Colts great at beating bad teams 

It’s déjàvu all over again. The Indianapolis Colts are steamrolling through the early part of the NFL season, making lesser opponents,  look like a high school team.

But make no mistake: The Indianapolis Colts will break your heart if you let them. The Colts have been the NFL’s winningest team over the past few seasons – until the playoffs come, at which point they are humiliated.

This year is different, you say? Maybe. The team has made a few positive changes. But until they’re hoisting a Super Bowl trophy aloft during a victory parade, it’s going to be hard to trust the team.

During the first two weeks of the 2006 season, the Colts have engineered a comeback victory against a very good team (the Giants) and smacked the tar out of a horrible one (Houston). But with more quality opponents ahead, such as Jacksonville, this week’s foe, the Colts will be hard-pressed to match last year’s 14-2 record.

What have the Colts done in the offseason? They unloaded their best player, Edgerrin James, and are pinning their hopes on rookie Joseph Addai, their first-round pick. They released Mike Vanderjagt, the world’s biggest choke artist, and replaced him with a future Hall of Famer.

Otherwise, it’s the same old Colts team. No-huddle offense, short passing plays, the Cover 2 defense. Last week’s game even looked like a rerun, as the Colts went on a scoring tear and put the game away before most fans had finished their first beer.
This is the season that counts the most. If they can’t win a Super Bowl this year, with all their talent, then they probably never will. The players know this, the fans know this and the TV networks know this. That’s why the Colts will receive the biggest-ever media push in the weeks and months ahead.

Peyton Manning is the Dale Earnhardt Jr. of football: great for selling products, beloved by a certain demographic and a marketing tool for his league. But all the endorsement checks in the world don’t disguise the fact that Manning chokes at playoff time.

It can’t make up for the fact that his team has consistently overachieved during the regular season and underachieved in the postseason.

So enjoy the regular-season wins. They should be pouring in again whenever the Colts face a bad team. The Jets, the Texans and all of the other cannon fodder teams in the NFL will make the 2006 Colts look like supermen.

It’s when they meet up against a great defense that they have problems. Witness Pittsburgh’s cruel domination over the Colts in last year’s playoffs. This week’s opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars, also have a vertical offense and a defense designed to swat down Manning passes.In the weeks after that, Denver, Washington, New England and other elite teams will be gunning for the Colts. They may well have better luck than last year’s opponents.

In so many areas, the Colts are suspect. They got lucky more than once on the defensive side of the ball last season. Their ability to put opposing teams away also looks questionable. It’s not inconceivable that the Colts might end up with fewer than 10 wins.

Right now, the Colts have done only what they’ve been expected to do. Their long-term ability to win is debatable. Their running game is non-existent. They’re one Manning injury away from being a sub-.500 team.

In other words, don’t make those Super Bowl reservations just yet. There are too many unanswered questions about this team. They’re prone to breaking the hearts of their fans. Watch the games cautiously. If they’re still undefeated in December, then some jubilation is in order.

If the Colts have proven anything in their 22 years in Indianapolis, it’s that they’re great at not living up to expectations. Don’t invest too much of yourself in their success; it can only end in disappointment.

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