Or maybe the question is better as: Should the Colts Go 16-0?
The answer to the first question is they can and we'll let you know if we think they will. The answer to the second question is probably not. Now, no NFL team can so completely control its destiny each week to say, "We don't have to win this game." A good team can't go into a game knowing absolutely that it could lose and it won't hurt them.
Here's why they can go 16-0.
- Peyton Manning: Simply put, he's the best QB in the league again this season. But he hasn't taken his team to a Super Bowl, in fact he's only reached one conference championship game so there are doubters out there and they have a point. As we've said before, I like to think he's going to be Elway over the next several seasons, not Marino. He's sharp, he's confident, he has great receivers and he has to need to overcome the perception that he's great just not great enough. Going 16-0 will help do that--to a point.
- Those receivers: Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are taking turns having All-Pro games. Might mean that neither has an All-Pro season but that's hardly important. And TEs Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht are gems.
- Injuries: The Colts have several players dinged but none of any huge impact who is out for the season. This week they're probably without MLB Gary Brackett and FS Bob Sanders, who makes so many things happen. But overall they're in pretty good shape, especially when you look at some of the major injury losses other teams have been piling up.
- Been There Done This: Last season's team started 13-0 and then lost to San Diego in that awful week after the death of Coach Tony Dungy's son. The run last season gave this team an idea of what the questions are like, how the attention builds. Experience is a great teacher.
- Offensive Line: We've said before and we'll say again that a cohesive, experienced, well-coached, healthy and smart offensive line as a unit is more important to a team's success than any other unit. The Colts have Tarik Glenn, Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday, Jake Scott and Ryan Diem together again this season and it's working. O line coach Howard Mudd is in his ninth season with the Colts. All that's a plus, a big plus.
- Schedule: Heading into the Nov. 19 game with the Cowboys in Dallas, none of the Colts last seven opponents are definite playoff teams. Possibles but not definites.
Here's why they can't go 16-0.
- Attention: It's starting to grow and will get worse. We are not the only ones talking about the 16-0 possibility and pretty soon all those guys who pay virtually no attention to pro football will want a piece of them, too. They can deny the attention has an impact all they want, but it changes perspective, routine and attitude. The Colts game against Philly on Nov. 26 has already been moved to Sunday night. They have a Monday nighter against the Bengals. If they end that one at 14-0, watch out.
- Schedule: All those possibles have to win every game; so with the Desperate Cowboys, Eagles, Jaguars and Bengals on the schedule, there are at least four teams that can't say, "Hmmm, Colts, they're real good. Who do we have next week?" Look at how close the Bills came last Sunday.
- Young runners: The Colts have managed the loss of Edgerrin James better than anyone could have imagined. Having that offensive line has a lot to do with it, effective use of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes by Dungy and Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore has done a lot as well. These guys are being allowed to succeed without too many chances of failure. But the season is longer than Addai has ever played and Rhodes hasn't been this busy since his rookie season of 2001. They're a known unknown and that could be a problem.
- Injuries: There are lots of games, practices and driving miles between now and 16-0 and the injury report will be vital these last seven weeks. The Colts worst injury of the season was suffered by DT Montae Reagor when he flipped his SUV driving to a game.
- The Miami Factor: If they get to 15-0, they have to get to 16-0 by beating Miami at home on New Year's Eve. We know that game will turn up the pressure cooker even higher. Every year we hear about how the old Dolphins, the 17-0 Super Bowl Champion '72 Dolphins, open a bottle of champagne when the last unbeaten team falls and frankly we're sick of it. So if the Colts do get to 15-0, we will definitely root for 16-0 and then some. But the 2006 Dolphins are improving, they beat the Bears for their first (and so far only) loss and they seem to take this stuff seriously. A tough game to end it.
While the "Yes, They Cans" seem to overwhelm the "No, They Can'ts", I don't believe the Colts can run the table. I think they'll be 10-1 by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, in fact.
Clearly the Colts are going to the playoffs and, let's be real here, the only games that truly count for these guys take place after that Dolphins game in the playoffs. Getting to the playoffs is definitely not enough, reaching the Conference championship is not enough and, let's be real again, just getting to the Super Bowl is not enough. So the Colts would be better off if they can prepare properly for the playoffs, and not feel compelled to play all starters every week. Keeping momentum is important but keeping the players healthy is vital. So maybe 16-0 isn't such a good idea. And if Peyton and the Colts blow this one, even this defender may turn tail.