Manning, Colts not a lock to win Super Bowl XLI

By Barry Wilner The Associated Press

Just because the Indianapolis Colts will represent the vastly superior AFC doesn’t make them a Super cinch in Miami.

While the AFC went 40-24 against the NFC, including 3-1 for the Colts, the Chicago Bears aren’t exactly an also-ran out of the weaker conference. Their 15-3 record is no mirage, even if 13 of those victories came within the NFC.

For more pertinent numbers, try these: 44 takeaways during the season, tops in the league, and another five in the playoffs. The four in the NFC title game against New Orleans, the top-rated offense in football, led to a rout.

And these: Chicago has scored 66 points in two postseason games. That 33-point average is far better than Indy’s 25.3.

Put the stats aside, though, because what the Bears achieved in 2006 and the first month of 2007 generally was against softer opposition than what the Colts faced. Look to this, instead: Chicago has just as many playmakers as Indy. It’s just as well coached. It has five players with Super Bowl experience; the Colts have five who could play on Feb. 4.

Plus, the Bears still have a mammoth boulder on their shoulder, even as a conference champion.

“We know what they’re saying, that no matter who we would have played in the Super Bowl, we’d be underdogs,” safety Chris Harris said. “We use that as fuel.”

Here’s some more: Peyton Manning is likely to get more attention in Miami and more air time and more headlines than all of the Bears combined. Not that the best quarterback of his generation doesn’t deserve the acclaim. But the best Bears team in two decades could get somewhat ignored.

“As far as us being underdogs, if you look at what all the Colts bring to the table, I could see why they would make us underdogs,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said, “but we’ve been in that role before and our guys like the underdog role.

“I wouldn’t bet against the Bears if I were a betting man.”

Neither would we with a 7-point spread. Here’s a few reasons why the Bears just might do what the Patriots managed in 2002 and the Broncos in 1998, and upset a solid favorite.

There is one major mismatch here: On kick returns. The Bears have the league’s most productive unit, led by All-Pro returner Devin Hester. The rookie set an NFL record with six runbacks for touchdowns, and the Colts are very vulnerable.

Last Sunday, Ellis Hobbs, hardly in Hester’s class, had six kickoff returns for 220 yards, including 80- and 40-yarders that set up scores for New England.