Way back in August, we asked various writers to preview their favorite NFL teams as the season approached. (We think the most famous was James Frey's "preview" of the Cleveland Browns.)
Anyway, we went back to the writers of the two teams who ultimately reached the Super Bowl and asked them to do something else for us. Essentially, tell us their thoughts of how the season turned out, what they think about the big game and what it means, historically, to be here, now. And so they did, which we thought was nice, since we're not paying them.
Today, the Indianapolis Colts, initially previewed on August 23. Your writer is Will Carroll. Will Carroll Will Carroll covers football injuries for ESPN Fantasy Games and covers baseball injuries for Baseball Prospectus. The rest of the stuff, he's on his own. His award-winning book, "The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems" is out in paperback. He lives in Indianapolis, and Bill Polian doesn't like it much."
If you listen to the voices coming out of the tubes in the Internets, I'm not often right. This time I was. Back in August, Will Leitch asked me to write a quick season preview on the Colts. Like Adam Vinatieri, I nailed it. The Colts head to the Super Bowl for the first time in my lifetime with a delicious run (and run is the key word) through the playoffs.
First, Herm Edwards didn't notice until the Wednesday after the game that the Colts were putting eight men in the box on every play, crashing the normal pass rushers into the middle, and essentially making it nearly impossible to run, even with Larry Johnson. The occasional screen or quick pass would have forced the Colts to do something different, but Herm was determined to win or lose his way ... and lose it he did his way, pathetically and embarrassingly and once again, stomped at the feet of his friend Tony Dungy.
Then, the Colts revisited Baltimore. I always thought it would be one of the great entrances of all time if the Colts would just swap the horseshoe on their helmet for a Mayflower logo, just once. Call it Irsay's revenge or, once again, a failure of play-calling by the opposition, but the Colts did just enough to let Adam Vinatieri win the game for them on five field goals.
It's at this stage - wherein two games the Colts have given up less rushing yards than they averaged per regular season game - where things go haywire. What changed? The media has rushed headlong to anoint Bob Sanders as the new Baby Jesus, and while he's played well, the fact is that this began earlier, with an uptrend on the defense against Cincinnati and Miami, as measured by my pals at Football Outsiders. Losing to Houston and getting bitchslapped by Ron "Mudslide" Dayne look worse in retrospect, but Dungy made his bones as a "defensive genius (tm)" and lets face it, something changed. It's as smart to credit Dungy as it is to rush hurdling into Sandersmania.
Let's cover a couple questions.
• Can the Colts do just enough to let Hoosier schoolboy legend Rex Grossman implode? Well, I saw Grossman play in high school, and I wasn't that impressed, so legend might be stretching it some. Grossman's just a player that has to have one or two good series and minimize the damage. He wasn't good against the Saints, but he was good enough.
• Will Cedric Benson do to the Indy defense what Larry Johnson and Jamal Lewis and Laurence Maroney couldn't? Benson and Thomas Jones could be a challenge if they come with the same type of game plan that they had for the Saints game. It seems like the magic number is 120 or 30. 120 yards rushing is usually enough to keep Grossman from passing 30 times.
• Can Peyton win the Big Game after finally winning a big game or is Tee Martin somewhere laughing? Where is Tee Martin? AFL 2?
• Is this Tony Dungy's last game, win or lose? The early indication is yes. There's not much more for him to accomplish, and he's been more engaged with charity and family than he has with the Colts over the last year. Some of the midseason slump was boredom from Dungy, his staff, and many of the players. Don't be surprised to see many changes.
• Is this the last chance the Colts have before the window on winning closes? Beyond Dungy, the Colts have severe cap problems. Much of that is Manning's contract and refusal to renegotiate. (Try asking Manning about Michael Vick sometime ...) They have 14 free agents, including some key players like Dominic Rhodes and Cato June.
Bottom line is that the Colts have more talent than the Bears. If the Bears defense were at full strength or if they can find one big break — Devin Hester going all Desmond Howard on us or Urlacher plowing Peyton like he's Paris Hilton — and it could all change. My pick? Colts win in a laugher, 37-13.