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This is the Colts' season


It's the feature attraction of the weekend, Indianapolis at New England, which is how the season began, you might remember.

These Colts and Patriots matchups have come to define the last two seasons. The two teams met twice in 2003 and both games were thrillers. As of this Sunday, they will have met twice this season and if this second game is anything like the first, then both games this season will have also been thrillers.

There's also one other constant about Colts-Patriots games: the Patriots always win.

Popular opinion, however, is favoring the Colts in this latest showdown. The Patriots are favored by the point spread, but is there anybody who doesn't think the Colts are going to win?

Why is that? What has caused fans and media alike to believe a 12-4 dome team should beat a 14-2 team outside in January on the 14-2 team's bad-grass field?

The answer is Peyton Manning, who is moving the football with an ease the likes of which professional football has never previously known. There's also another not-so-little ingredient in the Colts' favor. It's called a "major point of emphasis" in enforcement of the five-yard chuck rule.

The 2004 NFL season was tailor-made to fit Manning and the Colts. It goes like this: Colts President Bill Polian is a member of the competition committee that pushed through the "major point of emphasis." Polian would have you believe the reasons for favoring the "major point of emphasis" were declines in yardage and points in '03. We know, of course, what the real reason is.

Manning was intercepted four times and posted an embarrassing 35.5 passer rating in the Colts' AFC title game loss in New England last season, and Polian blamed it on the officials having allowed the Patriots' defensive backs to mug the Colts' receivers. That's why Polian pushed for chuck-rule enforcement.

Hey, it's not the first time an NFL executive seized the opportunity to legislate in favor of his own team. Politics is also part of the NFL game and Polian played his cards well. The competition committee also includes Mike Martz and Mike Holmgren – two offensive-minded coaches who would vote in favor of reducing the number of players on defense to 10 – so the timing was right for Polian to make his move.

Polian's job is to do what's best for the team that pays his salary. He did. Oh, boy, did he.

This is the Colts' year. Everything has fallen in their favor. Even the weather in New England on Sunday is supposed to be in the Colts' favor.

All right, we'll give them the nod … Colts by four points.

The other playoff game in the AFC this weekend will pit the Jets and the Steelers at Heinz Field. The Steelers beat the Jets, 17-6, in Pittsburgh the week after the Steelers won in Jacksonville. It was 3-3 in the fourth quarter when the Steelers pulled away from the Jets with two long touchdown drives.

Pittsburgh is a big favorite, but not so fast my friend, because the numbers are beginning to make the Steelers' pursuit of the Super Bowl look improbable.

Let's begin with this: The Steelers are attempting to become the first team in history to be led to the Super Bowl by a rookie quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger will have to raise his record as a starting quarterback to 15-0 to get the Steelers to the big game.

The Steelers are 8-0 at home this season and will have to go to 10-0 at home to make it back to Jacksonville.

To win the Super Bowl, the Steelers will have to have won 17 straight, which would tie the 1972 Dolphins for the most consecutive wins in a season, postseason included.

Are the Steelers really good enough to accomplish all of that, and with a rookie at quarterback?

OK, we'll take the Steelers by a field goal over the Jets, but the numbers are starting to get scary for the Steelers.

In the NFC, the Vikings at Eagles and Rams at Falcons games could each be shootouts. Randy Moss will draw the spotlight in Philadelphia, while Marc Bulger will try to steal the spotlight from Michael Vick in Atlanta.

Are the Eagles good enough to win without Terrell Owens? That's the big question. Philly is on a two-game downer to end the regular season, and that has to be of major concern.

Homefield should be a major advantage for the Eagles against a dome team coming into hostile Philly in January. The Eagles defense got stronger in the second half of the season and finished the year 10th overall. Minnesota's defense is 28th.

Give the nod to a rested Eagles team that gets the leadership from Donovan McNabb that the Vikings always seem to lack.

The Vick-Bulger matchup is interesting. Vick is all about athletic ability and he just got a whopping contract. Bulger is the technician. He's quiet, unassuming and underrated.

Atlanta's real advantage, however, is its number one-ranked running game against St. Louis' 29th-ranked run-defense.

The Falcons win this one with their running game.

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