Why the Colts Won't Finish Unbeaten
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Indianapolis Colts will be 12-0. I'll concede that much. With the inexperienced and overmatched Tennessee Titans coming to the RCA Dome this Sunday, Peyton Manning and company could offer up their "C" game and still win by double digits.
But becoming the first NFL team to finish a regular season 16-0? That's another matter altogether. I can find lots of reasons why that won't happen, including a few flies in the ointment of each of the team's final four regular season games.
Yes, the Colts are the best team in the league. Of that there should be little doubt. If forced to wager my estate house and plantation on who will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 5th in Detroit, I would absolutely let it ride on the Colts.
But unbeatable? No way.
Did Indy look unbeatable when they beat the Jaguars, 10-3? How about the following week when they "destroyed" the Browns, 13-6? You also may remember that the Bengals rolled up 492 yards on that impenetrable defense just two Sundays ago.
In the past week I've heard or read that two fairly reasonable and objective people - ESPN's Ron Jaworski and Hall of Fame head coach Don Shula - think the Colts will win them all. And while I never started a Super Bowl, like Jaws, or won a couple, like Shula, I'm going to beg to differ with those two NFL legends.
Let's look at the final four games of that slate, shall we?
at Jacksonville (12/11) - Many of your favorite NFL pundits are chalking this one up as a win, since the Jaguars are expected to be without injured quarterback Byron Leftwich. But the Jags played the Colts tough at the RCA Dome back in Week 2 based on their defense, and can use a similar formula to hang around this time. Playing in the heat and humidity of Jacksonville is always difficult (just ask Donovan McNabb), the Jaguars always seem to play the Colts close, and Jack Del Rio's team, again in the midst of a battle for an AFC Wild Card berth, will need this game more than will Indy. Leftwich or no Leftwich, this one should be nip-and-tuck.
vs. San Diego (12/18) - The Chargers are believed by many to be the second- best team in the AFC, if not the NFL, and like Jacksonville, San Diego will come into this battle with not much margin for error in the playoff chase. The Bolts went to Indy last year and fell, 34-31, in overtime, and this year the Chargers look stronger on both sides of the football. If there is a team in the league that has the capability of trading scores with the Colts, it is Marty Schottenheimer's crew.
at Seattle (12/24) - The Colts may not even be favored in this game. Indianapolis will be taking a long trip on a short week, to face a team that is likely to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, before a fired-up holiday crowd at Qwest Field. Some will argue that the Seahawks could already have homefield locked up by the time they play this one, but with Carolina and Chicago currently just a game back, it is reasonable to assume that one if not both will still be in the top-seed chase by Week 16. If one of this game's combatants has nothing to play for, it will likely be Indy.
vs. Arizona (1/1) - If Peyton Manning takes more than a handful of snaps in this one, it will be shocking. Ditto for Edgerrin James in regard to his number of carries. And while many will believe that Jim Sorgi and Dominic Rhodes should be good enough to beat the woeful Cardinals, I'm not biting on that logic. The Cardinals are not completely punchless, possessing a high- octane passing game and a couple of playmakers on defense. Plus, Dennis Green and company will have nothing to lose, and will pull out all the stops to take down a possible Super Bowl champ.
If the Colts can pass through this gauntlet unscathed, the perfect mark will then be on the line in the postseason. The divisional round opponent won't be a cupcake, and the top four candidates to come to Indianapolis on the second week in January - the Patriots, Jaguars, Chargers, and Steelers - will all have seen the Colts at least once already this season. The AFC Championship will also feature someone of top quality, and could ultimately be more difficult than the Super Bowl. That means six of Indy's final seven games will have been against high-caliber, winning teams.
In today's parity-stricken NFL, the prospects for going 19-0 are especially dim, even for a team that appears to be far and away at the head of the NFL class. If the Colts pull this one off, which is doubtful, there should be little dispute that they are the best team in league history.