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Super Bowl XLI Preview

Three keys to cover the point spread for both Indy and Chicago - plus get free NFL picks against the spread for Super Bowl XLI

Jan. 30, 2007

By Carlisle Richards
Bodog Nation Contributing Writer

It's been over a week since bettors first laid their eyes on the line for Super Bowl XLI: the Indianapolis Colts by a touchdown over the Chicago Bears.


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Whether you immediately fell in love with a side, eventually talked yourself into one, or still haven't decided, you've probably come up with a few things each team will have to do in order to turn its backers into winners.

"If Peyton Manning can (blank), the Colts will cover."

"If Rex Grossman doesn't (blank and blank and for-the-love-of-God blank), the Bears will cover."

Now, it's Bodog Nation's turn. After countless hours spent crunching the numbers and making tangible the intangibles, the following comprises our three keys to victory for each side. All other factors be damned.

Saints (11-6; 10-7 ATS)
at Bears (14-3; 9-8 ATS)

The Indianapolis Colts will cover the spread if...

1. They limit the turnovers.

The Colts cannot be careless with the football on the big stage like the Saints were in the NFC Championship. No team in the NFL forced more turnovers (44) than the Bears during the regular season, but the Colts have yet to lose a fumble in their three postseason games, and committed the fourth-fewest turnovers in the NFL this season, with 19.

The key won't be when the ball is in Manning's hands - the Colts have allowed the fewest sacks in the league the past three years, and Manning has never been sacked more than 30 times in a season - but when the ball is released. Expect all the Indy backs and receivers to be pawed at relentlessly. Their success will rest with how well they can protect the rock.

2. They stuff the run.

Chicago has employed a basic-yet-intimidating run philosophy with Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones. The former is a power runner who softens up the defense. The latter is a burner, a gamebreaker capable of ripping off the long one. The big key will be which Indianapolis run defense shows up Sunday - the one that allowed 173 yards per game in the regular season, or the one that's allowed only 76.7 in the playoffs.

Indy might have an edge here with the (relatively) small Chicago offensive line, which only averages 305 pounds. The Colts will, however, also have to deal with Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, two of the best downfield blocking receivers in the NFL. The duo have been instrumental in allowing Jones to break free once he gets through the front seven. Note his 33-yard scamper against New Orleans.

3. Dallas Clark disrupts the defense.

With so much attention being paid to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Clark has become the benefactor, exploiting vulnerable middle and linebacker coverages at will during the playoffs. He leads the team with 17 receptions, 14 of which have produced first downs and - amazingly - leads all postseason receivers with 281 yards.

Clark will have a tougher matchup come Sunday against Brian Urlacher, arguably the best hybrid linebacker in the NFL. His ability to both defend the pass and rush is unparalleled, but the Colts could force him to man-up on Clark in an effort to open up the middle of the field even more. If Clark can throw the Chicago defense out of its comfort zone - either by disrupting coverage or racking up receiving yards - that means the Colts are in their offensive groove.

The Chicago Bears will cover the spread if...

1. The defense keeps Peyton Manning guessing.

The Bears do a great job of confusing opposing quarterbacks. Most of the time they sit in a Cover 2 and use their speed and ferocity to react to plays as they come. Chicago does force the issue at times, though. Its 40 regular-season sacks were seventh-best in the NFL - not exactly typical of a "bend-don't-break" defensive philosophy.

The Bears will need to mix it up against Manning, a quarterback who's most dangerous when he gets into a rhythm - especially in the hurry-up. If Chicago gets predictable, they'll get beat.

Remember that the key play in the NFC title game came as a result of Bear pressure on Drew Brees. With Chicago leading 16-14, instead of taking a sack in the end zone, Brees threw the ball away and was called for intentional grounding. The resultant safety turned the momentum and was followed by 21 unanswered Chicago points.

2. The kick-return team dominates.

Everyone knows Chicago's Devin Hester returned six kicks for touchdowns in the regular season, but most people focus on his scoring instead of another important factor: field position. The Bears averaged 12.1 yards on punt returns and 23.3 yards on kicks. Only Tennessee (12.6 and 23.2, respectively) ranked better overall.

Meanwhile, the Colts ranked second-last in return defense, surrendering 13.1 yards on punts and 26.0 on kicks. Opponents returned three kicks for touchdowns on Indianapolis, an indignity matched only by St. Louis.

Look at Rex Grossman's regular-season stats and you realize how important field position is for the Bears. Between his own 1- and 19-yard line, he sported a passer rating of 49.1. Between the 20 and 39, it rose slightly to 58.9. Between the two 40s, it was 79.6. In the other team's red zone, it climbed all the way to 97.7. (Manning, on the other hand, rated in either the 80s or 90s regardless of field position.)

3. They win the turnover game.

Seems obvious, right? Protect the football and win the game. But it's really important for the Bears. In its three regular-season losses, Chicago turned the ball over a combined 16 times to its opponents' eight. Conversely, in its 13 wins, the score was 20 Chicago turnovers to 36 takeaways.

Add it up and, in Chicago's 16 regular-season games, there were 80 turnovers committed by both the Bears and their opponents. That's five per game. The next highest total was 69 (Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland). Indianapolis games saw a mere 45 turnovers produced.

This was the key storyline of the New Orleans' game. The Saints lost three fumbles to go with one Drew Brees interception, versus no turnovers for the Bears. In fact, the Saints actually outgained the Bears 375 total yards to 340, but lost by a mile, 39-14.


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Adrian Brijbassi Superbowl Picks: COLTS 36, BEARS 16

The Bears have two problems on defense as they try to match up with Peyton Manning.

First of all, Manning releases the ball so quickly, it's unlikely the Chicago pass rush will dominate.

Second, the Bears like their cornerbacks to be aggressive, but Manning and his receivers tend to burn secondaries that gamble. Manning should methodically carve through the offense and the Colts should inch away before halftime. After Prince gets crazy, Rex Grossman will be forced to get busy.

That's when the game will slip away from Chicago. Turnovers will lead to Indy touchdowns and the Colts will romp.

Carlisle Richards Superbowl Picks: COLTS 24, BEARS 14

Give 'em respect. They overcame shaky QB play and an inconsistent defense to make it to the Super Bowl, but this is where the Bears’ up-and-down run finally comes to an end.

The secondary is still a concern. Chicago allowed 354 passing yards and two touchdowns versus Drew Brees and the Saints. And since the excellence of execution, Peyton Manning, was able to move the chains against his arch-nemesis New England Patriots, he should be ready to get surgical on anything Brian Urlacher and the Bears plan on throwing at him.

Plus, Indianapolis hasn’t allowed 100 yards on the ground in this year’s playoffs. It might not be a dismantling of Super Bowl XXIV proportions (where San Francisco destroyed Denver 55-10) but expect an Indy cover.

Michael Halford Superbowl Picks: BEARS 21, COLTS 20

To my knowledge, Indianapolis has only played one half of quality offensive football in the playoffs (granted, it was against New England in the biggest game of the year thus far), while Manning has been picked off six times. And this turnover total doesn't even include the fact that Indy has yet to lose a fumble despite coughing up the rock six times in the postseason.

The Bears have won 15 games this season with the same stuff pundits figure will be their downfall in the Super Bowl - a shaky QB, a platoon run game and an aggressive, gambling defense.

But their performance against the Saints in the NFC Championship was dominant. And Lovie Smith is onto something with the Benson-Jones "soften 'em up for the knockout" run strategy. Bottom line: we had it wrong all along. This isn't Peyton Manning's year.

Jason Brough Superbowl Picks: BEARS 35, COLTS 24

With all the information bettors are bombarded with in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, it’s tough to determine what’s relevant and what’s not. However, I think the following speaks volumes about what wins championships: The last team to win the Super Bowl after its defense allowed more points in the regular season than its opponent was the 1998 Denver Broncos, who beat Atlanta 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Defense, indeed, appears to win championships.

The Bears remind me of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Aggressive, opportunistic defense. Inconsistent offense. Underdogs against the high-scoring Oakland Raiders, the Bucs won 48-21.

Super Bowl XLI Schedule

* Who: Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
* Where: Dolphin Stadium, Miami.
* When: Sunday, 6:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
* Point spread: Colts -7.
* Total: 49.5
* National Anthem Performer: Billy Joel.
* Halftime Performer: Prince.

Note: All NFL lines subject to change.

More Superbowl XLI Info

Updating Daily Superbowl News - Colts Early Superbowl XLI Favorites
Tuesday (Super Bowl Week) Super Bowl Notes - Bears vs Colts Preview - Superbowl XLI Early Point Spread
Bodog Nation - 2007 Super Bowl Analysis
Betus - Superbowl Betting Angles
Bodog Super Bowl XLI Wagering Props - Superbowl Special Teams
Bodog Nation - Super Bowl Sportsbook Betting
Betus - Winning Superbowl Strategies
MySportsbook - Superbowl XLI Matchup
Betus All Access Pass - Superbowl XLI Preview
Bodog Nation - Ways Bet On SuperBowl XLI
Betus - Superbowl XLI Free Pick - Superbowl XLI Prediction & In Depth Analysis
Bodog Nation - Live In Game Superbowl Betting
Bodog Nation - Superbowl XLI Picks - Superbowl Totals Odds - Free Super Bowl Pick - Super Bowl Player Profiles - Super Bowl Cover Corner

PHOTO: Can Peyton Manning deliver the knockout blow in Super Bowl XLI? (AI Wire Photo)

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