While most teams in the NFL are fighting for their playoff lives in December, the Colts are once again heading toward Christmas about to have all their NFL holiday shopping done well before the postseason begins. A win today over the Broncos will give the Colts the top playoff spot in the AFC, meaning a week off when the postseason begins plus indoor games at Lucas Oil Stadium all the way to the Super Bowl in Miami.
That would mean three games left in the regular season with nothing to gain in the standings. So how will the Colts decide who to play and how much to play them before the playoffs? Do the Colts need rest for weary bodies? Or will that only lead to rust when the Colts need to be at their sharpest? The almost annual Indianapolis December debate is about to begin again.
Here’s a startling fact. The Indianapolis Colts have NEVER won a playoff game after a bye week. That has nothing to do directly with resting starters. But it supports those who say teams need to keep playing, and playing their best players to carry momentum in the playoffs.
Coach Jim Caldwell has already hinted heavily that he will follow the plan used by Tony Dungy in the past. Which means Peyton Manning will keep his streak of never missing a start alive. But he will also be holding a clipboard and wearing headphones instead of a helmet for much of the rest of the regular season. Any starter who is nursing any kind of injury will likely not dress. The Colts may have a hard time finding 45 players they actually want active for the last three games.
I hear all the concerns about taking the foot off the pedal. I know the Colts have sputtered in the playoffs after resting starters at the end of the regular season. We could go back to each season and find reasons why. But I want to go back to the preseason for some perspective on this issue.
No team plays starters less or cares less about preseason wins or losses than the Colts. I’ve said it before. The Colts organization does a great job of knowing who to play and when to play them in the preseason. Lousy preseason records with little live game action by the starters have led to incredible starts: 5-0, 13-0, 9-0, 7-0 and currently 12-0 in the Dungy/Caldwell era.
So not over playing or risking injury to starters in meaningless games has worked pretty well for this team, the winningest team this decade. I think it’s a formula that makes sense when everything is wrapped up for the playoffs as well.
The Colts have to play on Thursday this week in Jacksonville, with just three days rest. If the top playoff spot is clinched, I would definitely rest starters against the Jaguars. Let Curtis Painter star in primetime on the NFL Network.
But what about the perfect season? That’s a whole other debate that’s worth having in another blog entry.
-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter
TheSportsGuy13 at twitter.com