When reading where Peter King had the Indianapolis Colts slotted in his NFL power rankings, I knew that would fire up the team’s fan base.
Yeah, that’s a bit lower than most would expect.
Sure enough, Colts fans have been outraged. Their backlash can be found everywhere on social media.
But after reading his rankings, I also thought of something else. The national award-winning Sports Illustrated writer is doing the Colts a favor.
King’s power rankings made me think of another well-known, established writer, who for the sake of the conversation I won’t name. But he’s written a couple of columns in the past about how the Colts couldn’t possibly win playoff games against a supposed superior opponent.
Both times, the guy was right. But that’s not why I thought of it. I was reminded of it because when speaking to other NFL writers from that market, I was told that column was written in part because it irritates the hell out of the head coach.
The last thing any NFL head coach wants his players to read is they’re unbeatable. Complacency can creep in at any time, should players be perusing what’s written. They might say it doesn’t affect them, but giving it a read opens the door to that possibility.
The opposite can also be true. Players always look for motivation, and one of the greatest motivators is to tell guys they can’t do something.
Seriously, it serves the Colts better if they are discounted. It gives head coach Chuck Pagano bulletin board material. He’s used it before. In 2012, he repeatedly said, “You know where all of them had us ranked in the beginning.” Coach had T-shirts made with the Colts ranked 32nd on the back.
Disrespect or at least that perception can bond players together, to challenge them to prove their critics wrong. They can say they don’t pay attention to any of the “outside noise,” but I’ve known too many guys for too many years who do just that. Many of them read everything.
I’m not saying that’s why King ranked the Colts so low. He’s been doing this a long time, and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him personally for much of my 16-plus years of covering the Colts. He doesn’t need to express an opinion for shock value or to provide motivation.
One of his Twitter followers asked King if he’s ever right about his power rankings. King tweeted back, “No, never.”
He’s being modest. He’s right sometimes. But he’s basically reminding this isn’t about ego.
He’s writing what he thinks. That’s what he’s paid to do. And guess what? He’s not alone.
If you took a poll of national NFL writers, I’d bet many would agree with King. The Colts are the best team in the AFC South, but questions linger about whether they’ve done enough to improve the defense.
I have the same questions myself. But I can also see another side to this criticism. The Colts were outscored 45-7 in January’s AFC Championship Game at New England. Most dwell on how the defense got run over. Many forget such a high-powered offense sputtered just as ineffectively.
Maybe the Colts decided the quickest way to contend with the defending Super Bowl champions is to build upon their strength. That’s obviously quarterback Andrew Luck and the offense. If the Colts can build an offensive juggernaut with the help of wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore, among others, they’re in every game they play. They might get outscored if the defense can’t get stops, but an unstoppable offense means the opponent is going to have to score a lot of points to win.
Granted, that’s an unconventional route to success. We’ve always been taught that defense wins championships. That’s usually true.
That’s why public opinion about the Colts isn’t going to change for some. If the Colts’ defense doesn’t improve, they probably won’t stand a chance of getting to Super Bowl 50.
We probably won’t know that for sure until January. I’ve written that before, and will probably repeat it a few more times before the playoffs.
Until then, fans shouldn’t get overly excited about where prognosticators have the Colts in NFL power rankings. It’s just an opinion.
And just remember, a negative one can be useful.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.