Athan: At some point every NFL team goes through a stretch where they carry one loss over to the next game. With the Colts losing back-to-back games to a pair of teams on the opposite end of the spectrum, are fans worried that this team could be backing up to the rest of the teams in the AFC South?
Hartz: Certainly, the AFC South is extremely solid this year; a strong case could be made it's the best division in football. But remember, the Colts are 3-0 in the division, and the second round of division games are all at the RCA Dome. The Colts haven't lost an AFC South game in the Dome since Oct. 24, 2004, a 24-17 loss to Jacksonville.
In fact, they've lost just twice at home to division opponents since the AFC South came into existence in 2002. Add all that to the fact that both Tennessee and Jacksonville are both 2-2 in the division, while the Colts are 3-0, and I don't think there's too much to worry about.
Athan: Time to tell the truth. The biggest absurdity about Colts All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning is the gyrations, motions, head slaps, claps and all that other stuff he does at the line of scrimmage before he snaps the ball. Do the fans like that and why do you think he does that game in game out?
Hartz: I think the fans like when their team wins, and it's hard to argue with the results Manning gets. I think it comes down to his competitive nature and the fact that he has a remarkable amount of control over the offense. Manning will look for any edge he can get, and if his adjustments — even the ones that are window dressing — help to further confuse the defense or give his offense an edge, then more power to him.
Manning is a student of the game, and his preparation habits have been well-documented, almost to the point of being legend. But he obviously has a better grasp of the quarterback position than the average starter in the NFL, and I think his gyrations are evidence of that. If he can find a weakness — or make the defense think he's found one — he's going to take advantage.
Athan: With the RCA Dome becoming a hospital ward dealing with so many injuries, do you think the Colts can overcome them again this week?
Hartz: I certainly hope so. The loss of Dwight Freeney is a serious blow to a defense that's already lost Booger McFarland and Rob Morris for the season. It will be up to Josh Thomas, Robert Mathis and Simeon Rice to continue to bring the kind of pressure that lets the rest of the defense do their job. Offensively, the line has some injury issues, and Marvin Harrison looks like a big question mark again this week.
I still expect the other players to step up. I think it's a testament to Bill Polian's savvy as an evaluator of talent and Tony Dungy's skill at developing that talent that the second- and third-string players have been able to play well when they've been in there. The amount of injuries the Colts have suffered this season would spell doom for most teams. Instead, the Colts are division leaders and almost certainly playoff-bound.
AP/David J. Phillip
Athan: To me safety Bob Sanders is the heart and soul of the defense. I think he was the difference for the Colts' defensive turnaround in the playoffs last year. I talked to several players on the Chiefs' offense who said that they have to account for him on every play. What makes him such a respected player?
Hartz: His fearlessness and the full-speed, violent way he plays the game. Let's face it, we all like to see big hits, and Sanders delivers them at a high rate. In Tony Dungy's defense, the safeties have a lot of responsibility, and Sanders' speed and ability to help in run support make him irreplaceable.
Athan: What does it mean for Colts head coach Tony Dungy to be the mentor of the coaching fraternity that includes the Bears' Lovie Smith and the Chiefs' Herman Edwards?
Hartz: I'm sure it means a lot to him, especially since those two coached under Dungy before becoming head coaches themselves. Dungy has said in the past he doesn't enjoy coaching against Edwards, who he's especially close to. And as minorities, they've faced some of the same difficulties during the course of their careers. But don't think that Dungy doesn't want to beat the guy on the other sideline, no matter who he is.
Athan: Do you think the Colts are looking past the Chiefs this weekend? They should win and they're a better team in every aspect — even special teams. Could this be another trap game for the Colts?
Hartz: The potential is certainly there. But a lot went wrong for the Colts in San Diego, and a lot went right for the Chargers for them to win last week's game. The Colts are going through a particularly tough stretch of their schedule — they travel to Atlanta for a Thanksgiving game just four days after hosting the Chiefs. Even though it didn't work out last week, I think the team showed the heart of a champion — and I expect them to bounce back and take care of business.