The final week of the 2009 NFL season is upon us, and the AFC playoff picture is wide open.
For Colts' fans, step one is deciding who you would rather face in round two, assuming the home teams win. That's easy Cincinnati over New England (as we've discussed dozens of times before). That means we want the Bengals in the four slot and the Pats in the three slot because Indy CANNOT play the three seed until the AFC Championship game. Given the fact that Indy is extremely likely to play either the Pats or the Chargers in the AFC Championship game (should they get that far), there's not much point in rooting for bad scenarios for the Pats. I'd rather force the Pats and Chargers to play each other, hoping the winner expends too much energy in the process.
Having settled (again) that obvious bit of business, let's rank the remaining wild card teams in terms of most favorable to least favorable matchups for the Colts. There is obviously room for considerable debate on this topic, but I'm going with the following:
1. Jets-Awful QB. They were not going to beat the Colts first string. I'd play them again in a heartbeat. I want this team in the playoffs!
2. Broncos-Circling the drain fast. Indy put up 28 points on them, and controlled the beginning and end of the game. The Broncos 'success', such as it was, on offense stemmed from Indy losing Jerraud Powers to injury and having to cover Brandon Marshall with Tim Jennings. I don't think we're likely to see that repeat itself.
3. Miami-Without Ronnie Brown to run the Wildcat, I don't think they put up enough points to beat the Colts. Indy's D played them ok, except when they had the Wildcat working, and they don't run it the same way they did early in the season.
4. Ravens-I'm not a believer. They played Indy tough at home, but Santi's fumble made that game seem a lot closer than it was. It's never any fun playing Baltimore, but on the whole I feel good about this matchup.
5. Jacksonville-Are they any good? No, of course not. Are they a dangerous matchup for the Colts? Yes. There's no reason for it, but Jags Colts games in Indy have been close for the last six years. Indy wins almost all of them, but it would be a tough game.
6. Houston-They could match Indy score for score if they had to. Already played us to the wall twice. I want no part of a third game with them.
7. Pittsburgh-Roethlisberger and possibly Polamalu? Um, no thanks.
So lets take the easiest games on the board first:
New England at Houston-A Pats' win clinches the three seed, and guarantees that Indy won't have to see both NE and San Diego in the playoffs. It also serves to eliminate the Texans, who are near the bottom of the list of teams I want to play. There will be no half hearted hoping they choke on Sunday. It's go Pats all the way.
Cincinnati at New York Jets-This kills two birds with one stone. First, it puts the Jets in the playoffs as the #5 seed, and almost guarantees a rematch in Cincinnati the next weekend. While I don't think there are many teams the Jets could beat, the Bengals are one of them. Suddenly, Indy is looking a probable opening game against the Jets or Bengals. Either way is fine with me.
Now, should the Pats lose AND the Bengals lose, there is still one remote way the Bengals can wind up as the three seed. The Bengals could win the strength of victory tie breaker from the Pats if ALL (yes, all 8 of them) the following games end like this:
Colts beat the Bills
Browns beat the Jags
Saints beat the Panthers
Seahawks beat the Titans
Steelers beat the Dolphins
Packers beat the Cards
Chiefs beat the Broncos
Ravens beat the Raiders
So there's your check list for the three seed. If even one of those games goes against Cincy, they would be the four seed if they lose to the Jets, regardless of what the Patriots do.
Now for the other games:
Jags at Browns-The Sparkle kitties are trying to avoid limping home with a fourth straight loss. I'm thinking they go down.
Steelers at Dolphins-Who would you rather play? There's no question in my book.
Chiefs at Broncos-Some one HAS to qualify from the AFC. Might as well be Denver. Now Brandon Marshall is freaking out again, so I can't imagine them going anywhere in January. Should they make it to Indy, I think the colts stomp them.
Conveniently, all three of those games match up with what we need to happen in the event of a Patriots loss at Houston.
Baltimore at Oakland-too early to call, but I'm leaning in favor of Baltimore. If the Steelers win, it becomes easier to root for the Ravens to win, to crowd out Pittsburgh. If the Broncos win, it could help for the Ravens to lose. So who knows at this point?
In a perfect world, the playoffs would wind up looking like this:
That would guarantee the Colts a second round game against either the winner of the Bengals Jets game, or the Broncos if they upset New England.
7 Things to Watch for During Sunday's Colts Bills Game
This guy doesn't inspire confidence
Last week...well let's talk about something else. This week Indy travels to the frozen wasteland that is Buffalo, New York. While Peyton Manning is expected to start the game, the Colts' chances for victory will rest largely on Curtis Painter. In his honor, we bring you seven things to watch for this Sunday. Be on the look out for:
1. Watch the pitch count. Weather permitting, I would love to see the starters play a half. I realize that is unlikely, but surely any reasonable person would allow that it would be plenty of work for the starters to stay in sync. More likely, we'll see Manning for a drive. If we even get a second, we'l all feel lucky.
2. Watch the weather report. The reports are calling for 18 degrees with snow. Caldwell has said he doesn't expect the weather to affect his plans, but I have to think that if conditions are too bad, we won't see Manning do much other than hand off into the line three times.
3. Watch another top pass defense. The unfortunate part of Curtis Painter having to play the Bills and Jets is that they are top two defenses in the NFL at opponents passer rating. He doesn't have a chance. The Bills are going to force 3 sacks and two picks from Painter. If he's lucky. Remember Painter has NEVER lead a touch down drive, not even in the preseason.
4. Watch for milestones. Several Colts have personal goals they'd love to attain, but it seems unlikely they will. Manning will almost certainly lose the passing title (which isn't bad considering no one has ever lead the NFL in passing yards and won the Super Bowl in the same year). He only needs 152 yards to set a career high, however, and if the Colts decide to let the starters play a little more than we expect, he could get there. Dallas Clark needs 7 catches for 100. Reggie Wayne needs just five. Austin Collie, who could see more action than the other starters needs 7 catches to set the Colts' rookie record for receptions. Fans will howl if the Colts go for them, but it would be the right play, within reason.
5. Watch the kicking game. Priority number one for the Colts offense needs to be getting in field goal range to let the team evaluate Vinatieri. Granted, kicking outside in Buffalo will be a much tougher test than anything he'll have to do this postseason, but the team needs to know what he can do. They have a tough decison as to whether or not to keep Stover. Getting AV some live attempts would be a major accomplishment for what is sure to be an anemic offensive day.
6. Watch for a live chat. The Colts are treating this like a preseason game, and so will we. That means we'll do a Cover It Live blog/chat during the game on Sunday instead of the normal game day blog. Stop by at game time and we'll hang out and shake our heads in dismay together.
7. Watch for 14-2. The Bills are horrible. Curtis Painter is worse. Unless the Colts let the starters play more than a series, they aren't going to win this game. Buffalo takes it 17-10. That may be optimistic.
My final thoughts on Painter-gate. I haven't been this ready to move on from something since high school. Fittingly there are seven of them.
1. It was good that Irsay said something. He took responsibility (which he should have). I agree with him that the move was courageous because it was rooted in principles. Personally, I believe that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" and that there are moments where your principles can be exposed as inadequate for the circumstances. That's what happened here in my opinion. You can call this decision whatever you want, but cowardly isn't an adjective that can be used. It was sloppy. It was unnecessary. It may or may not have been stupid. It was not selfish (it cost Caldwell a Coach of the Year award). It was not cowardly.
2. The net effect on this season will be negligible. Nothing that happened last week nor this week matters. I've now read scores of articles arguing that there is and that there isn't 'momentum' in the NFL. Whenever you see that much noise on both sides of an issue, it means no one knows. One thing is certain: even if there used to be momentum, each of the last three seasons have produced a Super Bowl team that looked dead in the water going into January. This season will too. Maybe it will be the Vikings. Maybe it will be the Saints. Maybe it will be the Colts.
3. If I hear one more writer bring up how resting didn't work in 2007 I'm going to scream. You listening, Kravitz? Everyone knows that rest had NOTHING to do with the Colts' 2007 playoff loss to the Chargers. No one can honestly look you in the face and say otherwise. Just shut up. People need 2007 because without it, the evidence tilts in favor of rest. 1999 and 2004 outweigh 2005, but if you wedge 2007 in there, it looks like an argument. I'm still waiting for ANYONE to explain how rest hurt the Colts in 2007. Don't let them throw Marvin Harrison in there either, if he could have played before the playoffs he would have. He shouldn't have played AT ALL in the playoffs. That's a different issue. Even mentioning 2007 in this discussion is intellectually dishonest. Kravtiz has said before that he knows there is little real connection between rest and the 2007 loss, but he keeps waiving it about wildly anyway.
4. This was not a "once in a lifetime opportunity". This is a third or fourth time in a lifetime opportunity already. Seriously, no one even batted an eye when the Colts went to 10-0. You don't think they could go for this whenever they want? 13-0 in 2005. 10-0 in 2006. 7-0 (with narrow losses late) in 2007. This team will always be in position to rip off 10 or 12 wins in a row. If I told you right now that in the next three years the Colts would have a season where they went at least 11-0, would you even blink? Indy will be in this same spot again soon.
5. The 2007 Pats were not noble. They were perhaps the least honorable, least sportsmanlike team in history. Their "quest for perfection" was not born of any great love and honor of sport and the essence of competition. They also wound up as the biggest chokers in the history of football. So save me interviews with those guys. Their opinion is utterly irrelevant. If nothing else, I'm glad the Colts have tried to be the opposite of that team. They were evil. They were not sportsmen. If you don't think the arrogance got them in the end, just rewatch Brady's smug press conference before the Super Bowl. They thought they were invincible and they took the Giants lightly. They paid for it and will live in history as choking dogs. So shut it, Teddy Bruschi. I don't give a flying fart what you think about this.
6. The Colts have to drop this "other records were more important" crap. Just say, "We didn't care!" I can buy that. I can buy that you think it is all utter nonsense. Just don't tell me that one obscure record is more important that an undefeated season. That makes no sense. Not 10 people in a 1,000 would agree. Just say, "We only care about one thing...the Super Bowl". There is a difference by the way between letting players get individual records and a team record. The players use those personal records to make more money. The players will revolt over the long haul if you suppress their stats. Guys like Manning, Wayne, Harrison, Clark...they are all great guys. But other guys see that stuff too. By letting players hit personal milestones, you smooth things out in the locker room in the long run. Now, the Colts only do this when it only takes a few extra plays to get the guy a mark. In my opinion, it would have taken only a few extra plays to get the win on Sunday too. One or at the most two more drives would have done it. That leads me to the final point:
7. I'll never be ok with what happened. I'll never ever agree. I'll never say it was necessary. No matter what else happens from here on out. Super Bowl or no. There was no reason to take Manning out up 15-10 with the ball on the 10. Taking him out? Sure. Resting players? Sure. But playing a weird "in between" strategy of not announcing the move before the game "for competitive advantage", but then coaching the game like the outcome didn't matter (punting on fourth and 3 with just two offensive possessions left) just makes no sense. That kind of half way coaching is indefensible. Righ move, wrong move...whatever. It didn't go down correctly.
They botched this. I don't remember the Colts ever botching anything under this regime, but they botched this.
It's not the end of the world.
It won't matter in the long run.
But they botched it.
Let's talk about football, shall we?
Remember that game with a brown ball played on a striped field?
Now that the Colts have completed the regular season (chuckle, chuckle), it's time to look potential pitfalls come playoff time. The Colts are a very good team. They may be an all time great team. They are not a flawless team. In January, anything can go wrong, and one bad break can end your season. That being said, some things are more likely to go wrong than others. Here are the top five areas that could be exploited come January.
1. Field Goal Kicking
This is the only true glaring and obvious weakness. Right now, no one knows if the Colts have anyone who can reliably make a 46 yard field goal. We've already lost two playoff games this decade on blown field goals, and another could kill me. The upside is that it makes the Colts more likely to go for it on fourth and medium in no man's land. That could be a benefit, but when it comes to end of half and end of game scenarios, the Colts need 10 yards more than most teams. They have to aim for the 25, not the 35. It hasn't hurt them yet, but it could. It wouldn't be the first time our hearts were broken by a kicker. It wouldn't be the second time...or the third come to that (2004 Opening Day @ NE). Everyone ought to be very nervous about this.
2. The Offensive Tackles
If the Colts are going to be exploited, it's going to be because one of the tackles has a bad game. I know that they have been solid in pass protection this year, but both Diem and Johnson have looked shaky at times, and Johnson still has not managed to be effective in run blocking. I can see a situation where a team comes in and confuses CJ and gets sacks. This is not nearly as big a concern as the kicker situation, but it's still high on the board. Before the season, I said I thought there was a limit to where this team could go with CJ as left tackle. That's proven to be false during the regular season. I hope I'm still just as wrong a month from now. I'd be thrilled.
3. The Young Wideouts
Collie seems to have everything figured out, but the playoffs can be a whole different deal. Garcon has been all over the map this year, alternating spectacular games with horrid ones. If you were to tell me that the WRs were to vanish in January, it wouldn't be hard for me to believe you. Manning is going to come their way. They have to be open, and they have to make the catches. Should Garcon not be able to go or if someone gets hurt, it'll be Baskett time, and no one wants that. Again, these 'weaknesses' are getting progressively less scary every time, aren't they?
4. Don Brown
His injury was unfortunate because he needs time to figure out how to run behind the Indy line. He's a true X-factor because he could go either way in January. He could wind up with a crushing 5 yard loss to kill a drive, or could be the hero who randomly takes a 3 yard run on 2nd and 10 to the house for a 50 yard TD. He could pick up a key third down, or blow a critical block. He's still learning how to play in the Colts' offense. He could do some incredible things as Dom Rhodes Jr, but honestly, he scares me.
5. Jim Caldwell
Jim has been calm and courageous all season. He's stuck to his guns and done most things (cough) correctly. Now it's playoff time, and he is going to have to have the guts to go for the tough fourth downs. I hope he doesn't learn the hard way that going for it on fourth and 3 from the 45 is what it takes to win Super Bowls. After the first game, Indy is going to play some prodigious offenses. Field position will become a meaningless term in the Luke in January against Rivers or Brady. Going for it is the only option. Jim's been great (as have a lot of guys on this list), but it's time to do it in January. Everything he does will be scrutinized more closely than ever. Hold on tight, Jimmy C. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Note what isn't on here anywhere: The Defense
The reason I have supreme confidence in this team is because I'm 100% in the tank for the 2009 Colts Defense. I believe that with Mathis and Powers playing, we are going to see a true shut down group. My gut tells me they don't allow 21 points to any opponent this entire postseason. That includes the Chargers and the Patriots. Every kick freaks me out, but when the D is on the field, I rest easy. Having all the top CBs together for the first time in a month while having Freeney and Mathis both as close to 100% as possible is going to be a sight to behold.
A brief list of some of the things Bill Polian has done for Indianapolis:
1. Drafted Peyton Manning.
2. Drafted Edgerrin James.
3. Hired Tony Dungy.
4. Drafted Dwight Freeney.
5. Won Super Bowl XLI.
6. Won 115 games in a decade.
7. Created a team known throughout sports for its class and competence.
8. Hired and trained his son, Chris, to ensure the winning continues for years to come.
9. Prevented the Colts from leaving town by building a consistent winner.
10. Put the Colts in perfect position to win Super Bowl XLIV.
I have no idea what a Rally Mask is or in what situation you might wear one. But I believe this with all my heart: Indianapolis would not have a professional football franchise today if Bill Polian had not been hired in 1997.no comments
Just a special note to congratulate our 18to88 fantasy winner:
Demond Sanders and his team 2Cool4School and 4U!
Demond dominated the league as the #1 overall seed, but squeezed out a narrow semi-final victory by just 0.7 points.
A big congrats to league runner up Eric Frohiep's Triple Threat team and third place winner K Michael McCammack's Black Knight.
Thanks to everyone who played in the 20 team league.
Some disclaimers before I begin:
- My brother and I are season ticket holders for the Indianapolis Colts. Currently, I live overseas and Demond attends all the games, but my name is on the tickets too.
- We sold our tickets for Sunday's game for a decent price. Ours is a working family. We knew the Colts were probably going to pull starters at some point. It's Christmas. We needed the money. I make no apologies for that.
The outrage over Sunday's debacle continues to wash unabated over Indianapolis. It is starting to drive me insane. Before I address the solution, let me make a couple of points:
1. Fans should not be allowed to run football teams. GMs and coaches SHOULD NOT EVER take fans wishes into consideration. That is not their job. Anyone who suggests that Bill Polian or Jim Caldwell should give two flips what any fan thinks is building a recipe for a losing franchise. Stuff your anger at them. They don't care what you think. They are smarter than you are. Bill Polian is one of the smartest front office men in the history of football. Jim Caldwell has a 14-1 football team. They know better than you. Accept it. I'm considered a knowledgeable Colts fan. I would take any one of you and anyone in the media in a throw down about Colts knowledge right now and beat you silly. I'm actually writing a book about the complete history of the Colts in Indianapolis. When it comes to football, I am a moron compared to those men.
2. The Colts made a purely football decision. They only considered the football ramifications of the decision. Good. That's what I want from my coach and GM. Ask the Jags what it feels like to have to make football decisions based on the crowd. They are going to draft Tim Tebow and ruin their franchise forever. We can debate the football merits of the decision. That's fair. Personally, I believe the decision had precious little football merit. There was some merit, which I tracked yesterday, but I will be annoyed for the rest of my life when I talk about Sunday's game. That being said, it was a football decision, and I trust those men to make good ones because they have for a decade now.
3. Only one thing matters. The problem, at its core, is that too many of us have started to believe the media. Here's a list of meaningless things:
- Team of the Decade!
- Greatest Team of All Time!
- Franchise rankings
- Most anything on ESPN voted on by writers
- Everything written on SI.com
- The '72 Dolphins
Most of us saw this season as a chance to get a leg up on the Pats. They have three rings. We have one. A perfect season, according to some, was worth two or three rings. I said so myself.
The Colts have said, "Nothing is worth a ring but a ring". Nothing matters but the Super Bowl. There is no value in the rest of it.
They are right.
You care more about Indy being the "Team of the Decade" than Polian and Caldwell because they know the truth:
The decade is an arbitrary (and wrongly calculated) time period. What matters is that the Pats have three rings, but none since 2004. They want another. So does Indy. The Chargers have no rings and would kill for one. Team of the effing decade?
They just want to be team of the year.
So does everyone else.
The Colts have thumbed their noses at "history" because they know that today's history is tomorrow's afterthought. The only thing that matters is the hardware on your finger. That you take to the grave. Anything else, and the media will just yank it away when the next flavor of the month comes along.
4. Colts fans are spoiled. You want meaningless games? Go to a game when your team is 1-14. That's a meaningless freaking game. That's a waste of money. I've done that. Before 1997, we paid for my grandparents tickets and went to the games. We bought our set in June of 1997. We started that year 0-10. I never want to hear anyone bitch about having to watch a 14-1 team. I know seats are expensive. I know it's real money. It was real money when the team sucked. I went to plenty of those meaningless games and watched first stringers worse than this team's backups. About 26 other fanbases would trade places with you RIGHT NOW. Bill Polian has given you more wins this decade than in the first 15 years of the franchise combined. Before Polian:
- We had won one division title. Now we have seven.
- We had won two playoff games. Now we have a Super Bowl.
- We had been to the playoffs three times. Now we go every year.
- We had three Hall of Fame Players (Dickerson, Faulk, Harrison and not all at the same time). Now we have Manning, Freeney, Wayne, and Saturday all at once.
Now, none of that is to say there is no problem. There is a problem. The decision to rest players was handled as sloppily and poorly as possible. People are angry. I don't blame them. I'm angry about it too. No matter how over the top and out of proportion the reaction is, the Colts have to recognize that it is a real reaction. The football side of the operation did not anticipate just how much the rest of the city wanted 16-0. They had no clue what a fire storm they had touched off. Why? It's not their job to worry about the fans.
It is Mr. Irsay's job.
Jim Irsay is a great owner because he stays hands off the football side. He should NOT have stepped in to mandate the Colts play their players. That would be a violation of every thing he stands for as an owner. He SHOULD have demanded they tell the fans up front they were doing it though. Listen, don't give me any bunk about "competitive advantage". The Colts went into the game with Curtis F. Painter as their #2. They intentionally lost that game. When you are trying to lose a football game, you don't get to claim the right of secrecy.
IT WAS TWO DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS. There were scores of people who spent good money to take kids to games. That was a big event for a lot of families. They had a right to know up front was happeneing.
I have no sympathy for season ticket holders. We know the drill up front. We pay for 10 Colts games. We get 7. We pay for two preseason games and a meaningless last home game. That's the deal we've made for 10 years now.
But anyone who spent money just on this game as a single ticket, and didn't realize what was going to happen, you have my sympathy. The Colts were way too cagey about the decision. They did it for football reasons, but Mr. Irsay has to realize that his team was watched in a public stadium by people who paid real money and gave gifts of tickets. Those people had a right to know what they were seeing. The football people wanted to lose the game. That's their prerogative, but should have warned the rest of us. By the way, I don't buy the retarded conspiracy theory that they did it to sell concessions. That stadium was going to be full no matter what. The Colts had already sold all the tickets.
So now it happened. It's done. Polian is mad as hell because he doesn't think he should have to explain and justify a football decision to the fans. He shouldn't. They aren't his problem. Mr. Irsay on the other hand DOES have to worry about the fans.
Mr. Irsay needs to come out and apologize for the way the franchise handled the weekend. He doesn't have to apologize for the decision, just for the fact that they didn't give paying customers a heads up they weren't going to make an honest effort. And it was NOT an honest effort. An honest effort means a team does not:
- Run a practice squad caliber rookie QB on the field against the #1 defense in football deep in his own territory and ask him to drop back and throw passes
- Punt on 4th and 3 from the 47 knowing the offense only has two more possesions the rest of the game.
Right or wrong as a football move, it was a PR disaster and no amount of self justifcation is going to correct that. People don't care about the Super Bowl. They've listened to Deion Sanders and Keyshawn Johnson and Don Banks and Peter King and Rodney Harrison and now they want MORE. Right or wrong, that is the case.
Mr. Irsay needs to step in as a businessman and apologize that people weren't notified. He needs to show that he cares that people are mad.
Because I don't think this will just blow over come January.
Say you are sorry, Jim.
Even if you don't mean it.
No arugments. Just numbers.
Since 2004, teams entering the playoffs with a winning streak of at least three games are 15-16 in the playoffs.
The 2005 Steelers are the only team with a winning streak of at least three games that has won the Super Bowl in that stretch
Only one other team made the Super Bowl (2007 Patriots).
Only three teams have won two playoff games (2006 Pats, 2007 Chargers, 2007 Patriots).
The last 10 Super Bowl Champions win streaks going into the playoffs:
2008 Steelers: 1 Game
2007 Giants: 0 Games
2006 Colts: 1 Game
2005 Steelers: 4 Games
2004 Pats: 2 Games
2003 Pats: 12 Games
2002 Bucs: 1 Game
2001 Pats: 6 Games
2000 Ravens: 7 Games
1999 Rams: 0 Games
The hottest team (most consecutive wins) going into the playoffs each of the past 10 years and their final record in the playoffs:
2008: Colts (0-1)
2007: Patriots (2-1, lost SB)
2006: San Diego (0-1)
2005: Washington (1-1)
2004: Pittsburgh (1-1)
2003: Patriots (3-0, won SB)
2002: Titans (1-1)
2001: Patriots and Rams (Met in SB, 6-1 combined)
2000: Ravens (4-0 won SB)
1999: Titans 3-1(lost SB)
Sometimes the hot team wins. Usually they don't. Teams with a 1 game or zero game winning streak are as likely to win a Super Bowl in the past decade as teams with a longer winning streak.
There is no such thing as momentum.