Reporters refer to weekly NFL power rankings. For fans, it’s the conversation around office water coolers.
This morning, as we wait for the Indianapolis Colts to play the New York Giants on Monday Night Football at MetLife Stadium, most are buzzing about two other teams in the AFC, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Well, they’re talking about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, after he backed up his six-pack of TD passes thrown on the Colts with another six pack against Baltimore Sunday night. The Steelers (6-3) are definitely hot at the moment after a 43-21 home thumping of the Ravens.
But nobody is cooking better than New England at the moment. The Patriots served notice that the road to the AFC title probably goes through Foxborough, Mass., again. The Patriots put away Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-21 at Gillette Stadium with such efficiency, it’s difficult to see anybody but New England (7-2) atop the AFC.
This is why I don’t do NFL power rankings anymore, because where teams “rank” seems to change every week. And it helps to see a larger sample size before speaking in absolutes.
This much seems obvious now. The Patriots are a different team with tight end Rob Gronkowski healthy.
And after the Colts and Giants settle business in New Jersey tonight, we have two weeks to think about how New England is coming to Lucas Oil Stadium for probably the most important, and telling, game of the NFL season as far as the Colts are concerned.
Not to look too far ahead, because as stated tonight’s game is vitally important to the Colts, but just think what the landscape will look like if the Colts get the “W” to enter the bye week. And the Patriots have a bye, too, to rest up for yet another showdown between old AFC East Division rivals.
We’ve seen so much of those Patriots over the years. I could wax poetic and start sharing stories about so many games, the most important in the playoffs. We haven’t forgotten how the Patriots bounced the Colts out of the playoffs last January at “The Razor.” But we’ll table that discussion for now.
The reason the fingers are tapping early this morning is because I hope the Colts realize the opportunity in front of them. And if you’re a Colts fan, you hope they can somehow seize it.
A win tonight puts the Colts at 6-3, same as the Steelers, and one game behind New England. While most will consider the Patriots road favorites at Indy, we’ve learned not to count out the Colts in these big games — they did beat Seattle and Denver at home last year.
Last Sunday, the Colts couldn’t have been more humbled in a 51-34 loss at Pittsburgh. But now we see that the Steelers are sizzling, “Big” Ben is clicking with his receivers, nobody can cover wide receiver Antonio Brown, and the old “Blitz-burgh” defense has arisen.
It makes the AFC hierarchy discussion as interesting as it has been this season. We don’t count out Denver yet, either, although the Broncos have some road games to prove their mettle and came up well short on Sunday. It’s not often when you see Manning admit in a post-game press conference that he “stunk.”
Going into that game, many of us thought Denver would show it is the AFC’s best team. A lot of the talk was about how this was the best defense to accompany Manning into a showdown with old friends Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
This morning, the power rankings have shifted. And while they’ll probably keep moving around these next two months, it’s a reminder that you just never know what could happen next in the NFL.
Anybody who thought San Diego was formidable has chilled, huh? A 37-0 loss at Miami and the Chargers losing three in a row to fall to 5-4 changes their standing, does it not?
That’s why the Colts have got to win tonight. They need this one against the Giants. No excuses. I’ve written before that this game will say a lot about the Colts’ defense.
But a win against the Giants sets up the Colts for a showdown against the AFC’s best. It’s why we get excited about football, why one bad loss does not a season make.
And while most will count out the Colts when the Patriots come to town, I for one am eager to see how it plays out. To steal some of the coaching catch phrases, the Colts do play hard and they fight.
The Monday Night Football slogan suggests we can’t wait for Monday night. That’s true for tonight.
But I can’t wait for what’s next, either. We’ll know a lot about the Colts after tonight, and even more two weeks later when the Patriots come to Indy.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.