Todd Taylor, Managing Editor, ColtPower.com: For the Bears, the running game on both sides of the ball will be the key to success.
If Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson can move the chains it will take pressure off of Rex Grossman and we have all seen what Grossman is capable of when in a comfort zone. Bears fans should hope Lovie Smith learned from Bill Belichick's mistakes -- he abandoned the run in crucial moments of the AFC Championship game.
Defensively, if the Bears can take away the Colts' running game and force Manning to start winging the ball all over the field, they will have the Colts' offense right where they want them. The Colts have averaged 64 rushing yards in their last four playoff losses.
John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: As is usually the case in football, this game will be won in the trenches.
The Colts have struggled to stop the run most of the season, especially outdoors on grass as will be the case for Super Bowl XLI. The Bears have an experienced offensive line that is 100% healthy and playing as well as they have all season, so they should be able to push around an undersized Indy front seven that relies on speed and quickness more than strength and girth. If Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson have room to run like they have thus far in the playoffs, that opens up the play-action pass and makes life much easier on Rex Grossman.
Defensively, the Bears need a monster effort from their front four and have to get consistent pressure on Peyton Manning. He doesn't get sacked very often and has a sense of when to get rid of the ball, but forcing him to make quick decisions might cause a turnover or two and will help protect Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in coverage. If Tank Johnson can have a Tommie Harris-like day and Adewale Ogunleye plays like he did in the NFC championship game, the Colts will have a tough time finding the end zone.
THE COLTS WILL WIN IF ...
TT: For the Colts, special teams and ball control will be the difference.
Devin Hester is the single biggest factor in this game. The Colts' punt and kick coverage has been an Achilles heel all season long and Hester is capable of changing a game by himself. Hunter Smith will need to angle his punts out of bounds and the kick off coverage unit must have a good game plan.
The Colts have exhibited great ball control in the postseason, showing patience in the playoffs they haven't shown in the past. The Colts have possessed the ball for an average of 34 minutes in the postseason, which has been key in keeping their defense fresh.
JC: If Grossman has more pass attempts than Jones and Benson have combined carries, the Bears are going to be in big trouble. The Colts have been much better defending the run in the postseason thanks to the return of Bob Sanders, and they will win this ballgame if that trend continues. Especially if Indy gets off to an early lead because the Bears can throw their grind-it-out game plan right out the window if they're trailing by double digits in the second half.
Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are talented enough to create matchup problems for any defense, so they'll kill the Chicago secondary if Manning gets time to throw. Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher can hold their own on the outside, but the Bears don't have good cover guys at the safety position and will have their hands full with Dallas Clark. Also, the Midway Monsters have to come up with multiple turnovers in order to give their offense a short field and maintain control of the field position game.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTIONS
TT: This game will be closer than the national media believes. The Bears, weak schedule or not, are a great team with a defense capable of disrupting Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Bears also have the ability to run the ball and I don't believe the Colts' run defense is completely fixed.
But Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will be able to establish enough of a running game to get Manning going. The Colts offense will stay on the field long enough and put up enough points early to dictate the pace of the game.
This one is going down to the wire: Colts 28, Bears 24.
JC: I believe the Bears match up better with the Colts than they would have against the Patriots, Chargers, or Ravens. Although Indy oviously has a superior offense, Chicago is better defensively and light years better on special teams. Alhough Adam Vinatieri is arguably the best clutch kicker in NFL history, the Bears are much better with their coverage units and have a frightening return man in Devin Hester.
Manning cleared a major hurdle in the AFC championship game defeating Tom Brady and the Pats, but that was against a lesser defense in the friendly confines of the RCA Dome. Grossman just needs to limit his mistakes and make a few plays here an there, while the Colts don't have a chance if Manning does not play well. The Bears have completely bought into their role as the underdog, and their us-against-the-world mentality has served them well.
This has the makings of a very good game, and I like Chicago to get it done: Bears 24, Colts 20.