I don’t know what they’re looking at, but I’m staring at reasons 1 and 1a to feel good about this matchup.
1.) 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.
2.) Watch for the slant. With Marvin Harrison coming back to play his first action in months, it remains to be seen how effective he can be at deep routes. If nothing else, watch for him to pick up a few catches early on his classic shoulder fake/quick slant route.
3.) Watch AG go deep. With Cromartie, who picked Peyton three times in November, probably covering Reggie Wayne, watch for Anthony Gonzalez to pick up more deep routes, especially if Marvin is working the field short.
4.) Watch Charlie Johnson sit on the bench. . . and allow yourself to smile as Manning has time to throw. Ryan Diem’s return would make Sunday the first game since the Monday night game in Jacksonville that the Colts actually had their starting line intact.
5.) 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.
6.) Watch LT out of the backfield on third and long. Stopping draws and screens to Tomlinson will be critical for the defense. The Chargers best hope centers on Tomlinson breaking a big play. It’s most likely to come on a non-traditional down and distance.
7.) Watch Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock. Both men were playing at an incredible level before injuries slowed them down. Their health and play is critical for the Colts if they hope to advance deep into the post season. The pass rush has been virtually non-existent without them in the lineup.
8.) Watch the Chargers opening drive. For some reason the Colts opened the previous two games incredibly flat on defense. Gap control was a major problem and the Texans and Titans exploited it for two easy touchdowns. The problems were fixed quickly, however, and the D played great the rest of both games.
9.) Watch Adam Vinatieri run. And pray he’s still facing up field. The Chargers exploited the legendarily bad kick coverage of the Colts to the tune of two touchdowns in November. While there’s a chance some starters might step in to cover kicks, injuries to Bethea and Mathis (both of whom played well on ST in the playoffs last year), make it less likely.
10.) Watch the Chargers quit on their coach. Despite some reports that Norv was somehow ‘vindicated’ by winning a playoff game last week, there was still major discontent on the bench during the early stages of last week’s game. I’m not convinced that the Chargers like or trust their coach. If the game heads south, they may just string him up on the field.
11.) Watch the Zombie in the box. With Antonio Gates limping along the sidelines, the Chargers are going to be hard pressed to stretch the Colts vertically over the middle of the field. This will allow them to play more Cover 3 with Bob Sanders hanging around the line of scrimmage ready to devour LT’s brain. He’s going to seek to grow his legend with a huge game.
12.) Watch Peyton Manning relax. He’s got his ring and nothing to lose. People who called him a choker were ignorant, but it can’t hurt Manning’s psyche to have the issue dead and buried.
13.) Watch for better footing. In the first matchup Joe Addai couldn’t run two feet without falling over because of the slippery field. His one big play (a first down run) was overturned by instant replay. Addai will need to get back in gear after a disappointing second half of the season.
14.) Watch for one last roundup. The Indy coaching staff led by Tony Dungy has been largely the same for the past six seasons. Tom Moore and Howard Mudd have been around even longer. We’ve witnessed a rarity in the NFL. It wouldn’t be a shock if a considerably different staff took the field in 2008. These guys won’t leave any bullets in their guns.
15.) Watch for youthful exuberance. Last year Addai showed that it is possible for a rookie to deal with playoff pressure. This year, the Colts will need Anthony Gonzalez and Ed Johnson to repeat the feat. Even second year players like Freddy Keaiho and Tyjuan Hagler need to prove that they can control their emotions during their first playoff starts.
16.) Watch for fourth down conversion attempts. The Chargers’ Nick Kaeding bruised the fibula in his plant leg at the end of the season. He missed a kick against the Titans and is said to still be feeling the effects of the injury. Adam Vinatieri is still a question mark for the Colts, and the team appeared to shy away from longer field goals this season.
17.) Watch for destiny to take hold. The Colts and Patriots were meant to settle things on the field. It would be the most important non-Super Bowl game in NFL history. It would be a cosmic injustice if either the Jaguars or Chargers got in the way. If there is a sense of inevitability about Sunday’s result it is for good reason.
18.) Watch for the old barn to go out right. Largely because we have zero confidence in Jack Del Rio’s ability to out think Bill Belichick, there’s an almost certainty in our minds about Sunday being the final game ever in the Dome. We’ll be there, along with 56,000 others, helping to bring the roof down on Phil River’s head. Colts 35 Chargers 10