In the days leading up to Week 16, the big question was whether or not the Colts would rest their starters against the Jets. Indianapolis usually sits Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and the rest of its stars in meaningless contests, but this one wasn't so "meaningless." Though the Colts had the No. 1 seed in the AFC locked up, they were 14-0 and five wins away from claiming history. No NFL team has ever gone 19-0.
My inbox flooded with e-mails asking about Manning's status. Manning fantasy owners wanted to know if I had any insight regarding the decision. Unfortunately, I had to inform them that I had not pulled a Bill Belichick and installed a camera in Jim Caldwell's office (not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Instead, I referred them to Caldwell's cryptic quotes:
"Our No. 1 goal is to win. There may be some time where depending on how the game goes whether or not (backup QB Curtis Painter) plays. We haven't made any declaration on who is playing and how long."
"I could not tell you exactly...whether a guy is going to play one series or the entire game."
I wasn't the only one in the dark; hours before the game, Manning told Rachel Nichols that he would play as long as the game was "competitive" and "close."
Well, we all know what happened. Caldwell pulled the starters when his team was up 15-10 in the third quarter. The Colts went on to lose, 29-15, giving the Jets control of their own destiny in the AFC wild card race.
I thought what Caldwell and Bill Polian did was a disgrace. It was the wrong decision on so many levels, and I barely even know where to begin.
It takes a lot for Chris Berman to get angry. Usually it's a player doing something stupid on or off the field. A team quitting will do it too; when the Falcons didn't try at all in a Week 17 game against Carolina back in 2005 (losing 44-11), Boomer yelled and asked Jim Mora Jr.'s team for some effort. And of course, Berman lost it when Emmitt debacled the English language.
Boomer was really pissed during the Blitz on Sunday night. He said he felt like he was kicked in the stomach, looking very disappointed that this Colts team had a shot at history and just threw it away because they didn't want to get Manning, Wayne and Dallas Clark injured.
I have to agree. There have been 43 Super Bowl champions in NFL history, but no team has ever gone 19-0. If the Colts managed to accomplish that feat, they would be known as the greatest team of all time, finally silencing annoying ex-Dolphins like Don Schula and Mercury Morris.
It's not like Indianapolis hasn't won a Super Bowl before. Manning and company did this three years ago. Why not make this Super Bowl run special? Why not win every game and be known as the greatest team of all time? Don't they owe it to everyone who has ever played in the NFL to go after history?
Integrity of the Game
An e-mail from Billy V.:
Coming from me, a Texans fan, it just sounds like sour grapes. But the Colts' intentional loss to the Jets changed the whole playoff race. Had they lost; The Broncos and Ravens control their own destiny and the Texans are hoping for a miracle by Oakland or KC. Now, all Jets have to do is beat a Cincinnati team who is beat up with nothing to play for.
If the Colts had played Sunday and then rested against the Bills, no one cares; the Bills mean nothing to anyone. But the playoff lives of several franchises were riding on a game where the Colts quit.
This is not the first time Indianapolis has pulled something like this. In 2007, the Colts took on the Titans. Tennessee needed a victory to vault over the Browns for the final AFC playoff spot.
Tony Dungy pulled his starters, allowing his friend Jeff Fisher to qualify for the postseason. This screwed Browns fans, who wanted to see their upstart team in the playoffs for the first time in five years.
What the Colts have been doing is completely dishonorable. As Tim Cowlishaw pointed out on Around the Horn, the Texans lost two games to Indianapolis because Peyton Manning played well in the fourth quarter. Now, the Texans are going to miss the playoffs because the Jets beat a Colts team that didn't have Manning in the fourth quarter. How is this remotely fair? Polian's decision ruined the integrity of the game. He needs to be punished for this.
Roger Goodell needs to institute a new rule that a team needs to play its starters if there are playoff implications involved. In fact, Indianapolis should be stripped of a mid-round pick for their decision. If you try to pull something like this in a fantasy league, you wouldn't be invited back, right?
When Manning told Nichols that he would play as long as the game was "competitive" and "close," fantasy owners inserted Manning, Wayne and Clark into their fantasy lineups. This cost thousands of fantasy owners a championship, screwing everyone who had a great year and reached the title game.
People may shrug this off and ask, "Who cares about fantasy?"
A simple answer: EVERY SINGLE PERSON INVOLVED IN THE NFL.
Why is the NFL so popular? How are these players and coaches able to make so much money? It's all because of fantasy football and gambling. If it weren't for those two things, the NFL would just be a niche sport like it was back in the 80s and early 90s. It wouldn't have grown into the behemoth it is today. Polian should be thanking fantasy football; not screwing his paying customers.
Seriously, can you come up with another business model that can get away with doing something like this? You don't bite the hand that feeds you, and that's exactly what the Colts did when they sat their starters.
Avoiding Injury but Creating Playoff Disaster
Peyton Manning has started 191 consecutive games. He's seldom sacked and never gets hurt. What are the chances that he suffers an injury in the final 20 minutes against the Jets? Can't Manning or one of the other starters incur an injury during practice? If so, will Polian keep them out of practice as well?
History has shown us that playing for momentum is a much more lucrative option than going with the safe route. The only time the Colts have won the Super Bowl and evaded an early playoff exit was when they played all the way through. I don't understand how Polian hasn't learned from his team's extensive history of postseason collapses.
This doesn't just apply to Indianapolis. The following teams rested their starters in Week 17 before a playoff game. This chart, which goes back to 2002, when the divisions re-aligned, shows how each squad performed in its initial postseason contest. The asterisks denote teams that had first-round byes, like the Colts will.
2008: Titans* - Loss SU (straight up), Loss ATS (against the spread)
2008: Colts - Loss SU, Loss ATS
2007: Colts* - Loss SU, Loss ATS
2007: Jaguars - Win SU, Loss ATS
2007: Steelers - Loss SU, Win ATS
2007: Buccaneers - Loss SU, Loss ATS
2006: Eagles - Win SU, Loss ATS
2006: Saints* - Win SU, Loss ATS
2005: Colts* - Loss SU, Loss ATS
2004: Colts - Win SU, Win ATS
2004: Steelers* - Win SU, Loss ATS
2004: Chargers - Loss SU, Loss ATS
2004: Eagles* - Win SU, Win ATS
2002: 49ers - Win SU, Loss ATS
In short, teams resting their starters in Week 17 are 7-7 straight up and 3-11 against the spread in their first playoff game. You may look at that and say, "Well 7-7 straight up isn't so bad!" Wrong. Every single team on that list, save for one, was a favorite. Going 7-7 when you're expected to win isn't exactly a good thing.
Manning is 7-8 in the playoffs. He's 4-0 in the postseason when playing in Week 17 and just 3-8 when coming off rest.
I really respect Polian as a draft guru and a general manager, but I really don't understand how he doesn't see that sitting his starters only leads to playoff futility.
I guess we all have a blind spot; Polian's is just magnified because he's in the spotlight, and his decision disgraced the honor of the game.
As Billy V. finishes in his e-mail:
It is a slap to the face of the integrity of a great sport. Credit Bill Belichick for what he did two years ago. That's class.
I guess that's the ultimate point - when someone uses Belichick and class in the same sentence to berate your actions, that should tell you that you made a horrible decision.