Editor's note: Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll will be trying his hand at picking every NFL game this year.
Last season's Super Bowl was a fluke.
It's obvious the Chicago Bears had no business representing the NFC with Rex Grossman at the helm.
The Indianapolis Colts on the other hand, well, let's just say they got a little lucky.
After barely squeaking by Baltimore, 15-6, on the strength of five field goals by Adam Vinatieri in a divisional playoff matchup, Indianapolis nearly imploded at home against a stronger, more determined, and more worthy, New England Patriots team.
Trailing by 18 in the second quarter, Peyton Manning, awarded a phantom roughing the passer penalty on the final drive, led the Colts on a game-winning 80-yard march with minutes to play.
Indianapolis' first lead of the game, established on a 3-yard TD plunge by Joseph Addai with one minute remaining, capped an uncharacteristic New England meltdown and overcame the largest deficit in conference title-game history.
Now, the Colts open the season tonight against the New Orleans Saints, a team that was only a few costly turnovers away from advancing to last year's Super Bowl.
While Indianapolis, favored by six, has, unquestionably, one of the best passers in the history of the game and an emerging running back in Addai, the Saints have deadly weapons of their own.
Resurgent QB Drew Brees is looking to repeat his MVP-like season and second-year wide receiver Marques Colston the pride of Hofstra who last year racked up 70 catches, 1,038 yards and eight TDs in only 14 games has a chance to become one of the elite wide outs in the game.
Mix in RB Deuce McAllister and a handful of other talented receivers and New Orleans is near the top of the NFC.
That's not all, though.
There's still the matter of one Reggie Bush.
Quietly going about his business with only one touchdown through the first nine games of the 2006 season, the electrifying Heisman Trophy winner exploded down the stretch, finding the end zone nine times in the final seven games, including two in the postseason, one a memorable 88-yard catch and run against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.
The Colts may be playing at home, but Bush formally launches his campaign to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson as the best back in the NFL.
Chicago (plus 6) at San Diego
Another possible Super Bowl matchup.The Bears' stingy defense and stellar special teams are too much for the Chargers' super-powered offense. Tomlinson scores only two touchdowns. BEARS, 21-17.
Denver (minus 3) at Buffalo
Can rookie RB Marshawn Lynch seriously replace fleet-footed Willis McGahee? Or will former Bills' back Travis Henry carry on the tradition of solid Denver running backs? Maybe both. But WR Lee Evans is the difference. BILLS, 31-21.
Pittsburgh (minus 4 1/2) at Cleveland
Brady Quinn is the Browns' starting QB in Week 2. STEELERS, 38-17.
Philadelphia (minus 3) at Green Bay
Donovan McNabb returns from an injury. Brett Favre just returns. PACKERS, 23-21.
Carolina (plus 1) at St. Louis
The Panthers' backfield is still up in the air. Rams have one of the best. Steven Jackson begins monster season. RAMS, 24-21.
Atlanta (plus 3) at Minnesota
Joey Harrington is no Michael Vick. Neither is Tarvaris Jackson. FALCONS, 13-7.
New England (minus 6 1/2) at N.Y. Jets
The Patriots don't miss Rodney Harrison or Richard Seymour. They don't need Randy Moss. PATS, 34-18.
Miami (plus 3) at Washington
Redskins' RB Clinton Portis didn't played a down in the preseason.
Dolphins' defense makes up for lackluster offense. DOLPHINS, 17-10.
Tennessee (plus 6 1/2) at Jacksonville
Vince Young has no weapons other than his legs.
Jaguars' human bowling ball Maurice Jones-Drew begins his quest to overtake the aging Fred Taylor as their premier back. JAGUARS, 27-24.
Kansas City (plus 3) at Houston
Former quarterback David Carr would have been sacked seven times.
Matt Schaub takes only five. CHIEFS, 30-13.
Detroit (plus 1 1/2) at Oakland
Daunte Culpepper or JaMarcus Russell? Doesn't matter. Calvin Johnson should begin a bright NFL career. If not, Roy Williams continues his. LIONS, 20-10.
Tampa Bay (plus 6) at Seattle
Even Jeff Garcia can't lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs. Shaun Alexander can for Seattle. SEAHAWKS, 37-18.
N.Y. Giants (plus 6) at Dallas
Powerful running back Brandon Jacobs easily replaces Tiki Barber. Wade Phillips needs to decide on one of his own backs. GIANTS, 24-21.
Baltimore (plus 2 1/2) at Cincinnati
Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh versus Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed and Trevor Pryce. Offense prevails. BENGALS, 27-17.
Arizona (plus 3) at San Francisco
Frank Gore runs wild on Arizona's pitiful defense. 49ERS, 30-20.
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