(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
After the Indianapolis Colts defeated the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago, everyone immediately began putting another hurdle in front of Manning and company: Can they go undefeated?
They passed their first test post-Patriots by beating the Bengals Sunday in one of the season’s best shootouts. The Colts defense was shaky for the first time this year, but Manning and Edgerrin James provided too much offense for Cincy’s young guns to deal with.
Manning is so good it’s scary. He looks like he’s suffering from Tourette’s or some kind of OCD fit whenever he changes plays at the line of scrimmage, but it most always works. There isn’t a defensive formation that he hasn’t seen a weakness in.
Despite Sunday’s setback, the defense has finally hit its stride under Tony Dungy. But if you think about it, all they have to do is keep opposing teams under 30, because the offense is going to get theirs.
So, can they go undefeated? The short answer: probably.
They have four tough games left starting this Monday with Pittsburgh. But it is in Indy, and Ben Roethlisberger is making his first start after knee surgery. The fact that he isn’t 100-percent is reason enough for me to believe the Colts will pass this test.
After the Steelers Indy hosts Tennessee who, to quote the Stone Temple Pilots, “are half the men they used to be”. The Colts win this one.
At Jacksonville will be another stiff test. The Jags are tough, and Byron Leftwich is a very underrated quarterback. Matt Jones has lived up to the hype and Fred Taylor has been rejuvenated (although he has missed two games). The Colts, however, should prevail in the nice Florida sunshine and keep the ‘72 Dolphins champagne corked yet another week.
The biggest test in my opinion will be the road game against Seattle. Indy should enter that game at 14-0 and will have to have a solid defensive effort to remain unblemished.
If the Colts’ defense allows Shaun Alexander to run wild, it could mean trouble. The Seahawks will try to keep the ball out of Manning’s hands, so it will be up to Dwight Freeney and the boys to prove they are a championship caliber unit.
Then they wrap up the season at Arizona. The only question for this game will be if Dungy elects to rest his starters. If they are undefeated going into that one, there will be no way he risks giving up on the first undefeated season in 32 years.
After locking up home field advantage for the playoffs, a trip to the Super Bowl will be inevitable. Many pundits are saying that the Chicago Bears might make it to Super Sunday on the strength of their impressive defense.
I’m not sure about that – although it would be a pretty compelling game. Before the season started, I predicted it would be Indy and Atlanta. Even though the Falcons have faltered a bit lately, I’m sticking with them.
The only drama left in this season will be if the Colts can run through the league the way the Dolphins did so long ago.
The long answer: Yes. (If they get by the Steelers Monday!)