- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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Colts President Bill Polian, sitting in his 56th Street office in Indianapolis, is laughing this Tuesday morning. And why shouldn't he be?
His quarterback, Peyton Manning, has been unconscious in Indianapolis' two playoff games. Manning has completed 44 of 56 passes in two playoff games for 681 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. His passer rating is a ridiculous 156.9 out of a possible 158.3 -- including a technically perfect performance in the wild-card game against Denver.
"I just don't understand the passer rating," Polian says. "If he hasn't been perfect, I have no idea why. I think a great story would be to go talk to the computer. If I can't explain it, maybe the computer can."
"It's great for Peyton, terrific to see him get all the acclaim without the caveat of his arm not being strong enough or he has happy feet and he doesn't win the big one, all those denigrating things."
The presence of Manning and the explosive Colts in the AFC championship game has fans salivating over the pyrotechnic possibilities in Houston. Earlier this week, an ESPN.com poll asked visitors to the site which Super Bowl matchup they would most like to see. The results to the right show that a Colts-Eagles Super Bowl was clearly the most popular choice.
The Patriots have won 13 consecutive games, but the Colts seem to be the popular choice among the AFC entries. Polian didn't sound surprised.
"Yes," he said, "the sizzle sells -- that's the bottom line. I think (fans) like watching Brett Favre throw it all over the place and Tom Brady, too. It's the old story: offense sells tickets, defense wins games, kicking wins championships. People love seeing the offense, and they should."
From an aesthetic standpoint anyway, the NFL's Final Four needs a Queer Eye makeover from the Fab 5.
Kyan Douglas, the Grooming Guru: Donovan, the cornrows are so 1990s -- let's get to work on a dreadlock 'do like the Packers' Al Harris.
Carson Kressley, Fashion Savant: Bill, if you're going to wear that old-school Patriots sweatshirt on the sideline, you've simply got to accessorize.
Jai Rodriguez, Culture Vulture: Only 10 percent for the Panthers? Talk about an extreme makeover.
After Manning's Colts, whose searing offense has thrown up 79 points in two playoff games, what do we have here, exactly?
Well, we have three teams that scuffled their way into this Sunday's conference championship games. Philadelphia needed a 4th-and-26 miracle to prevail in overtime against the Packers. New England was locked up at 14-all with the Titans before Adam Vinatieri bailed them out with another terrific kick. The Panthers bludgeoned the Rams on both sides of the ball and squeezed out an overtime win.
The Chiefs and their 30.25 points per game are gone. Err Martz, whose Rams tied the Colts for second in the league with 447 points? Gone. Flinging, slinging Favre -- whose Packers were fourth with 442 points -- will be watching at home.
And so, the Colts are what pass for sizzle in the remaining field. Manning is so hot right now, Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith has yet to hoist one in the postseason.
Their 2002 season ended in a 41-0 rout at the New York Jets, but the Colts opened their 2003 postseason campaign with a 41-10 win over Denver. It was 38-31 last Sunday at Kansas City. That's a lot of points against playoff teams -- even if the defenses were suspect.
Offense, as Polian pointed out, has always put people in the seats.
It's the reason professional soccer has never quite caught on in America. To the futbol aficionado, there is nothing more riveting than a well-played, one-to-nil game, but to the typical Type-A American sports fan, it's worse than watching paint dry. Would most fans rather see a nicely executed hit-and-run single or a towering tater into McCovey Cove?
Let's put it this way: you didn't see the Saints' Joe Horn whip out a cell phone after he kicked a field goal, did you? And, with all due respect, who would you rather see with the ball in his hands, Hunter Smith or Peyton Manning?
Rooting for a shootout
John Avello, director of the race and sports operation at Bally's-Paris Hotels in Las Vegas, likes teams that capture the public's imagination. Sizzle, in Las Vegas anyway, is bankable currency.
"They're sizzling, no question," Avello said. "You're watching a team for two straight weeks where the efficiency level couldn't be any better. Manning's hitting receivers in stride; I haven't seen receivers turn back even two inches for the ball."
Avello said he wasn't surprised by the ESPN.com poll results, either.
"When they're watching the Super Bowl game, the biggest game of the year in America, they don't want to see a 10-7 game," he said. "They want to see a shootout -- they usually get it."
The Super Bowl, historically, has usually been a one-sided game.
Over the last two decades the average score has been 35.9-16.6, a healthy margin of 19.3 points. The funny thing? It's not always the offensive teams that run up the score. Remember the 1985 Chicago Bears, who had one of the great defenses of all time? They beat the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. After the St. Louis Rams edged the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV, three defense-dominated teams have won the ultimate game. The offense-challenged Baltimore Ravens blew out the Giants, 34-7, New England shut down the Rams, 20-17, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handled the Raiders 48-20, although the Bucs' peerless defense scored as many touchdowns (three) as the offense.
Traditionally, Super Bowls have drawn the biggest audiences in television history. According to A.C. Nielsen, nine of the top 10 televised sports events of all time were Super Bowls. Eight of those games occurred in a nine-year span between 1978-86, perhaps more a tribute to the lack of today's cable options than the quality of the games. Still, the two highest ratings belong to Super Bowl XVI, when Joe Montana led the 49ers past the Bengals (49.1) and XVII, when Joe Theismann and John Riggins took out the Dolphins (48.6). For the record, those wild and wooly Bears of XX had the third best number, 48.3.
According to Avello, there are two considerations when setting a betting line on a game: 1) What is the correct number and 2) What is the public thinking? No. 2 often skews No. 1.
"If the Colts had won, say, 21-17 in Kansas City and fumbled a couple of times and they won a sloppy game against Denver, the line would probably be 6," Avello said. "We're bookmakers, we adjust. With the Colts' performance and the public's support, we opened at 3 ½. And there hasn't been a whole lot of movement."
In a SportsNation poll on ESPN.com that drew more than 100,000 respondents, Manning was the answer to the question of which quarterback they would prefer under center heading into the conference championship game. Manning took 48.9 percent of the vote -- nearly as much as Brady (27.1 percent), McNabb (16.7) and Jake Delhomme (7.2) combined.
The same poll asked fans which player they'd like to see land in the Super Bowl for the first time. Interestingly, McNabb (44.7 percent) narrowly edged Manning (42.4).
Both McNabb and Manning are MVP-quality players who have yet to reach the Super Bowl and people are pulling for them. One of the other factors in Manning's popularity is the fact that he was so harshly questioned before the wildcard game for going 0-for-3 in previous playoff games.
Has Polian ever seen a quarterback in such a zone?
"Only Jim Kelly," said Polian, who was the architect of Buffalo's four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s. "That was the first modern version on the no-huddle, and people didn't really know how to deal with it. Now people know how to counter it. This is more complex, though, because the game is more complex.
"Ironically, Jim was at the game on Sunday."
Polian harbors no illusions about playing the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, where that sizzling steak of an offense meets the ultimate test of fire -- the league's stingiest defense in terms of points allowed.
"Thirty-eight points will not go on the board this week," he said. "There may not be 38 points [scored] in the entire game."
Greg Garber is a senior staff writer for ESPN.com