Note - Taking a break from the madness for just a moment.
Whenever a team gets this far in an NFL season, has won eleven straight, and has done it in such a versatile fashion; the 72 Dolphins start getting mentioned with more and more frequency and they get a little nervous in the process. They get more requests for interviews and get more opportunities to re-live the one thing that was so phenomenal in professional football. I say it was so phenomenal, because I have only seen it happen once in my lifetime. And, it was something that I thought would never happen again, especially when the regular season schedule was increased to 16 games.
But after seeing the Colts dispose of some quality opponents in quality fashion, it has become apparent that this team has become, the team to beat this year. They are the "king of the hill" right now and every team that plays them from now until they lose (IF they lose), will be gunning for them like it's a championship game. Losing teams would love nothing more than to say they were (the) one team that beat the Colts this year and would certainly use it as a motivating tool for next season; winning teams would want to send a message to them (and the rest of the league), as a psychological ploy to intimidate the opposition for when the playoffs get underway.
It is often said and has many times been proven in the past that having an outstanding, high-powered defense with an efficient offense (one that makes the plays they need to, when they need to, nothing flashy) wins Super Bowls. But the Colts have an outstanding, high-powered offense with an efficient defense (one that bends but does not break, gives up yards but not points). All players are stepping up in games and playing extremely well as a functional team unit, on both sides of the ball.
But it is the offense that makes this team so special. They have so many viable weapons.
In the early days of football and right up until the 1980s, football was primarily a running game. Teams set up the pass with the running game, after the run was well-established. If a team started doing a lot of passing, it was usually because they were behind and desperate. But since Bill Walsh revolutionized the game with the advent of the short pass as a game plan (to take the place of multiple running plays), football has been more of a balanced attack. And, every now and then, there comes a quarterback that has intelligence, a solid understanding of NFL defenses, as well as the talent, to make big passing plays and set the run up with the pass, when the game plan calls for it.
That guy today, is Peyton Manning. He is the nucleus, the leader, but he has a star-studded ensemble surrounding him and taking a lot pressure off of him. Without him, it's just another team that will probably get to the playoffs and get ousted in the first or second round. But without them, he is just another Archie Manning. He is a great quarterback that is damned good (and fun to watch), but one who watches the playoffs on television because he has no real talent, to play with. In essence, he would be his father.
But lucky for Colts fans, he has a stellar supporting cast.
Let's look at the running game. Edge is the real deal. He has speed and power. And he has plenty of both. He squares his shoulders up when he runs and keeps his legs moving until the whistle blows. Often he is good for 3-4 extra yards after he is hit. Behind him on the bench is the return specialist Dominick Rhodes and fullback James Mungro. When Edge is taking a breather after some intense action, either guy can come in for a couple of plays and make plays, when they need them. Backup running back is by committee.
As for the passing game, we all know about Manning. But who are his receivers? Marvin Harrison we all know and those of us that are into the NFL with any serious interest know Reggie Wayne, too. But Manning has tight end Dallas Clark, who can act as a good receiver or block like a good tight end. Brandon Stokley is another receiver that can certainly get open, especially when the opposing secondary doubles on Wayne and/or Harrison. Troy Walters, Aaron Moorehead are more than adequate third and fourth stringers at receiver, and this kid Bryan Fletcher has caught a couple of TD passes, as a back-up to Clark at tight end. The receiving corps is the deepest in the league.
Field goals are almost always a given with Vanderjagt and punter Hunter Smith is averaging 43.7 yards per punt, this year. Their only weakness is on kickoffs.
Defense is much improved this year. The addition of defensive tackle Corey Simon has made it damned near impossible to run up the middle and defensive end Dwight Freeney is relentless, as can be his counterpart, Robert Mathis. Both can sack the quarterback and both can stop the run. The secondary is a team effort that can create havoc to anyone's passing game, except Carson Palmer's. (Cincinnati will be another team like the Colts, when they mature.)
So, if you ask me whether I think this team has the ability to run the table, I'd have to say yes. It's always hard to say whether a team will or won't, but they certainly have the stuff to do it. They are in control of their own destiny, at this point in the season. They have a couple of tough ones yet to play, San Diego and Seattle. But, SD is inconsistent and Seattle hasn't had a tough enough schedule, to impress me just yet. And Jacksonville, the one team that I picked to beat the Colts in two weeks (in Jacksonville), has just been dealt a huge blow, with the injury of quarterback Brian Leftwich (who is the guts of that team). That leaves Tennessee and Arizona. Neither of those two has nearly enough horses to handle the Colts, unless the Colts play their reserves, for 60 minutes.
And so, the drama is on. The 72 Dolphins are begininng to sweat it (and rightfully so). But there is a lot of football left and this is the NFL; where any team can beat any team, on any given day. That much you can count on.