Some thoughts on the upcoming game and the league in general... A few obvious concerns for the Pats in this game: -the Bob Sanders effect. In the 21 games oft-injured all-pro Sanders has played the past 2 seasons, the Colts have allowed 15.5 points per game. In the 14 the SS has missed due to injury, the Colts have allowed 21.9. IOW, Sanders' presence in the line-up is worth roughly a TD a game to Indy. -Banta-Cain and Bruschi vs. the run. It's clear that the Seau injury has damaged the integrity of this defense. The trend is undeniable. In the 11 games Seau played, the Pats' D allowed more than 20 points in a game only ONCE, vs. Indy. In the 7 games since Seau was injured, the Pats' D has allowed more than 20 points 5 times. Pats run D was #2 in the NFL at the time of Seau's injury, and then plummeted to a wobbly #5 by season's end, season averages dropping by more than 20 yards per game, and almost a full yard per carry. Breer's observations in the Herald about the Chargers using formations to target Banta-Cain and Bruschi demonstrate that the league has identified this flaw and how to attack it. Whether the Colts have the personnel to copy the Chargers is an open question. If the Colts become two dimensional on offense, a Patriot victory becomes unlikely... almost as unlikely as vs. SD last week. Anything is possible with this band of brothers. -Speed and tackling consistency at LBer. Short passes to the powerful and elusive Addai, which Manning made a living on vs. KC, will threaten the Pats ILBs, especially Bruschi. This matchup favors the Colts. During the last two meetings, short passes converting 3rd downs led to long Colt drives, Bataan Death Marches for the Pats D... -Youth at SS and CB. Facing Manning, Harrison and Wayne in a dome is a nightmare for any DB, especially young ones like Sanders and Hobbs. There will come a time or two when they will be fooled out of their cleats. Whether the Colts connect on those opportunities could decide the game. The advantages the Pats have are well known by all. One variable that could be decisive... While I like Watson as a complimentary player, the insistence on him being a primary downfield threat is becoming irrational. I have no doubt that occasionally he can make a big play, but the chances of that happening have proved slim due to his stiffness, marginal instincts and tendency to juggle. While the Pats could still win this game with Watson as the primary receiving TE, the job would be made easier if Thomas takes that role. It is easy to see Thomas is a more natural, more savvy, and yes, more talented overall football player than his hulking counterpart. The 2 TE set, which has been such an offensive disaster at times this season (including the San Diego game), operated better against Jacksonville's #4 pass defense when Thomas was given a key role. Maybe the formation would work as intended if the receiving TE actually got open and caught passes with consistency. Outcome: I believe the Pats are tougher mentally and physically in every phase of the game vs. the Colts, with the possible exception of place kicker. I believe they will gradually assert control of this game and squeeze the life out of the Colts and the RCA dome faithful, like an Anaconda slowly crushing its prey. Over the course of the game, they will flex their offensive muscle against a Colt defense that has been playing over its head and out of character for 2 weeks. Eventually, water seeks its own level. While the world roots against the "boring", "classless" Pats, they will flip a collective "bird" at jealous viewers across the country, rise to the occasion and put a permanent stamp on the Pats-Colt rivalry and P. Manning's otherwise glorious career. Pats win 34-21. Football isn't a Hollywood script; There is no rule ordaining a happy ending for Manning, Dungy, and their team... Consider this matchup Russell vs. Chamberlain, Part Deux. Miscellaneous thoughts... - With two playoff victories this season, Brady now has 12 in his career, tying him with Roger Staubach. Only Terry Bradshaw (14) and Joe Montana (16) have more since the 1970 merger. IMO # of Playoff victories are the best way to judge the true greatness of a QB, because it rewards consistent winning play over the course of a career and punishes one-time SB caretakers (like Trent Dilfer), statistical compilers (like Bledsoe, Testaverde and Moon), and regular season passer-rating freaks who struggle to come through in the clutch (like Manning and Steve Young). SB victories, of course, act as a tie breaker among equals. A playoff victory is quarterback GOLD. - Unlike others I feel the NFC representative in the SB has a decent chance to win it all. (1) Either NFC team will have played one fewer game than their AFC opponent, meaning the NFC team will be less physically and mentally drained, even taking into account a two week lay-off for both sides. (2) Should Indy advance to the SB, both NFC teams allowed fewer points than Indy during the regular season, and points allowed is usually the best indicator of a team's chances of SB success (those interested see this thread: http://www.patsfans.com/new-england....php?t=36643&highlight=playoff victories 1970) (3) Historically, one of the few exceptions to the points allowed advantage has been a rematch game in the Super Bowl in which the regular season victor won by 7 points or less. IOW, a NE vs. Chicago SB, whose outcome many fans and pundits would probably consider a foregone conclusion, would still make me very nervous (The Pats only won the regular season game 17-13).