And here are five reasons why
The Pittsburgh Steelers will defeat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and advance to the AFC Championship game, where they will likely face the New England Patriots for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
Don't kill the messenger, please. I'm as big a Colts fan as can be. When I am cut, my blood runs blue and white. I count former Colts Jeff George and Barry Krauss as friends.
But after watching the 31-17 annihilation the Cincinnati Bengals suffered at the hands of the Steelers, it's now clear that the Colts' magical season will end before a sold-out RCA Dome crowd just a few days from now.
It's been an amazing run for the Colts and they've performed superbly until now. Few could have foreseen the 13-game winning streak to open the season. Few could have anticipated the punishment the Colts handed out to New England, St. Louis and Pittsburgh on Monday night games.
But the magic ends here and the Colts' best-ever chance at a Super Bowl ring will disappear into the mist by 4:30 p.m. Sunday, while Pittsburgh fans rejoice.
Why such gloominess when the Colts are listed as prohibitive favorites to win?
There are five reasons why the Colts will lose on Sunday, five inescapable facts that will spell the demise of this season.
1. Offense wins games - but defense wins championships. The Steelers were creamed by the Colts earlier in the year because the Colts established their dominance from the very first play, when Peyton Manning rocketed a pass to Marvin Harrison. That was in the regular season. In the postseason, defensive play becomes more important. Manning will be hard-pressed to repeat his aerial assault against a hardened Steelers defense.
The Steelers have allowed only 16.1 points per game and have been averaging 24.3 points. Having been burnt once by the Colts, it's unlikely they will suffer the same fate twice in one season.
Peyton Manning will be seeing a lot of Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu and Kimo von Oelhoffen on Sunday, mainly from the floor of the RCA Dome. And, after Sunday, when he blew out Carson Palmer's knee, who knows if von Oelhoffen has one more career-ending injury left in him?
Edgerrin James has had a remarkable season, but Pittsburgh, which was so effective in stopping Cincy's ground game on Sunday, will limit him to less than 50 yards in total offense.
If you can't score, you can't win, plain and simple.
2. Ben Roethlisberger and Antwaan Randle El. Eli Manning may end up being a greater quarterback than Roethlisberger in the long term, but Big Ben is still playing, while Eli will be watching the rest of the playoffs on TV. Randle El, as was shown Sunday, is not only a threat to catch the deep pass, but also to throw one or set up a trick play. The two of them, combined with the superstar ability of Hines Ward, means at least 300 passing yards for the Steelers on Sunday. The Colts can run their Cover 2 defense all they want, but Big Ben will attack it at its weakest point - the seams of the field. Dwight Freeney will have a hard time making it past the Pittsburgh defensive line to put pressure on Roethlisberger.
3. The Bus. Willie Parker may be the main running back for the Steelers, but Jerome Bettis is the team's heart and soul. Parker will tire out the Colts' defense with the medium and long runs, while the Bus will come in on short-yardage situations and plow right through the line. He may even toss a pass or two. When a bus comes into your path, you either get run over or you move out of the way. The Colts will step aside.
4. Momentum. Pittsburgh has it, the Colts don't. The Colts haven't played a meaningful game in two months and no amount of preparation can change that fact. You know how disoriented you feel when you're back in the office after a two-week vacation? The Colts will feel that way on Sunday. The fact that thousands of Steelers fans will be making the trek to Indy also impacts the Colts' home-field advantage.
5. The curse. Shortly after Robert Irsay packed up a few Mayflower vans and moved the Colts here from Baltimore in 1984, it is said an elderly woman with experience in the dark arts placed a hex on the Colts. The curse was first felt in 1995, when a last-second pass in the AFC championship game fell short, and in the last two years, when the Patriots demolished the Colts. It will manifest itself again on Sunday.
Again, don't get me wrong. I hope that the Colts win. If they do, I'll literally eat this column, with salt and pepper, live on the air during my ESPN 950 postgame show at Champps.
But fate, I believe, has chosen to victimize the Colts once again. Final score: Pittsburgh 31, Indianapolis 16.