Welcome to Who to Root For for Week 15 of the NFL season.
Each week I break down the schedule in grammatically incorrect fashion. That is, of course, unless you consider avoiding awkward constructions to be the heart of proper grammar in which case this column will be near and dear to your heart. Though it likely means you aren't a big football fan, in which case this will be irrelevant to your life.
What's At Stake: The Colts are all but locked into the fourth seed in the AFC. They have clinched the AFC South, but are a game and a tie break behind the Bengals and two games behind the Patriots.
What It Will Take: Getting up to the third seed will take two losses by the Pats or Bengals and three Colts wins. Or two wins by Indy and three losses to close the year from either Cincy or New England. We can hope, but realistically any hope of a higher seed died in Cincinnati last weekend.
Ideal (but realistic) Seeding:
Denver, Cincinnati, New England, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Baltimore
Baltimore would beat the Pats in round 1, sending the winner of KC/Indy to Cincinnati. Maybe the Ravens upset the Broncos and the Colts host the AFC Championship game.
EASY CALLS (Home team in bold)
Dolphins over the Patriots
Still root against New England, but be careful. A KC swoon and Indy could end up playing a tougher team in the Wild Card Round.
Chiefs over the Raiders
Kansas City is the best possible matchup for Indy. They are vastly overrated, and the Colts could upset them. Root for them to win.
Jets over the Panthers
If there is any possible way to get New York into the playoffs, I'm rooting for it.
Steelers over the Bengals
Indy can still jump Cincy, but it would take a loss by the Bengals this weekend.
Ravens over the Lions
I'm ok with the Ravens as the six seed. That could be the key to keeping the Colts out of Denver.
Broncos over the Chargers
I can't think of any good reason to ever root for Phil Rivers over Peyton Manning, and I'm not going to do it. Ok?
I'm just not.
Why was last weeks loss to the bengals less beneficial than a loss by te bengals and a win by the colts this week? Shouldn't that rectify things because we beat an a division/ AFC team, and they lose to PIT?
SCENARIO: Peyton Manning and Phil Rivers have abducted and trussed up Mike Scifres and Darren Sproles, stuffed them in burlap sacks, and (using Michael Turner's unconscious body as a step stool) hung them from their heels in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Kiev. Manning is throwing fist-sized chunks of ice at them from 50 yards, every once in a while eliciting a pained yelp from the disoriented, hapless hostages. Phil Rivers, on the other hand, just found a gassed-up and ready-to-roll turbo tennis ball serving machine loaded with tiny, rabid porcupines. It has a laser scope and an infinite supply of porkies. It is not clear why he is intent on abusing his current and former teammate, but he has blood lust in his eyes. (and when he's done, Manning will take out his ACL with a 34 inch Vladivostok Slugger and give him a wedgie with a specially designed fork lift). Advantage Rivers; I will root for him on that day, for a couple hours until the burlap sacks are so full of quills and blood and whimpers that Ukranian National Police actually knock on the door to ask if everything is alright in there. "Oh, We're just fine, comrade" Manning replies as he pulls out the baseball bat. That is the day I root, briefly, for Rivers.
Hey Nate, What happened to you piece on Luck's development?
Re: Broncos - Chargers. Yeah I can't do it either. Wayyyy to many things about Rivers bug the hell out of me. I do like that Allen kid though.
I was about to take issue with Nate's assertion that KC is the best possible matchup for Indy. But after looking at things, I'm forced to agree: It likely *is* the best matchup.
Or to put it in other words: It's the least worst.
Miami may be dysfunctional, but they have the sort of play style that seems to be anathema to the Colts. They give up few touchdowns in the red zone, and given Indy's propensity to give up and kick field goals, that's a recipe for making the Colts score less even if they match the Phins scoring drives possession for possession; Indy will be making 4 less points every time. On top of that, they can rush the QB well, and given Indy's O-line, that just spells trouble for Luck and therefore the entire offense.
Cincinnatti? I still believe Indianapolis can beat them if the offense decides to show up. But it's an unlikely matchup to begin with, plus Indianapolis has the sort of defense that makes minor quarterbacks shine. We already saw that the last time we played them. Just a few stops and Indy is in trouble. And they can get the stops.
Baltimore? They stuff the run too well, and given this team's propensity to keep ramming the run game down everyone's throats even when it's not working, that's a recipe for lots of McAfee punt action. And the thing about Miami holding teams in the redzone is even more pronounced for the Ravens; Indy would have so many field goals, but it's questionable how many TDs they'd get.
Indy is not likely to see Denver, but while I think these Colts can score on that Del Rio defense, I see the efficiency going down with Reggie out. And with Manning on their offense, losing scoring efficiency is a killer; I don't see Manning allowing Denver to lose to Indianapolis twice if the decision is in his hands and not the defense's.
New England? I don't even want to think about what Bellichick would do to stymie Luck. Given the coaching shackles, I see an impotent gameplan being followed until the 3rd quarter, and by then the Pats would be up 4 touchdowns.
Kansas wouldn't be an easy matchup, but the loss of Hali helps a HELL of a lot. Indy has finally figured out the value of a crossing pattern, and if Luck has time to throw, even DHB can catch things in the middle of the field. The only concern I have is how the defense accounts for Berry; he's a legit problem because he's a damn, DAMN good player. That said, I'd rather have the Colts facing a top-notch safety who's downfield than a top notch pass rusher who's on top of Luck well before receivers get free. Worst case safety scenario, Berry kills the passing game. Worst case pass rusher scenario, Luck gets his knee bent backwards or his neck broken. I'll take the former.
Above and beyond all that, though, I agree wholeheartedly with Nate: Smith is a terribly overrated QB. It's not that he's not competent - he is - it's that his apparent solidity can evaporate under the sort of man coverage schemes that Indy plays. For ONCE, Indy's defense can face a QB who plays to their strengths rather than weaknesses. I don't see him making the good, tight-window leading passes or back-shoulder throws necessary to defeat Manusky's coverages.
Does this mean a KC - Indy matchup is in the bag? Not even close; these Colts still have to show up. And even if they do, it'll be a stiff challenge. But it's less of an issue against Kansas than it is vs. anyone else. So sure, I was at first going to disagree with Nate. But after looking at things, I believe he's right: The Chiefs are the least worst of the bad matchups for Indy. While difficult, there's a legitimate chance to win there.
After that, I just don't know. But one game at a time. That's the only way this year's postseason can be dealth with.
Why is Broncos vs Chargers a "tough call"? The more Denver wins, the less hope the Chiefs have to reclaim the AFC West. A demoralized KC is better for the Colts next week. Also: the Chargers aren't yet out of the Wild Card hunt. I don't want San Diego anywhere near the playoffs.
No, because the first tiebreak is head to head. The Colts lost to the Bengals so that trumps everything else
@hankster The site it's appearing on delayed launch for a week. Next Thursday now.
@AJ_ You know that last year everyone was crowing about how Balt was the perfect matchup for us in the playoffs. We were a flawed team but Flacco was a boom/bust interception machine and Ray Lewis/Ed Reed were fossils and they seemed to be stumbling drunkenly to the finish line. All of which was true, but did not matter. I agree it's all about matchups--that's exactly what KC said when they drew Indy in the first round of the 2006 playoffs. "Man, Imma run all over them" said Priest Holmes, who maybe topped 40 yards that afternoon. And we matched up better vs NE than SD that year (Thanks for your fumble, Marlon McCree) What I mean to say is, on paper you appear to be right, but I have no idea what team will win, or even show up. KC works for me, but I am concerned that the braintrust will throw the exact game plan at them in week 18 as they did in week 16. Alex Smith's feet are a concern for me--I've seen a few of their games and he has shown a propensity to take off on a good 15 yarder when things break down. Also, he's careful with the ball. And they have good return teams. Sergio Brown, time to put your tacking skills to the test in addition to your ballet-like downing a punt on the one skills.
@chip_bennett Because Indy can still technically get the #1 seed.
Thanks for the clarification. So what would theoretically happen if any of the seeds above the Colts fall out? Since cincy hasn't locked up anything, if some other team won enough to take their space, would that change our seeding?
Big fan of your work Nate
I don't disagree with your "on paper" qualification at all. In fact, that's what I was getting at with my caveats at the end. If the Indy game is where the backup pass rushers discover their inner Hali, and/or where the offense manages to do their best Ravens a-la Super Bowl XXXV impersonation, Indy can get screwed. And if it turns out that Miami implodes, or Bad Dalton shows up for the Bengals, then yeah, all of those would've in hindsight been better matchups.
Most you can do is put your predictions and reasoning out there to be tested. I can easily be wrong. I had given up on the Colts Super Bowl season early in the year they went all the way. The point is that so many things can suddenly go right, or on the other side of the coin go to hell-in-a-handbasket in the playoffs that forecasting ability is limited. Again, best you can do is apply what logic you possess to the knowledge you have while you accept that there's things you don't know as well as other things that will absolutely defy logic when you see them (Nick Harper somehow failing to dodge Ben Roethlisberge; Vanderjagt missing the field goal. Or more recently, Flacco suddenly hitting the boom part of the boom/bust cycle at exactly the right time and staying that way for the entire playoff schedule). And be humble about what you predict. It's easily possible to be right for the wrong reasons (a problem too many national sports pundits refuse to admit, let alone correct). Even if Indy wins, I will be wrong if KC plays an amazing game in defeat while Miami and Cincinnati play poorly. I will have predicted wrongly that they were the best matchup.
You're right. It's all on paper. It's just that it's the best information I have combined with the best logic I can apply. Of course it can be wrong. No one can know everything.
If you were to ask me, "in a vaccum, what team between Miami, Cincy, Baltimore, NE, KC and Denver would be the most favorable matchup for the Colts this year?", no doubt I´d reply KC, for all the reasons AJ_outlined above. But I´ve stopped trying to project how playoffs games will go. Sure, given the structural constraints (as in Pagano´s headspace) placed on this team, the ideal scenario is one where the Colts are losing by 10 midway through the 3rd quarter, so that the other team sacrifices some of its efficiency, while Pep puts the game in Luck´s hands. But the postseason is just too much of an inebriated creature to root for that scenario, already unpredictable to begin with.
Here's to hoping cincy drops another one, and pats fall out so that we can potentially have 2nd seed
Again, thanks for the clarification.
@JohnStiflerCyzycki If Cincy loses 1 and Indy wins 2, Indy gets it. If Cincy and Indy BOTH lose two and the Ravens win two of three, Indy gets the 3. If Cincy and Indy both split, but Cincy loses to the Ravens, Indy gets the 3.
The postseason is a random and capricious creature, a Sybil who can shock you in ways you simply cannot predict. If it were our child, we'd seek professional help. If it were an aunt, we'd keep her up in the attic. If it were a coin, we'd wonder how the hell it found more possible outcomes than heads or tails. If it were a sports columnist, we'd name it Skip Bayless.
But despite its mercurial nature, we all come back over and over. We do it because fundamentally, we all love randomness and blown-up storylines. They excite the hell out of us. Except when it screws our team. Then we cry in our beers.