Time is right for Peyton, Colts to win big one

Not since relocating to Indianapolis in 1984 have the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl. The Colts are 0-2 in AFC Championship Games in that stretch.

Here are five reasons, though, why Indianapolis will win the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and advance to Super Bowl XLI:

Safeties first: Whether it was Lawyer Milloy, Tebucky Jones, Rodney Harrison or Eugene Wilson, the Patriots always seemed to have the better safety tandem in their matchups with the Colts, and that dictated much of what they could do with coverage schemes. That might not be the case this time. With Wilson on injured reserve and Harrison trying to battle back from a sprained medial collateral ligament, New England could be forced to start Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders at safety. With versatile tight end Dallas Clark an increasing focus of the Indianapolis passing game in the playoffs, and quarterback Peyton Manning willing to be patient and connect with tailback Joseph Addai on check-down passes, the Patriots' safeties will be tested. Sanders is a physical player but somewhat a liability in coverage. Hawkins is a former cornerback who had never played safety until 2005, making the transition at age 29. Although he's a hard worker and terrific guy, Hawkins will take some bad angles to the ball and miss tackles. The return of Pro Bowl free safety Bob Sanders for the playoffs, after a knee injury limited him to only four appearances in the regular season, has been a key to the Colts' dramatic defensive turnaround in two postseason wins. His partner, Antoine Bethea, was one of the NFL's most consistent rookie defenders in 2006.

The legend and the rookie: C'mon, you just know kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski -- the icon the Patriots allowed to escape in free agency and the rookie they drafted to replace him -- are going to play major roles in what figures to be a very close game. Admit it, you can feel this rife-with-irony moment coming, right? Vinatieri, who kicked the Patriots to two of their three Super Bowl victories, has not missed in the RCA Dome this season. All told, he's 8-for-8 in the playoffs, with an average conversion of 39.5 yards and four field goals of 48 yards or more. Gostkowski, who hit 20-of-26 during the season but missed three tries of 30-39 yards, is coming on strong. He has made all six attempts in the playoffs, with an average conversion of 33.8 yards, and his confidence has grown. As good as Gostkowski has been lately, however, Vinatieri has been nothing short of great for a long, long time.

He's the Man(ning): It's hard to fathom the NFL's most studious player putting in even more time with the video machine, but Manning's probably keeping late nights this week, poring over every shred of New England-related celluloid he can unearth. You've got to figure that even the fertile defensive mind of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who always has something up the cutoff sleeve of his hoodie, at some point is going to run out of schemes to throw at Manning. No one will have to remind Manning of the historical and legacy-related ramifications of this game. He'll be ready to play. Manning has done a nice job of managing Indianapolis' first two playoff victories, throwing just one touchdown pass. He'll continue the patience he has demonstrated in those contests, but, make no mistake, Sunday is a game in which Manning is going to want to put up big numbers.

Chicks dig the long ball: The pundits don't always recognize it, but few offenses throw the ball vertically like the Colts do. Even in a playoff stretch when Manning hasn't forced the issue deep, the Indianapolis design is still to strike up the field with wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on the boundaries or Clark up the seam. Although the Pats favor a rhythm-based game, with tons of hitches and screen passes to every eligible receiver, the Colts will take some shots at the quick strike. Harrison and Wayne combined for only five touchdown catches of 20 yards or more during the season, and their average scoring reception was for 15.1 yards. But they averaged 14.8 yards per catch in the regular season, graphic evidence that they still prefer to stretch the field.

Destiny's children: Yep, we know, it has nothing to do with X's and O's. There is no long scouting session or science involved. But there are teams, and the Colts might have been among them the past few years, that haven't won because it simply wasn't their time to win. In 1972, in the wake of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception," everyone figured the Pittsburgh Steelers were a team of destiny. What few remember is that the Steelers lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game the week after the "Immaculate Reception." They didn't claim their first Super Bowl victory until two years later. Maybe this is the year the planets are aligned for Indianapolis, a team that probably isn't as talented as it has been the last couple seasons but that definitely has momentum.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.