average score of 7, then Chicago has to win its 4,000 games by a higher average, around 8.25 pts., for the expected delta to be 0.90 pts. in Indy's favor. Chi wins by more, but it wins a lot less often. Just strikes me as freakin' weird.

My impression of the Vegas line is that Indy by 4 might be the "right" score but that everyone on the planet would bet Indy and put the bookmakers at huge risk of a loss should Indy cover. Instead of predicting the actual score, they have to pick a line that they think will generate roughly half the bets on either side, guaranteeing the bookmakers a payday regardless of who wins. I'm no bettor, but isn't that they way it works?

127
by Erik Smith (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 5:56am

121: We do a free event for our Pizza Box Football (board game) players every year where they download free teams from us and report their results back to us.

We don't claim to be more scientific than anyone else (we're big fans of this site), but one thing was telling in the games we've seen:

- Indianapolis wins 91% of games where they score at least 23

- Chicago wins 92% of games where they hold Indianapolis below 23

Anyway, these results would support your theory that Indy will win handily provided that they march up and down the field (and score TDs once they get to the red zone).

Enjoy the game!

128
by Malene, cph (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 9:56am

Re: Prince and the cover 2:

Has anyone ever seen Bob Sanders and Prince in the same place at the same time?

Just saying.

129
by goathead (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 10:03am

Bobman - That's exactly how the vegas line works. They don't give a crap who is more likely to win, or by how much. Only how the public perceives it, and how they can divide the money evenly between both teams. SI did a great story on this ages ago.

130
by Not saying (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 12:48pm

Re: 112/115/124

I'm not sure where you're getting your information about Accuscore. In the article dbt linked to above (see here) it says that the average point difference is 4.1. (They mention in the body of the article that the median difference is about 3.5.) The only place it references a less than one point differential is in the simulations when Hester scores a return TD. The difference there is 0.4 and the success rates are Colts 50.9% and Bears 49.1%.

Re: Vegas odds

That does seem to be usually how things work. Sometimes Vegas will see inefficiencies in how betters are placing their bets (such as all overvaluing the Bears) and place the line to try to draw in suckers. That's the house gambling with money, though, which it usually doesn't like to do.

131
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 1:19pm

Actually, goathead, there hs been some academic research done lately (can't remember the link) which establishes that the major books in Vegas don't always try to get even money on each side, and will, when they see the public consensus not properly acounting for all factors in a game, purposely get lopsided towards one side. Somebody linked to the research in one of the threads here once, and it as pretty convincing.

As the game draws nearer, I grow more convinced that the Bears are going to win, which does not make me happy, since I very much want to see Dungy hold the trophy tonight.

132
by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 1:27pm

Lost in all this endless TV discussion about Dallas Clark presenting a matchup problem as the TE who can play like a 3rd WR is the fact that Ricky Proehl is no longer on the injury list.

He played sparingly in the time when he was healthy after signing, but if they think Clark presents matchup problems when 2 WRs are on the field, imagine the possibilities when there are 3 and the Bears are forced to use one of two remaining LBs to cover him.

Not one talking head or so called "expert" has mentioned this, but if Proehl is really healthy, this seems like an excellent look to trot out to test Chicago's D. If the O Line establishes that it can handle the Bears front 4, there's no need for a 2 TE set, and the Colts can suddenly have 4 legitimate receiving threats.

Unless I'm missing some hidden value that Utecht provides. But it seems like it's in the Colts best interests to force the Bears into Nickel, using Manning Jr on Proehl, and leaving Clark up against a LB that wouldn't necessarily have drawn that assignment if it was a 2 TE set. (Though it's probably Briggs in either case.)

133
by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 1:31pm

129 is right - Vegas will occasionally "take a stand" and leave a line where skewed action will come in. (There are sites where you can find this information.) I doubt they'd do something like that on such a huge guaranteed payday as this though.

134
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 2:21pm

Re: 129,

The one example I can give of a game where Vegas "gambled" on the line was the 1994 AFC Title Game (Pittsburgh/San Diego). Pittsburgh was about a 10/11 point favorite, but to even up the money amounts wagered the line should have been around 14. San Diego won the game outright and the books made a killing. The books thought Pittsburgh was getting too much credit.

By the way Will, what makes you think the Bears are going to win?

Re: 131

I can't imagine the books would do something like that on the Super Bowl. They're going to make their money regardless with the hype of the game as well as the many prop bets. I think the line values the two teams pretty accurately myself.

135
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 2:47pm

Double, it may just be that I so very much want the Colts to win that I am overreacting in a pessimistic fashion. However, I look at the teams, and the only areas where the Colts are superior are quarterback and receivers, and although the qb is obviously the most important position, there is a lot more than one position which affects the outcome of a game.

The wild card for me, and what I can't get a handle on, is the Colts' defense, and whether they will bring out the worst in Grossman. I just don't know, but I'd feel better if it was going to be sunny and windless in Miami today. A dome team playing in bad weather is another reason that I'm very nervous.

136
by BB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 3:09pm

132: The books did it just two weeks ago -- if I remember correctly the betting was 65 to 70 percent on the Saints, and the line didn't move at all. As a Bears fan, that made me pretty confident going to the game that we would be celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl.

From what I understand though the betting has been pretty even on the Super Bowl, they set the line about right. Definitely right that they aren't likely to make a stand on a game with this much action.

As to the TE thing from 130, Proehl really doesn't add anything given the matchups. The Bears are one of the few teams with the LBs to cover Clark. Indy's probably better off splitting Clark out, leaving Proehl off the field, and hoping that the Bears nickel back covers Clark, as Clark could break that tackle a lot easier than if it were Briggs or Urlacher on him.

137
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 3:41pm

Will, I'm rooting for the Colts as well and the one thing that comforts me at least is that this is the best team Chicago will have faced this year. I think the Colts are battle tested with their schedule.

My big fear is turnovers. If the Colts hold onto the football I think they'll be in good shape. I just don't see the Bears grinding out a lot of long drives in this game. They may get some big plays, but they win with field position via turnovers and special teams.

138
by Peter (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 4:31pm

I agree with 115, I can't really find a good value bet in the 7 point line. Although, I am shocked with the move to 6 1/2. This reminds me of last year when a lot of late money came in on Seattle. Like last year, I fear that i'd be to worried about a backdoor cover at the end of the game.

Re 134: That line 2 weeks ago was amazing! Loved counting my money on that one

139
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 5:41pm

130: If Ricky Proell scores the tying touchdown, at least he doesn't have to worry about losing the game on a Viniteiri field-goal.
118: Harper injury? Did his wife stab him in the knee again?

140
by pauliebedders (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 6:13pm

115 and 136

I honestly predicted IND-7, thus it can't be value whatever my pick. Like Aaron on his matchup discussion, you could honestly see it going anyway, but I think IND wins, just a question of whether they cover.

141
by GBS (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 6:37pm

Moving the line top keep even action on both sides doesn't guarantee the casinos a profit either. IIRC, the year Pittsburgh beat Dallas 35-31, Pittsburgh started out as a small favorite and the eventually moved up to Dallas +6. Thje final score put the casinos in a big hole, as the early Pittsburgh bettors and the late Dallas betters both won.

Does anyone else remember that, or am I hallucinating again?

142
by sneezy (not verified) :: Sun, 02/04/2007 - 7:02pm

This was a very good article. Lots of informative numbers and well written too.

Bears in a blowout. It's about time the Colts' defense reverted to (bad) form. That plus the Bears' ball-stripping abilites plus Devin Hester.

143
by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/05/2007 - 11:45am

The New message board has me listed properly, but never sent the return email so i can activate :(