NFL Championship day!

Jan 30, 2007 4:09 AM

With a two-week lead-up to the Super Bowl, there’s been plenty of time for analysis, prognostication and handicapping gibberish.

Now it’s time to get down to the hard factors that will decide this year’s title game between the Colts and the Bears.

The current line favors the Colts by about a touchdown with a total of 49. My pick is the Bears to win outright with the score eclipsing the posted total.

Last year, the Bears were supposed to win it all and flopped. This year they started off nearly invincible, but stumbled down the stretch.

Winning this game is as much about redemption as achievement. They’ve got the players, the motivation to do it. Here’s how.

Let’s start by clearing up a few perceptions. Throughout the NFL season, it has been "accepted knowledge" that the AFC is vastly superior to the NFC. In fact, future odds listed any AFC team a touchdown favorite over any NFC team in the Super Bowl.

But, keep in mind that those numbers were posted before the AFC’s top two seeds — the Chargers and Ravens — were bumped from the playoffs. Also worth noting is the NFC’s top seed, Chicago, is still standing.

Thus, it’s inflationary to believe the Colts should be favored by a touchdown over the Bears. By interpolation alone, the number should have been —3 or maybe —4.

Here’s more comparison shopping on point spreads versus common opponents. When the Bears traveled to New York to face the Giants, they were a 1-point underdog. Indy in the same spot was a 3-point favorite, creating a 4-point differential.

But the gap tightened as the season wore on. When Chicago played at the Jets, they were a 5½-point favorite, while the Colts laid 7½ points in the same role — only a 2-point differential.

In November, when they both played at New England, the Bears were getting 4½ points while Indy was getting 3 points — only 1½ points separating the two.

Besides comparing point spreads, if you carefully examine the stats from those common opponents, you’ll find Chicago held its own in most instances and outperformed Indy in others.

For instance, while Indy barely got past the Giants and Jets on the road, Chicago didn’t have much trouble beating either of them.

And against New England, even though Chicago lost 17-14, it had a distinct advantage in the stats. Conversely, in Indy’s 27-20 win over the Patriots, the Colts lost the battle at the line of scrimmage and benefited from +3 in turnovers.

Here are a few other factors to keep in mind:

”¡ Although Indy was outstanding at home (10-0, 7-3 ATS), they were vulnerable on the road (5-4, 4-5 ATS). Chicago, on the other hand, performed well on the road (7-1, 5-3 ATS). The crowd at the Super Bowl (in Florida) will likely favor the Bears.

”¡ Peyton Manning could be hiding a thumb injury sustained against the Pats. This could be critical as the Colts can’t win without his pinpoint passing.

”¡ Getting past the Patriots, who by all rights could have easily won their playoff game, may have left the Colts satisfied and not ready for the biggest effort of their season. Incidentally, in three playoff games, the Colts have scored eight field goals and no touchdowns in the first halves. New England was clearly out of gas last week when the Colts came back to beat them in the fourth quarter.

”¡ Most of the analysis centers on the Bears’ strong defense and mediocre offense and the Colts brilliant offense and lackluster defense. But special teams could play a critical role on Sunday, and the Colts have one of the league’s worst. Remember how often the Patriots stared drives at or near midfield? The Bears should have the same success and may find themselves working with shorter fields.

In analyzing any match-up, it’s key to create a scenario on how the game will unfold. This Sunday, expect the Bears to run the ball consistently.

They may not make the same mistakes that Kansas City made by running up the middle on first and second down, but the Colts will get a steady diet of Thomas Jones and Cedric Jones.

Obviously, the Bears will want to keep Manning and his offense off the field, so they’ll mix in a short passing game. Watch for big plays from Rashied Davis, a former Arena Football League star who came to the bears in 2005 as a defensive back, but later switched to the slot receiver. He’s versatile (remember the key end-around?) and plays solid football.

The Bears will rely on their defense to control Manning and his weapons. Manning the controls is middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who will provide much more resistance to the Colts attack over the middle, which they used extensively last week with tight end Dallas Clark.

Overall, this should be a great Super Bowl. No team has a dominating advantage and the game will come down to the last three minutes.

But the nod goes to Chicago, especially as the underdog that is getting very little respect in the football world. The respect, accolades and redemption will come, to the tune of a 27-24 Bears victory.