Colts still team to beat, but matchup with Pats looms
Posted: Sunday December 18, 2005 6:44PM; Updated: Monday December 19, 2005 10:10AM
Peyton Manning and the Colts are still lined up for a playoff matchup with the Patriots in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Somewhere in their heart of hearts, the Indianapolis Colts have to hear them coming and be feeling a certain sense of dread. The New England Patriots are still four weeks away from a potential AFC division-round playoff date at Indianapolis, but if it comes to pass, the Colts won't be seeing the same Patriots team that they ran roughshod over, 40-21, at Gillette Stadium in Week 9. And I'm guessing they know that by now.
People dismissed New England's wins over the Jets and Bills the past two weeks as the product of playing bad competition, but you can't sneeze at that 28-0 licking the Pats put on the Bucs on Saturday, even if Tampa Bay was on the final leg of a three-game road trip. New England is playing championship defense again, limiting its last three opponents to a combined 10 points, with a front seven that is swarming to the ball, choking off the running lanes, and pressuring the quarterback.
Sound like just the formula to slay the Colts' dominating offense? The same thought occurred to me, too. And consider this: Indy is going to go five weeks between meaningful games, and then odds are it will draw red-hot New England at home in the divisional round. You know that prospect can't excite the Colts. To get there, the Patriots will have to get past likely No. 5 seed Jacksonville in the first round, but I like their chances in that one against the playoff neophyte Jaguars.
The Colts remain the team to beat in the AFC, and if they don't realize their Super Bowl dreams this year, it's hard to imagine them ever being better positioned for such a run. All we're saying is the thought of New England upsetting the Colts in Indianapolis in four weeks time isn't quite as absurd as it once seemed.
I've taken my share of shots at Jake Plummer's just-good-enough-to-drive-you-crazy game over the years, but after Denver roughed up the Bills on Saturday night, he's a not-too-shabby 30-13 (including playoffs) as the Broncos' starter in his three-season stint in Elway-ville.
And I'll make a somewhat easy call here: This is the year Denver finally wins its first playoff game of the post-Elway era. For coach Mike Shanahan's sake, I best be right.