The league office has confirmed the NFL competition committee will be asked to again review the issue of NFL teams that have already clinched playoff spots choosing to rest players or give less than their best efforts to win games against other clubs either out of the playoff hunt or still looking to secure their own spots. So, let's consider the facts surrounding the Colts' choice to lie down against the Jets in Week 16 in a game New York won to take control of the AFC wild-card chase.
That Indianapolis chose to forgo a shot at 16-0 is a shame for the Colts' players and fans, but since it had no impact on any of the other 31 NFL teams, I view it as a decision I disagree with but a choice Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell had every right to make. What the Colts clearly don't have the right to do is dictate the outcome of other teams' seasons by giving their all vs. some and lying down against others.
The Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos and Texans were all still alive for the AFC's two wild-card spots with 8-7 records heading into Week 17, and the Dolphins and Jaguars were still mathematically alive at 7-8. All but the Steelers and Jets have played and lost to the Colts, with Houston and Jacksonville doing so twice. In six of those seven Colts victories, Indianapolis trailed in the fourth quarter before coming from behind to win, and in the seventh the Broncos closed to within 21-16 of the Colts with 9:44 to play, and Indy needed all its starters to put together a seven-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive to put the game away. Isn't it almost certain Indianapolis would have beaten the Jets, as well, had they chosen to try for four quarters in that game, too?
Had the Colts chosen to throw a game against the Texans, Broncos, Jaguars or Dolphins — forgive me if that terminology offends you, but that's exactly what Indy did vs. the Jets — and tried their best to beat the Jets instead, it would be one of those clubs in control of the AFC's wild-card destiny, and the Jets would be on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, the Colts would be in the exact same spot they're in now. I defy anyone to defend the integrity of that system.
I was lucky enough to visit with Tony Dungy for a few minutes the other day while sitting in for Dan Patrick on his radio show. There are few men in the game I respect more than Dungy, but we are on opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue. When I asked him for his take, knowing he had made the same decision with several of his Colts clubs after they'd secured their playoff seeding, he told me, "It's just football, the luck of the draw." Dungy explained that over the course of the season there are some clubs that face other good clubs when they have key players in slumps or injured, and still other teams wish they'd had the chance to face that same team when they were banged up rather than healthy.
I strongly disagree with that notion. NFL players battle through repeated injuries and incredible pain to play every Sunday and only miss games due to injury when they are absolutely unable to go. There is no choice involved, and that is the luck of the game. When teams sit players who are banged up but able to go in order to avoid further injury, that is giving far less than 100 percent to compete and win, and that strikes directly at the integrity of the game.
If the Colts admittedly and unapologetically gave less than their best effort against the Jets, why should their fans be forced to pay the same amount for those tickets that they paid for all the games the Colts really tried to win? Shouldn't sponsors be entitled to a discount on their commercials? We know they don't pay the same amount for preseason games that they paid for this one.
I'm sure almost everyone with the Colts and Jets organizations will be unhappy with this column, and to all of them, I apologize. They acted within the rules as they exist. My problem isn't with the Colts or Jets, it's with a playoff-qualifying system that is clearly broken. If the folks who run the NFL care about the sanctity of their playoffs, it needs to be fixed now.
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