Well, here we are in February in my lovely hometown of Tampa, Fl. We ran through the regular season and the playoffs for both conferences to determine the matchup for Super Bowl XLIII. It'll be the Indianapolis Colts attempting to keep the Lombardi trophy in the Manning family for the third-consecutive season against the Dallas Cowboys trying to bring it back to the Lone Star state for the first time since Troy Aikman was under center.
Let's break from the brief game summaries of the playoffs and detail some more specific matchups.
Keys for the Colts:
1. Peyton Manning vs. the Dallas secondary. This should be a matchup that the Colts win easily. Dallas features a young, unproven secondary. There aren't many better route-running wide receivers than Reggie Wayne, and there aren't many more accurate quarterbacks than Manning. Odds are that the Dallas secondary would have to rely on the pass rush to disrupt Manning and his receivers.
2. Dallas Clark vs. the Dallas linebackers. If Marvin Harrison is healthy this season, the Colts would likely feature three-wide receiver sets for most of this game, leaving the Cowboys in nickel. They won't switch to dime because of the fear of Joseph Addai running all over the field, so a linebacker will be covering Clark -- who is basically a wide receiver. If Clark can go up the seam and keep drives alive, the Cowboys defense will not be coming off the field except to make way for the special teams unit to defend the PAT.
3. Bob Sanders in the box. The Cowboys would like to run the ball against a smaller defense in the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have one small advantage over other Tampa 2 defenses, and his name is Bob Sanders. Sanders will need to be in the box almost exclusively -- save for a few passing downs -- to help contain the powerful Marion Barber III. It'd be wild to see those two hit each other at full speed.
Keys for the Cowboys:
1. Offensive line vs. defensive line. This is the Cowboys best matchup against the Colts. The Colts, who feature a small defensive line that has a tendency to get worn down toward the end of games, face the biggest offensive line in football. It's important for the Cowboys to both protect Tony Romo (because the Indianapolis secondary is good) and open up lanes in the running game.
2. Jason Witten vs. the Indy linebackers. Jason Witten is a monster of a tight end. He's an excellent blocker and pass-catcher, and he is very, very large. That doesn't bode well for the undersized Indianapolis linebackers. Witten will need to be able to catch tough passes over the middle and break tackles after he does. This could open up the outside passing game a little more for Romo and T.O.
3. The 3-4 rush vs. the Colts offensive line. The Colts line, although it has gotten better in recent years, has historically struggled against pressure from 3-4 defenses. This is because it's harder to anticipate where the pressure might be coming from. The Cowboys have some of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the game, and if they can knock around Peyton Manning early in the game, they have a chance of disrupting him for the entirety of it.
This would be a high-scoring game, and while it might not be as exciting at last year's Super Bowl, it will certainly attract a large audience as America's team faces off against another very popular team in the Indianapolis Colts. There are plenty of stars on each team, and the each coaching staff would have a great game plan in place. Ultimately, though, we have to go with the more experienced team in Indianapolis. The Cowboys will make it interesting for three quarters, but the Colts pull away in the end.
Indianapolis wins the first-ever Mocking the Draft Super Bowl, 34-24
1. San Diego Chargers (14-2): AFC West Champs, best record overall in AFC
2. Indianapolis Colts (13-3): AFC South Champs by virtue of a better division record than Jacksonville, head-to-head tie breaker with New England
3. New England Patriots (13-3): AFC East Champs, better record than Pittsburgh
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North Champs
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3): 2nd place AFC South, top wild card
6. Cleveland Browns (9-7): 2nd place AFC North, wild card by virtue of 2-0 record versus Broncos and Bills
Wild Card Round:
New England Patriots (3) defeat Cleveland Browns (6): For the city of Cleveland, and for a proud Browns franchise, this would be a welcome return to the playoffs. However, there couldn't be a more difficult place to play the game than New England. Brady and Belichick are undefeated in Foxborough in the playoffs at 8-0.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5) defeat Pittsburgh Steelers (4): In a rematch of last year's thrilling wild card matchup, the Steelers would come out with a lot of motivation. In the game this past January, the Jaguars benefitted from a huge non-call on David Garrard's famous 32-yard run on the fourth-and-two play late in the game. There was an obvious hold on the play. Still, with the Steelers' shaky offensive line, and the Jaguars front four that now features Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, the Jags once again prevail.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5) defeat San Diego Chargers (1): As the Chargers once again prove, being the one seed isn't all it's cracked up to be. This Jacksonville team is so talented on both sides of the ball. "But Dave, so are the Chargers," you might be thinking. You're exactly right. However, the Jaguars coaching staff is exponentiall better than that of the Chargers. The Jags have two coordinators who have been head coaches. The Chargers head coach should still be a coordinator.
Indianapolis Colts (2) defeat New England Patriots (3): You have to respect New England's chances to win any game in the playoffs, and they are certainly getting hungrier with each passing season that they fail to hold that Lombardi trophy up again. However, the Colts will return an extremely young, yet experienced defense that boasts what I'll call the best secondary in the NFL. The Patriots used to get in the Colts' heads, but that won't happen in Lucas Oil Field, which will see a great first playoff game of many to come.
AFC Championship Game:
Indianapolis Colts (2) defeat Jacksonville Jaguars (5): Wow. What a matchup this would be in the AFC Championship Game. Besides Colts-Patriots here, there wouldn't be a game that would be more fun to watch. According to Matt, these teams will split their regular season matchups, with the home team winning each contest. I don't see this game being any different. I'd call this one a defensive struggle with a big play from Reggie Wayne being the difference