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Grim, Uncertain Expressions on the Faces of NFL Fans

Half way through 2008, and it seems a strong sement of the NFL's fans are turned off by all the parity in the league right now. I know, that sounds crazy, but listen: Unless you are a fan of the 6-0 Titans or the 5-1 Giants, you do not have a very good feeling about your team right now.

I'd like to throw up two segments from a comments made by yellowsnow here. I bring this up not to single out yellowsnow, but to use his opinion as ( I think) an accurate example of what many NFL fans currently think of the supposed "good" teams this season:

Titans are 6-0
Steelers are 5-1
Bills are 5-1
Broncos are 4-2
Giants, 5-1
Redskins 5-2

You get my point.

All I’m saying is is that we can’t completely throw out the idea that maybe some of the deemed “inferior teams” have turned a corner. And I can understand your point here, that we can’t put too much stock in the aforementioned teams, but I don’t think we should completely discredit them either.

Of course, yellowsnow wrote this before Denver was slapped around on MNF against the Brady-less Patriots, but his point is still valid to make. It just isn't correct, in my opinion.

This season, there is no dominant team. No team "scares" you like New England and Indianapolis did last year, or like San Diego and Chicago did the year before that. We will talk about the Titans for much of this week, but the fact that their opponents this season have a combined record of 12-26 does not inspire awe. To thier credit though, they have beaten who they were given on the schedule. Lots of teams this year have stumbled against inferior opponents. Teams like Pittsburgh and Washington have glaring holes, while the Giants can look like defending champs one minute, and then get blown out by Cleveland the next. Buffalo's defense is up and down, and Denver always was a paper tiger. If you are depressed about our defense, go ask Broncos fans about the state of their's.

Since there is no one dominant team, you'd think that it would energize fans to think their team has a chance. Right? Sadly, I'm not sensing that feeling. Check out 18 to 88, and you get the sense that fans are more excited about Tampa Bay v. Philly in baseball than they are Tampa Bay v. Philly in football. Yes, I know the World Series is going on.

Who cares?

The World Series hasn't really trumped NFL football in recent years. Last year, the Indy v. New England game had better ratings than the World Series. Part of this lethargic feeling about the 2008 NFL season stems from the terrible injuries the league has had to content with this season. Just look at this list:

  • Tom Brady, done for the year in Week One
  • Peyton Manning, knee surgery affecting his early season play
  • LaDanian Tomlinson, injured toe limiting his production
  • Reggie Bush, out several weeks with knee injury
  • Carson Palmer, elbow injury keeping him out of the lineup
  • Tony Romo, broken finger
  • Shawne Merriman, done of the year before the year started
  • Willie Parker, injured last few weeks
  • Matt Hasselback, injured back
  • Rodney Harrison, injured knee ending season and possibly career
  • Brian Westbrook, injured foot
  • Bob Sanders, injured ankle and knee

Like it or not folks, these players are who the league uses to market their product to fans. They also happen to be the best players (for the most part) at their respective positions. Many are captains for their teams, making their absence from locker rooms all the more damaging. And currently, all those listed players are either done for the year or battling some annoying, lingering injury.

More so than any other season in recent memory, injuries have crippled the quality of play to start the season. While some games, and some weeks, have been very entertaining, the fact is no one knows who is good anymore. And that, my fellow Colts fans, is not necessarily a good thing. Such parity creates an unsettling feeling, and if you don't know what kind of team is going ot show up on Sunday, why invest such emotional involvement in it?

Now, all that said, take a look at our Colts. Despite numerous injuries to very key players, they are 3-3 and in the thick of things. Players continue to get healthy, and despite the lopsided score against the Packers, problem areas are improving as the season progresses. For example:

  • For two straight weeks, the Colts have held the opponent under 4 yards a carry rushing. Both Baltimore and Green Bay have excellent rushing attacks with good backs. Baltimore was held to 2.7 a carry and GB, 3.3 a carry.
  • The Colts defense, though ranked #15 in scoring defense, has only given up 8 total TDs. Compare this to the #1 scoring defense (Tennessee) who have surrendered 7 total TDs. The Colts 21 ppg allowed is inflated somewhat by the two INTs returned for TDs last week against the Packers. Remove those from the equation, and Indy has given up 19.5 ppg, which would rank them #8 in scoring D behind New England.
  • The Colts have surrendered only 2 passing TDs, and opposing QBs have completed only 6.7 yards per pass against them. Opposing QB rating is 78.
  • The Colts started the early season dead last stopping the run. Now, they have slowly creeped their way up to 28th. Hey, at this point, I'll take what I can get. The fact that they've given up only 6 rushing TDs is a miracle considering teams have 209 attempt against them. Compare this with other teams with similar attempts against numbers: KC has 221 attempts against, surrendered 12 rushing TDs; Detroit has 210 attempts against, surrendered 9 TDs; St. Louis has 178 attempts against, surrednered 10 rushing TDs.

So, despite all the bitching and moaning about defensive tackles, Tim Jennings, and a lack of the BSBD, the Colts defense is actually (statistically) pretty decent. Factor in all the horrendous injuries this defense has dealt with (and the craziness of the Pitcock, Big Ed, and McCargo fiascos) and it is a damn miracle they are playing anywhere close to this good.

So, while yellowsnow's coments do make sense on the surface, I personally think that this season is not a case of the once bad teams "turning a corner." Too many of the NFL marquee players are hurt, and yet the teams those players play for have managed to hang around. They haven't been great, but they've hung in there. When some of them get healthy, the good teams will start to assert themselves again. You can see it with a team like the Colts, where injury frustrations have driven us true blue fanatics mad for years. Yet, despite the injuries, the tried and true method is if you stay consistent in what you are doing, don't panic, and believe in what you do, chances are things will shake out well for you in the end.

This team, all season, has battled back from adversity. Maybe that is how they will define themselves in 2008. If any team can battle back from such inconsistency, it is the Colts.