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Preview AFC Playoffs Divisional Round: Chargers at Colts

Some people have forgotten what this man looks like. Get ready, because he is about to re-introduce himself.
I'm an obsessive compulsive person. I tend to follow routines not because they are healthy, but because they provide an irrational sense of control over things I have absolutely no control over. For example, I actually contemplated not making a game preview. Why? Because last year I didn't make game previews for any of the playoffs games (save the Super Bowl) and the Colts went on a great playoff run. So, naturally, I should do the same now, because Lord knows I and I alone control the playoff fate of the Colts.

As I said, I'm just a tad obsessive.

Then, reason and logic hit me over the head (as did my girlfriend). All three reminded me that last year was the first time I did not fall into obsessive little rituals when it came to the Colts. I didn't wear "lucky" socks. I didn't watch games at my "lucky" bar. I didn't shy away from black cats, ladders, and all that crap. I just lived my live and enjoyed the games, knowing the whole time I had no control. Usually, the best team wins a playoff game, and no amount of silly rituals, obsessions, or the like will help any team win. As they say, you can't let feat control your life.

That said, here's my preview (and a big F You to my obsessive, compulsive fears):

  • Cover the damn kicks, please. The absolute number one key to the game is special teams. Special teams lost the game in San Diego back in November. Two kicks returned for TDs and two missed FGs inside the 35-yard-line. Russ Purnell should have been fired on the spot. Now, he gets chance to redeem himself, as does the special teams unit. The Chargers have a great returner in Darren Sproles. He must be contained and, if possible, shut down. No long returns. No good field position. Gunners must get downfield and tackle well. In addition, Adam Vinatieri needs a great game to shake the doubt from Colts fans. There is no one in this league who I'd rather have kicking for my team than Vinatieri, and I'm getting sick of fans wringing their hands when he sets up for gimme FGs. Vinatieri will have a great game, and the Colts special teams need to get in gear and dominate field position.
  • The Marvin Harrison Resurrection. In 2003, Brandon Stokley came back from injury and ignited the Colts offense in the playoffs. Last season, Bob Sanders did the same. This year, it is Marvin's turn. He should start and he should play. If he doesn't, expect a lot of booing from the Colts crowd. If Harrison cannot play, for whatever reason, in this game, he should have been IRed a long time ago and Polian will have some explaining to do. Harrison did practice all week, and all signs say he is OK. If indeed he is, he will give the entire team a lift. Look for Manning to go to him early. If the Chargers try and jump this, look for Marvin as a decoy resulting in big plays for Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark.
  • Return of the BSBD. The Colts defense dominated Tomlinson earlier this season. He was a non-factor in the game despite SD trying desperately to run him down Indy's throat. Phillip Rivers was also especially bad in that game. Pressuring Rivers and Tomlinson is essential, and look for Dungy and Meeks to do it with the Bob Sanders Beatdown Defense (BSBD). Back from injury are Robert Mathis, who looks like he is ready to eat someone's child raw, and Raheem Brock. Brock will likely start at DE, but rotate to DT on passing downs. With Mathis and Brock back, the Colts can play more Cover 3, using The Defensive Player of the Year down in the box to create havoc. You may even see Bob blitz to help the pass`rush. The Chargers are great at creating turnovers, which is why it is key for the defense to pressure Rivers nad Tomlinson into turning the ball over themselves.
Fear Bob Sanders.

18 to 88 also has a great preview for the game as part of their Eyes in the Backfield series. Another key factor in this game is this is SD's first road playoff game in a long time. 18 to 88 discusses this:

Watch Phil Rivers call time out.  Despite hilarious assertions by the media that the Chargers have won in the RCA Dome in the past, Phil Rivers has never tried to call signals in the insanity of the loudest venue in the NFL.  He played one game in the Metrodome this year, and the Chargers lost.  Rivers went 19/42, 197 and a pick.
Phillip Rivers is notorious for playing bad on the road. He feeds off his own crowd, and when things start to go bad and the crowd is on him, Rivers tends to make mistakes.

Despite all this, the Colts basically need to go out there and play their game, because they are, quite simply, a better team than the Chargers. SD has tremendous talent, but Indy does well what all great playoff teams need to do: Limits turnovers on offense, limits penalties, runs the ball, and creates turnovers on defense. They execute well, play hard, and are not easily rattled.

Unlike last year, when Indy was the underdog in basically all their playoff games, this year they are the hunted. Teams want to knock Indy off, and will look for any edge to do so. It's important for the Colts to accept this new role (which I think they have) and start imposing their will on teams. It's not about what they do. It is what the Colts do. They are not satisfied with what they did last year. They want more. They want to improve and perform better than last year's playoffs. That's scary.

Revenge is also a key in this game. Look for Indy to blow SD out early, and then pin their ears back as they attack Phillip Rivers. Players like Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea are not happy at how the Chargers conducted themselves after the game. Look for a big game from Bob. He'll want to showcase his DPOY talents. That, and I get the feeling Bob does not like the Chargers (and we all know what Bob does to people do doesn't like). 18 to 88 also thinks revenge is a factor; so much so it is number one on their list:

Watch for revenge-The 2007 Colts may well prove to be one of the great teams of all time.  They lost two meaningful games all year.  Their first chance to erase one of those losses comes on Sunday.  We all know what a farce the first game was, as a series of injuries, weather, and non-repeatable events conspired to sink the Colts.  The Horse looks to get payback come Sunday.
As we've said all season long, this team is just built tough and are looking to cement themselves into history. They are not satisfied, complacent, or pleased with things. They want more.

For the first time in a long while... actually, scratch that... for the first time EVER, I'm not afraid of these playoffs. The Colts have a lot to prove in this game. Are their starters really healthy? Can they finally win a playoff game after the first round bye? Can they overcome the specter of the 2005 season? Can they impose their will on a good football team? The Chargers will look to repeat what Pittsburgh and Indy did the last two years: Get to the Super Bowl the year following losing in the playoffs despite having the #1 overall seed. Can the Colts put a stop to that trend and end San Diego's seven game win streak?

Tomorrow, the answers will be yes to all. Go Colts!