By Scott Benson, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan and Bruce Allen

Benjamin Franklin used to like to tell his buddy Jean-Baptiste Leroy that in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Earlier this decade, New Englanders amended Ben’s pithy phrase about the inevitability of exceedingly high municipal mil rates to include a third lock: Nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and the Patriots dominance over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

Then the damn Colts changed the rules.

Literally, of course (thanks to their excessively whiny head coach and raging alcoholic general manager), but figuratively as well. Simply said, the Colts finally figured out a way to beat the Patriots. After years of suffering mightily at the hands of Bill Belichick’s classless, dancing jack booted thugs, the Colts have done nothing less than TWICE run the Patriots completely out of Gillette Stadium, their once-House of Horrors.

In fact, their most recent cathartic victory, a 27-20 worse-than-it-looks trouncing of the Pats in November, is what ultimately enabled Indy to host New England in this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Folks, the Colts no longer take the long way to school. They walk straight down the middle of the bully’s neighborhood, unafraid, defiantly carrying their lunch money in their open palm.

In short, ‘cut that meat’ has officially become a thing of the past, kind of like Ben Franklin.

Of course, neither of those two games were playoff games. Panel, back me up on this.

You’d have to be some kind of cold fish not to have some lingering thoughts about Sunday’s incredible win over the Chargers.

Greg: I do have lingering thoughts and that is, really, how the Chargers did outplay the Patriots in numerous ways. That isn’t really all that surprising, considering how the Chargers were a 14-2 team playing at home. But what lingers is how the Patriots hung in there where a lot of good teams would have folded. Then they made plays at critical junctures like teams that just know how to win do. It lingers in my mind that perhaps last year was the mirage, fueled by injuries, and that this incredible run is not only not over, it may only be somewhere in the middle.

Tim: I do and I think I will for a long time to come. It was a rare game that becomes an indelible part of the team’s history. Another one for the ages that will be used as an example of what these 2000+ Patriots are all about. The first thing I want to mention is Reche “Bubs” Caldwell. I don’t think enough attention has been paid to exactly HOW big of a game he actually had. In the fourth quarter (actually, in the last 8:28 of the game alone) Bubs recovered the fumble that saved the team’s season, caught the touchdown that brought them to within two, and won the game with a 49 yard catch down the sideline on a textbook “go” route. That’s a pretty solid 8 minutes to close out a playoff game. I think it’s safe to say Brady trusts him. If Bubs is a “bottom tier” wide receiver as we’ve been hearing all season, then so is David Givens.

I also want to add my personal plaudits to Troy Brown, who may be the one offensive player besides Tom Brady that has done the most to help the Patriots win 4 of the last 6. There has been much said and written about Brown’s heroic strip of McCree to keep the team’s hopes alive, but I noticed something else in subsequent viewings that has me in awe of the guy. Brown causes the fumble, his momentum pulls him backwards, and he falls down a few yards away from the pile. As the refs are figuring out possession, Brown gets up and, while keeping an eye on the pile from a distance and discovering that the Patriots did indeed recover possession, walks away with that unmistakeable gait of his. He doesn’t raise his arms, he doesn’t jump up and down (or even let a small hop of excitement betray him), he doesn’t do anything….he calmly walks away like it’s 4th down and the punting team is coming on the field. Talk about acting like you’ve been there. Thing is, Troy doesn’t have to act. He’s been there. He’s been there many times.

With the help of the learned observers at the BSMW forum (Blinded by the Lombardis and KT the Brick cited here), here is a sample of Troy’s big plays over the years.

  • The strip of McCree
  • Blocked kick recovery and lateral in the 2001 AFCC
  • Punt return vs. Pittsburgh 2001 AFCC
  • Lying on his back catch 1996 (vs. Giants)
  • Catch across the middle in the last drive of Super Bowl XVIII
  • Catching the TD pass from Vinatieri on the fake kick vs. the Rams
  • Overtime catch in Miami in 2003
  • Punt return to set up game tying FG against Oakland in 2001
  • 4th down catch against Tennessee in 2003 playoffs

If you’re a marketing guy, you may want to add the 2003 United Way ad too. I am generally not in favor of retiring Patriot numbers, but I don’t want to see another player wearing #80 when Troy decides to hang up the cleats. What a magnificent career. By the way, wouldn’t you love to read about these clutch plays in detail in the newspaper after his performance this week? Too bad, you’ll get made-up emails with snooty, humorless replies and and yet another article about the apparently timeless “disrespect card” instead.

Bruce: Wow. That was a game like no other in this run. They just found a way to win that one. Sure, San Diego made plenty of mistakes, but so did the Patriots. The Patriots were just able to take advantage of the Chargers’ mistakes. So many little things that made a difference. Antwain Spann separating the kick returner from the ball after he botched the catch, Troy Brown stripping the ball after the interception. Even Ben Watson breaking up a potential interception by Stephen Cooper. The Patriots just made plays when they needed to. Tom Brady struggled much of the afternoon, but in clutch time of both halves, he was money. Gostkowski – thanks for shutting up a lot of people.

Scott: Just that I hope that one day we can all truly appreciate the win, and the team that earned it. I’ll leave it at that.

Will the Patriots ever have as much class as noted sportsmen (and gracious losers) Bill Polian and LaDanian Tomlinson?

Tim: It’s pretty clear I am an unabashed booster for this team. They have provided us with some great sports memories over the years that have given me great joy as a fan. However, in good conscience I cannot overlook the blatant theft, the outright mockery, of another man’s dance routine. It just goes too far. Mr. Tomlinson has every right to protect the intellectual property of his fearsome and colorful battery mate. How would YOU feel if someone stole your friend’s dance routine? Not that the Charger organization isn’t culpable too. If they trademarked the “Light’s Out!” boogie ala Ricky Bobby’s “If you’re not first, you’re last!” in Talladega Nights this whole thing could have been avoided. As for Bill Polian, I liked him better when he was leading the commonwealth under his alias, “Bill Weld”. Other than that, in the words of the immortal John Candy, “Have another!”

Bruce: How dare you ask that question. LaDanian is classy – he told us so! Bill Polian is a fiery, hard nosed executive, what franchise wouldn’t want this guy as the public face of their front office? The Patriots might have three Super Bowls this decade, but Tomlinson and Polian can look themselves in the mirror with pride, knowing that they’ve conducted themselves with dignity and grace. Which would you rather have?

Scott: I’ve personally had enough of every chickenshit lowlife loser that thinks they can take a shot at Bill Belichick as if he was some sort of sub-human creature deserving of society’s contempt, simply because they know Belichick will never respond. Gutless, worthless jackoffs that will be dust in the wind long before people forget Bill Belichick and what he’s done as a football coach. The San Diego players, coincidentally, never had to answer for their 14-2, first-seeded team blowing 11 and 8 point leads and getting ushered immediately from the playoffs despite hosting the game on their own field. Instead, they pumped up a fake issue, turned the attention towards the media’s new favorite easy target, and slipped out the back door. Punks. The NFL deserves a better champion than them. Fortunately, we’ll not ever have to worry about that. Not with those paper lions.

Greg: If they were to ever achieve that, Bill Polian would just petition the Rules Committee to change the definition of class. The Patriots just can’t win against a schemer as clever as he.

Enough about San Diego, the crybabies. Unbelievably, it’s the conference championship round and yet another epic match up between the Colts and the Patriots. Who saw this coming? Anyway, let’s start peeling back the layers of this onion. We’ll start with the Colts offense against the Patriots defense.

Bruce: Which Colts offense is going to show up Sunday? I think it’s a safe assumption that it’s going to be a more potent attack than we’ve seen over the last two weeks, but how much? I think the Patriots actually played some decent defense against the Colts in November, but got behind and made a few key mistakes that really cost them the game. Things have improved since then. I think if Samuel and Hobbs can avoid giving up huge chunks of yardage, and if somehow Marvin Harrison isn’t running wide open across the middle of the field, the Patriots can keep this manageable. James Sanders impressed me some more last week, and I think he could be a nice piece to defense the running of Addai and Rhodes.

Scott: Before he had to head home to Texas this week, Ty Warren summed it all up in a brief chat with Mike Reiss. Ty claimed the last two games have come down to two things: 1) allowing the Colts solid first and second down pick ups, and 2) not being able to get off the field on third down as a result. Until the Pats can reverse that trend, this matchup is a clear Colts advantage. They’re proven it, no? The Patriots have been playing much better of late than they were in November, of course, and they may be in a better position now to force the Colts into third and long. But that’s one fan’s wishful thinking, which has nothing to do with what will happen on the field. We’ll get an answer pretty quickly on Sunday, I think. One thing I’ll be looking for is the cushion the Pats corners give the Colts receivers. Last couple of times those 10-12 yard buffer zones have allowed the Colts to run free all over the field, even when the Pats DID force Indy into third and long.

Greg: The Colts passing game still scares me, even though its struggled in the playoffs this year. They are still capable of racking up yards in a hurry. I think the Patriots will do a reasonable job against the run, but have to find ways to disrupt Peyton Manning’s rhythm whether it be through bumping his receivers, getting pressure on him so he has to move or occasionally just dropping eight into coverage.

Tim: The Colts offense has struggled in the playoffs. In fact, relatively speaking, they’ve had a pretty bad year. However, they have played against some pretty formidable defenses these last two games. I was really impressed with the Baltimore defense in particular. They have playmakers everywhere and really have no weaknesses. Still, Indianapolis found a way to score enough to win (with plenty of help from their resurgent defense). They are an experienced, smart, and talented unit even if they aren’t as explosive as in past seasons. They are also not strangers to facing a Belichick defense in high stakes games. With all that, anyone paying attention needs to give the edge to the NE defense here. They are equally familiar with the Colts offense and have consistently found ways to stifle it. Until that changes in the playoffs, even once, it’s hard not to give the defense the edge here.

Flip it around. Pats offense against the Colts defense.

Scott: I’ll just say this. We’ll see how much glowing press people like Bob Sanders and Booger McFarland get on Monday. We’ll see who wants to call Brittle Bob (a total of 24 out of a possible 48 regular season games in his career) one of the best players in the NFL on Monday. We’ll see if Booger is still a Godsend. The Colts defense and their unbelievably-short-memory media toadies have nearly drowned us in bullshit over the last five days. Thankfully, that manure will be thrown back over their vanquished carcasses by Monday. I don’t expect the media will follow them down the hole to be covered over though, which should tell you something about their conviction about the ‘resurgent’ Colts defense. Pats don’t get just the edge here, they get the whole thing.

Greg: The Pats will move the ball here. One way to get Colts safety Bob Sanders out of the box is by spreading the field. The the Colts can be run on. They can be passed on too. The Patriots should easily score between 24-30 points at least here.

Tim: For the first time in many years, I like this match-up for the Patriots. The Colts defense is predicated on quickness and speed. They have risen like a phoenix since the playoffs started and have seemingly solved their porous run defense. They also seemed to gain confidence with each series against Baltimore. They are playing very well, perhaps the best they have all year. Good news for NE is that they are one of the few teams in the league have seen this defense before with Bob Sanders and I am sure that the Patriot offense will find ways to exploit it. The first reaction is to assume that the Patriots will not mistakenly abandon the run as they did in the first meeting. However, anytime you guess what the offense is going to do they will usually surprise you by employing a different strategy. Whatever it is, I am comfortable that they can find the points they’ll need.

Bruce: After having a historically bad defensive season, all of a sudden the Colts are the ’85 Bears on defense. I don’t get it. It’s got to be more than Bob Sanders. I think the coaching of Kansas City and the lack of offensive talent on Baltimore contributed to both games, but you’ve still got to give the Colts credit for stepping up their game. That said, I think the Patriots will do better against this defense than the last two opponents did. They have to. Caldwell and Gaffney are now a legit combo at receiver, and with that threat, the running game has got to have more space than Larry Johnson and Jamal Lewis did. I think the Patriots are going to be able to score some points this week, if they avoid mistakes or getting thrown off by the crowd.

How about special teams? WARNING: The following contains references to Adam Vinatieri.

Greg: Vinatieri is a great kicker, but the Colts return game doesn’t do much for me. Their coverage teams are average as well. I give the Patriots the edge here.

Tim: Why don’t we all predict who is going to miss FG’s this week? That seems to be the “analysis-in-the-box” approach that all the local chatters and scribblers are doing. How about this? Everybody makes their FG’s and the special teams match-up is decided by field position in the respective return games. In that case, I think the Patriots have a clear advantage based on what each unit has done this year.

Bruce: Patriots have to have the edge here. The Colts have two players on special teams, Vinatieri and Terrence Wilkins. The Patriots didn’t have a great year on special teams, but they’ve been adequate. The Colts have been right at or near the bottom of the league. I don’t think this game comes down to a field goal, as much as all the media would love it to.

Scott: I might be inclined to give the edge to the Colts here (Terrence Wilkins has always been a threat as a returner), but frankly, I can’t give the edge to a kicker who missed 50% of his field goal attempts in the last game between the two teams. Pats get the edge by virtue of having the more dependable kicker. What were the Colts thinking letting Vanderjagt go? I might have an idea (makes a chug-a-lug motion).

The coaching match up? WARNING: The following contains graphic violence and extreme bloodshed. The doctor in attendance may stop this segment at any time.

Tim: Dungy is unquestionably a very able coach. He’s proven that over the years in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. This year, he’s even found a way to make his defense play better than it ever has when the lights are the brightest. He’s coached against Belichick more than any other coach in the league during their current historic run. You have to think he’s got some idea as to what makes them successful. The coaching match-up this week may be overstated. Obviously, Belichick always has the edge, regardless of opponent, but I think this one will be in the players hands more than any other this year. The only other thing I’ll say is if you told me that there was an NFL head coach in Tom Cruise and John Travolta’s closet, of the 32 in the league I am guessing Dungy first. Any time I hear the guy talk I get the feeling that he got into football for the locker room towel fights.

Bruce: Ron Borges keeps telling us that Tony Dungy is the coach that he would want on the sidelines if he owned a team. That’s good enough for me. Bill Belichick has won three Super Bowls as a head coach during the course of his career, Dungy hasn’t won any, but conducts himself with dignity and class. It’s an easy choice, really.

Scott: I am not even going to dignify this question with a response.

Greg: Does this really need to be discussed seriously? Is there anyone deranged enough to really think Tony Dungy is even close to Bill Belichick as a coach….besides of course the always idiotic Ron Borges?

All right, then. Let’s have the winner and final score.

Bruce: Hoo boy. I’m tempted to pick the Colts, just because of the stellar (undefeated) record that the Patriots have when I pick against them this season. But too many of the matchups seem to favor the Patriots (though you could’ve said that about the Chargers last week) so I’m going with New England 27-17.

Scott: Now’s the time to come clean. I am a Peyton Manning fan, and here’s why. Because after he got his pedigreed ass continually run over by the New England streetfighters, he worked at his game and got better. Just watch him in the pocket nowadays – he has skills he didn’t have before. It would have been a lot easier to just continue being ‘Peyton Manning’ and wait for everyone else to catch up to his magnificence – God knows we’ve seen a quarterback do that before. But he didn’t, and I respect that. I think you should too, but you know, your call. He’s still obviously struggling with the weight of the playoffs, and he may always, but it says here Peyton continues his strong play against the Pats Sunday. In the end, though, it won’t matter, because defensive guru Dungy and builder of champions Polian have installed over the past six years a defensive scheme and a personnel group in Indianapolis that is not built to win – or even be competent – in today’s NFL. Then Manning gets blamed for eating up the cap, and no one’s the wiser. That’s their problem. The Patriots win this 31-28.

Greg: Patriots easy, 38-17.

Tim: 17 – 9, Good guys.

How about the NFC game? Who do you like in the final between the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints?

Scott: Like Tim, I always pick who I want to win. So it’s the Saints. I think a Pats-Saints Super Bowl would be quite exciting. I don’t care if I ever see the Chicago Bears again. With Chicago comes that flaming douchebag Mike Ditka. You want two weeks of that fool? No thanks.

Greg: This is a good game. I am tempted to say any matchup of Drew Brees and Rex Grossman has to tip to Brees’ team. But I think Chicago is good enough in other areas, and at home, they get it done 20-17.

Tim: I pick these games based on what I want to happen because, I have stated unequivocally before, nobody knows what is going to happen anyway. I want to play Chicago. The Patriots match up very well with Chicago and I want no part of the national onslaught of sycophants that will turn the local 53 into the living embodiment of Hurricane Katrina (although that does open up some promising possibilities for a classless celebratory dance, maybe the old swim move from those crazy sock hops that Bob Gamere used to attend as a wild eyed 23 year old?). It’s the big, bad Bears and their badass coach Lovie “Virgil” Smith in a squeaker.

Bruce: As much as the Saints are being hyped, I think the Bears take this one. Their defense didn’t look great against Seattle, but I think they’ll play much better this week. The Rex-Factor is about the only thing I’m worried about here.

Lastly, anybody qualify for Mediot of the Week? Remember, there’s only so much room on the Internet. Try to pare it down.

Greg: You know, I haven’t heard anything overly idiotic this week that I can recall. I suppose we could go old school and revisit Michael Felger’s screaming, panic-stricken pronouncements the Patriots had no depth from pre-season.

Tim: Lots and lots of candidates this week, it’s a veritable “choose your poison” of mediocy. Forced to pick one, I am picking the blow-dried, bag of gas news anchor in San Diego, Stan Miller. Stan, armed with his vast insight into the human condition and an oversized sense of competitive morality, levied final judgment on the Patriots post-game celebration this week. “I DO think that was classless!” he admonished as the clip of the post game chaos, replete with Charger players screaming like fourth graders at a kick-ball game gone horribly wrong, rolled. What a freakin farce. I am sure the guy thinks nothing of his comments and this amounts to nothing but pandering to his spaced out audience, but it’s just the most ridiculous thing I have seen in sports in a long, long time. I want Smarmy Stan to show me a clip of a team winning a road playoff game that DIDN’T celebrate at midfield before he further comments on this very grave matter. If he can’t do it, you know where he’s getting it? That’s right, Stan, right in the ovaries! Right in the baby-maker, Stan.

Bruce: Our old standby Ron Borges has been on better behavior as of late, but he still finds himself unable to hold back from taking the little rabbit punches whenever he gets the chance.

This cracked me up for some reason. Here’s Ron in last week’s chat:

jtchowdah If you had to start a franchise today and select one player, would it be LT or Tom Brady?

Ron_Borges Brady, although not for much longer as he’ll be 30 next year.

Then, here is a quote from yesterday’s chat:

johnnydoyle Ron, is time running out for Manning to get it done and how much patience will the fans of Indy have for this guy when he fails again on Sunday to bring the Colts to the Super Bowl?

Ron_Borges He’ll be 31 in March so he has a good five years or so more to play at or near his peak.

LT is less than two years younger than Brady, and running backs traditionally have shorter careers than do quarterbacks, mostly because of the pounding that they take. LT might (at most) have 4 or 5 great years left in him. That would bring him to 32-33 years old. As a point of reference, Corey Dillon is 32 now, Curtis Martin is 33 and Emmitt Smith was 35 when he retired. (and many people thought he should’ve hung it up 2 or 3 seasons earlier.)

Borges yesterday says Peyton at 31 might have 5 great years left. But apparently Brady, not yet 30, would have a shorter shelf life than LT. So by that logic, This is what Borges is saying: “Brady will not be 30 until next August. But his career is almost over. Manning will only be 31 in March, and he’s got five, six great years left at least.”

Go figure.

Let’s not forget either that on Thursday Borges picked the Patriots on MSNBC and on Friday picked the Colts in the Globe.

Scott: I’d like to try something a little different this Sunday. I’d like to turn a corner of BSMW Patriots Game Day over to you, our reader (or readers, if there’s more than one), so that you can share your thoughts before another memorable Colts-Patriots battle. It’s simple. Just send your pre-game ruminations to me at any time before 10 a.m. Sunday, and I’ll gather them together and post them to the site. Give me analysis, a prediction, your longitude and latitude, whatever. Everybody from full-on zombied kool-aid drinkers to loyal Mike Felger listeners are welcome. Do try to keep it as concise as possible (look who’s talking), and give me an identifier (maybe a first name and hometown, say?) so we can immortalize you for posterity. Come on….this will be fun. I’ll look forward to hearing from you, especially you message board lunatics.