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THIS WEEK’S LIST . . .
The Colts on Sunday will play host to the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. After a week of analyzing and breaking down match-ups, the game — at last — will be played at 3 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts, who finished with the best record in the NFL and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, are favored by many to win and advance to the Super Bowl for a second time in five seasons. Quickly, a list of the Top 5 reasons the Colts should win Sunday.
5. Peyton Manning’s ability against the blitz. There’s a reason the Colts were 4-0 against the Baltimore Ravens with Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan as the defensive coordinator from 2005-2008. Ryan believes unflinchingly in the blitz and against normal quarterbacks, it works enough to win more often than not. Manning’s the best of his generation at adjusting at the line of scrimmage, and the Colts more often than not get blitzes blocked. That creates one-on-one matchups, which historically Manning has exploited.
4. The Colts’ defense against the run. Huh, you say? That’s right. The defense against the run is an edge to the Colts, particularly if Jets QB Mark Sanchez can’t make plays. Indianapolis is typically good against one-dimensional, run-oriented offenses, as evidenced when they shut down the Baltimore Ravens last week. Remember, too: the Jets had rushed for 54 yards at halftime against Indianapolis in December. If they can’t get more traction in the running game early than that, the Colts could be ahead by enough by halftime to make it comfortable.
3. Reggie Wayne. This takes some explaining, because just about everyone will tell you the Jets have a huge match-up edge when CB Darrelle Revis is covering Wayne, which likely will be the entire game. Wayne likely won’t have a monster game, but Wayne has proven this season he doesn’t need to have monster games to be a huge difference. As good as Wayne has been statistically this season, his most valuable attribute has been making the big play when it matters. He has touchdowns in his last four postseason games and he narrowly missed two touchdowns against Revis in December. History suggests it unwise to predict he’ll miss again Sunday.
2. DE Robert Mathis, S Melvin Bullitt, WR Pierre Garcon, LT Charlie Johnson, LB Clint Session and DE Dwight Freeney (sort of . . .) The first five players missed the first meeting in December and Freeney played a limited number of snaps. I’m not one to typically cite injuries as a reason for losses, but it’s hard to overestimate the impact of Mathis, Garcon and Session being out of a game. Never mind that the Colts pulled Manning, Wayne and TE Dallas Clark with 5:36 remaining in that game, that the Colts were leading and in control of the game with the above players not playing at all is a bad sign for the Jets.
1. Peyton Manning . . . well, just because. Yes, we mentioned him at No. 1, but as ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton told Dan Dakich on 1070-AM in Indianapolis this week, “The Colts have Peyton Manning and the Jets don’t.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s a certain poise it takes to win conference championship games, and when one team’s quarterback is a 12-year veteran and a four-time Most Valuable Player and the other’s is a rookie — albeit, a very talented one — it’s difficult to imagine the rookie winning if all else is equal. And in this case, the Colts were the better team throughout the course of the season. This isn’t to say the Jets can’t win, but it is to say it will be an upset of historic proportions if they do.
A couple of thoughts on the above list . . .
1) The striking thing about this list is how a lot of it outlines how the Colts have fared so well against ball-control, drain-the-clock teams. Most national commentators will drone on about how that’s the way to beat the Colts, but really, how many teams actually beat the Colts doing that? Take away the first half of last season when Manning was limited after knee surgery and teams haven’t beaten the Colts using that strategy since late in the 2006 season. Aside from that, the strategy hasn’t worked once — not once — since at least 2004, when Jacksonville won in Indianapolis at mid-season. Before that, Denver sort of did it late in 2003 and you could make the argument that Carolina sort of did it earlier that season. Still, considering that’s supposedly the way to beat the Colts, that’s a few times it has worked in a seven-year period. The reality is the teams that most often have given the Colts real trouble have been either division teams — and division games are tough on any team — and teams with big-time quarterbacks — i.e., New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh.
2) This isn’t much of a thought, but I can’t wait to watch Wayne against Revis Sunday. There’s this assumption that Revis is going to shut down Wayne just because, but Wayne has emerged as one of the top clutch receivers of his era. This is the sort of match-ups that define careers and get discussed behind closed doors come Hall-of-Fame voting time.
3) Incidentally, and this isn’t a thought on the above list so much as a random thought, but the next two weeks could be huge historically for three Colts players and one Colts executive. We’re ahead of ourselves to talk Super Bowl, but a Super Bowl victory this season almost certainly would lock down a spot in the Hall of Fame for Colts President Bill Polian (it should be locked down, anyway, but front-office guys sometimes have an unreasonably difficult time getting in). More uncertain is what a Super Bowl ring would do for Wayne, Freeney and C Jeff Saturday. Freeney is among the two of three premier pass rushers of his era, and another Pro Bowl, double-digit sack season or two probably gets him in. A second Super Bowl ring might assure it. Saturday’s probably a long shot and Wayne may be, too, at this point, but considering the Colts’ success this decade — seven consecutive 12-victory seasons and the most victories in a decade ever — a second Super Bowl would put the team in historic company. If that’s so, it’s hard to have just one or two Hall of Famers from the era. Manning obviously is a lock, and if you assume WR Marvin Harrison gets in, that’s two, but a second ring would move Wayne and Saturday into serious consideration. That’s especially true of Wayne, who has six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and has shown no signs of a drop off.
WHY THE COLTS CAN WIN . . .
Because of all the things outlined above. And because they’re at home. Aside from the loss to the Jets in December in which they pulled their starters in the third quarter, the Colts have won 13 consecutive games at Lucas Oil Stadium.
WHY THE JETS CAN WIN . . .
Because they’re a confident team that knows exactly how it wants to play — and that can be tough to beat in the playoffs. The Jets are particularly dangerous if they can get a lead, so the most dangerous scenario for the Colts is the Jets getting a big play on special teams or defense early and getting a lead. That would allow the Jets to play their style and keep the Colts’ offense off the field.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH . . .
1) Colts WR Reggie Wayne versus Jets CB Darrelle Revis. This has been broken down and discussed all week, and the edge has gone consistently to Revis, who is correctly considered the NFL’s best corner. But even the best corners can only cover one on one for so long, and if the Colts can get the Jets blocked, Wayne can be effective no matter the opponent.
2) Colts DE Dwight Freeney verus Jets LT D’Brickshaw Ferguson. The Jets’ offensive line is veteran and very good, and there may be times when it clears holes enough for some extended drives. If the Colts’ run defense can get the Jets into 3rd-and-long, though, the edge swings to Freeney, who made a fifth Pro Bowl this season and is playing at as high a level as he has in eight NFL seasons.
3) Colts MLB Gary Brackett versus Jets RBs Shonn Green and Thomas Jones. Brackett is one of the NFL’s underrated players, and he’s a reason the Colts’ defense has improved this season. He has flourished under first-year coordinator Larry Coyer and has excelled as a blitzer. But he also is crucial against the run, and if he can make some players early to force the Jets into 3rd-and-long, that will turn the pass-rushing match-ups in the Colts’ favor.
QUOTABLE . . .
“It’s all about getting to this point. Now is the fun time. This is what you build up for. You win the 14 games during the regular season to get to this point. You get one playoff game under your belt and hopefully we’re going for our second one on Sunday.”
— Colts C Jeff Saturday
THE LAST WORD . . .
With the time for talk over, the Colts will play host to the AFC Championship Game for a second time in four seasons. And while Sunday’s game is unlikely to match a 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots in that game for drama, few games in the last 10 years have. This title game has a decidedly different feel, with the Colts that season surprising many by making it the game. This season, the Colts have been the AFC’s dominant team and if they can play Sunday with minimal mistakes, it’s hard to find enough matchups that favor the Jets to think the Colts won’t be celebrating again.
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* Quoting the Colts . . .* QB Peyton Manning. Here.
* Head Coach Jim Caldwell, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark. Here.
* RB Joseph Addai, LB Clint Session, S Antoine Bethea. Here.
COLTS NEEDN’T REGRET NOT ELIMINATING THE JETS. HERE.
Reviewing Colts President Bill Polian’s weekly radio show . . .
* No apologies necessary. Here.
* Caldwell deserved Coach of the Year Honor. Here.
* Fans critical to victory over Baltimore. Here.
* Extraordinary season. Here.
Quoting the Indianapolis Colts . . .
* Head Coach Jim Caldwell and QB Peyton Manning. Here.
* WR Reggie Wayne and MLB Gary Brackett. Here.
* DE Dwight Freeney, WR Austin Collie and CB Kelvin Hayden. Here.
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. ON THE HEALTH OF THE COLTS AND THE RB SITUATION. HERE
POPULAR OR NOT, COLTS EARNED RIGHT TO CHOOSE LATE-SEASON APPROACH. HERE.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS OWNER JIM IRSAY SUPPORTED DECISION AGAINST JETS. HERE.
AN UNBEATEN SEASON THAT WASN’T: A FINAL LOOK AT AN UNRESOLVABLE CONFLICT. HERE
FREENEY: PRO BOWL NEVER GETS OLD. HERE
TE DALLAS CLARK, QB PEYTON MANNING AMONG SIX PRO BOWLERS FOR COLTS. HERE.
DOES PEYTON MANNING GET TOO MUCH RESPECT? HERE
POLIANS’ CONTRACTS EXTENDED. HERE
COLTS FANS OWE RB JOSEPH ADDAI AN APOLOGY. HERE
*** CATCH UP WITH ALL THINGS COLTS ON INDY FOOTBALL REPORT. HERE
*** READ JOHN OEHSER’S INDIANA PACERS COVERAGE. HERE.
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www.indyfootballreport.com . . . John’s Colts website