Imagine this, San Francisco opens up the 2010 regular season with 14 straight wins and you decide to buy tickets for the Week 16 game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers are halfway to their 15th win with a slim lead midway through the third when they pull their starters just six quarters away from a 16-0 record. 19 unanswered points later the dream of a perfect season is dead. How would you feel?
For Colts fans this dream is the reality of their 2009 season. As Peyton Manning watched from the sidelines many of the patrons at Lucas Oil Stadium showered his replacement, rookie Curtis Painter, with booes. Afterwards Reggie Wayne joked that Indianapolis may be the first 14-1 team to be booed at home, but for many Colts loyalists their anger over the decision to throw away a chance at an undefeated season is no laughing matter.
But was the decision made by GM Bill Polian and Coach Jim Caldwell the right one? While I was initially dismayed by the sight of an inferior Jets team beating up on the Indianapolis backups, I have since come to grips with the logic behind the move to pull the starters.
The playoffs are a crapshoot in that a certain amount of luck is required to bring home a championship. Simply put, the Colts' brain trust felt they could increase their odds of winning a Super Bowl by giving their most important players some extra rest on Sunday. I've come up with three reasons why their decision to pull the plug on a perfect season was the correct call.
Find out what they are after the jump...
1. Momentum is overrated
A lot of analysts cite a teams' win loss record in the 3-4 games immediately leading up to the playoffs as an indicator of how that team will perform in the postseason, but I don't buy that argument. Obviously it's preferable to be playing your best football at the end of the season and to then head into the playoffs with a long winning streak, but you don't have to look very far to find an example of a team that backed into the playoffs and represented itself well (2008-2009 Arizona Cardinals).
Indianapolis' body of work over the entire season gives you a better idea about their true talent level than their win-loss record in December ever could. The Colts' success or failure in the playoffs will be determined by how they play on that given Sunday, not by their regular season record.
2. Being healthy is an advantage
The number one seed and home field advantage throughout the postseason is no guarantee of a Super Bowl appearance. Only one number one seed has won it all in this decade, the 2003 New England Patriots. So while their may not be much to gain from home field advantage, the Colts have decided to use their number one seed to ensure that they are as healthy as possible come playoff time. When every game has the fate of a season riding on it, you need to have your best guys on the field.
I don't see how resting Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne a couple quarters at the end of the regular season will all of a sudden throw off the chemistry they've developed over years. I don't think that Robert Mathis is going to forget how to rush the passer just because he's spending some extra time getting healthy. However, if the Colts were to lose one or more of their key guys to a freak injury that would undoubtedly put a damper on their Super Bowl chances.
3. Indianapolis has nothing left to prove in the regular season
Indianapolis has set numerous records for regular season success during this latest hot streak. They hold the record for most consecutive regular season victories (23). They also broke the San Francisco 49ers' record for most regular season wins in a decade with 115. The 49ers set that mark in the 1990's by the way, not the 1980's. So if San Francisco had more regular season success in the 1990's, why are they constantly referred to as the team of the 1980's? Because that's when they won the majority of their Super Bowls. The Dallas Cowboys are the team of the 1990's because guess what, they won the most championships in that decade.
The Colts are faced with a similar dilemna in this decade. They have been the most consistent team but they are still living in the shadow of the New England Patriots' 3-1 Super Bowl record. The only way for Indianapolis to strengthen its argument for the best team of the 2000's is to win a second Super Bowl. Granted it is unlikely that Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell were thinking along those lines when they decided to forego additional regular season success, but it does lend credence to their argument that the Colts have nothing to play for but a Super Bowl victory.
As fans we love to see the impossible. Many of us were not around to witness the 1972 Dolphins undefeated season, and we'd like nothing more than to see the feat repeated in our lifetimes. But when you take yourself out of the equation, it's clear that Indianapolis has made the right decision in this situation.
Please feel free to let your opinion on the Colts be heard in the comments below. A healthy debate is a great way to bring in the New Year.