Good morning from the 41-degree-drizzle capital of North America! I am esteemed Advanced Football Analytics Guru Nate Miller. Somewhere in here is Indianapolis Monthly editor-in-chief Michael Rubino. Michael, can you please stand up and give a wave?
[Rubino remains completely motionless except for his seething, furrowing brow of regret for thinking any of this was a good idea; he is staring directly at me]
Fantastic!! Thank you, Michael! And here too, as always, is the sports-legitimizing component of this well-oiled machine, Derek Schultz. We’re breaking down yesterday’s dominant (BORING) win over Houston Country Day School. I am not entirely sure what the final score was, truth be told. I know that the other team didn’t score a point. Those poor kids. Their poor parents. It was tough to watch, you know?
RUBINO: [Stirs, brushes chip crumbs off stomach but saves one of the bigger pieces for closer inspection and eventually a bite] Guys, at some point, I found myself flipping between the Colts game and the sequel to a movie—and I hadn’t watched the prequel. I made cookies. (I never make cookies.) I might have even taken a nap or two. It was that kind of Sunday. But those are good every once in a while, and the Colts got their first shutout victory since “Achy Breaky Heart” was a thing (1992). Man, that Colts defense was good. Man, that Texans offense performance was somehow worse than Iowa’s in the Big Ten Championship Game. Houston should be relegated.
SCHULTZ: On a Watchability Scale of 1-10 with 10 being Season 3 of The Sopranos and -700 bazillion being this year’s Indiana Pacers, I’d put the Colts playing an AFC South opponent around a 2½. There’s something comforting about playing an overwhelmed divisional opponent just when you need it most, the football version of a homecooked meal from your mom or something, but man, it is an absolute chore to watch it. The Texans are the worst offense that I can remember in quite some time, like to the point where I actually felt bad for them!
MILLER: Oh, Texans, bless your little hearts! You fought so hard and you didn’t give up!! Your parents really are proud of you, do not misinterpret their frayed nerves and exhausted, what-have-we-done? sighs. They just think that maybe you’d like to try judo lessons. Or cross-country. Or drones, maybe? Drones are kind of a sport nowadays. Lord knows I’ve trudged through the exact conversation they’re having right now, in one sport or another, more times than my wife would care to count. (19 times.) It’s known as “The Talk” to us, the parents of normal, unathletic doofuses—the quiet kids who’d rather be gaming or brewing their own Butterbeer:
TEXANS MOM: This isn’t working, Tom. We have to let him quit. He’s begging ME because he thinks you’ll be mad!
TEXANS DAD: GODDAMNIT, SHARRON. He can’t just quit. He signed up for football this year and he’s gonna finish it. It’ll be the lesson he learns, the silver lining to this dark chapter of our lives: that he just can’t quit something when he’s impossibly awful at it. He gave his WORD, Sharron!
TEXANS MOM: He’s 22, Tom. He hates football and he’s clearly embarrassed! He only signed up for it because Dallas did, and they’re not even friends anymore! Nobody will care if he quits. In fact, they might be kinda … happy? What do you say, Tom?
TEXANS DAD: Absolutely not. I bought all those pads and shit, the least he can do is finish out the year.
Poor Texans. No parent wants to see this. For whatever it’s worth, judo really does teach them discipline and all that. Self-control. Roundhouse kicks. Plus, it gets them out of the house. The Texans probably should do judo.
RUBINO: Bow to your sensei, Texans. David Culley’s gum fought harder than his team.
The Colts are heading into the bye. What happens from here (besides the Texans working on a brown belt and some orange slices)? Predictions on that last piece of the regular season and maybe beyond? [Digs into bag of cliches] Is this Colts team built for the playoffs?
SCHULTZ: There’s a path to get in at 2-2 (aka *two* roundhouse kicks), but instead of leaving it up to chance, 3-1 (vs NE, at ARI, vs LVR, at JAX) is what they need and I think they can do it. This offense has really been cooking since Week 4 (31.5 points per game) and the defense forcing 17 turnovers per game* (*unofficially) hides a lot of their warts, like a mediocre pass rush. I’m saying this as Indianapolis Monthly Objective Observer Guy and not Indianapolis Colts Super Duper Homer Guy, but if they get in, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play them. The AFC stinks and given their offensive upside, there’s no reason why they couldn’t go on a run. Do you guys think I’m hallucinating?
MILLER: Nope, you’re exactly right. I, too, am starting to see the writing on the wall. The Colts will go on a fun and frenzied tear through December, that much is certain. This will lead to them eking into the playoffs, by hook or by crook, because there can be no other way—because the path to maximum pain is paved with belief, and the Colts don’t do anything in half measures. Pain without belief, after all, isn’t really pain. It’s only mild dissatisfaction. It’s the Indiana Pacers, after all, and there’s no money in it. Not the big money, I mean.
SCHULTZ: We’ve now brought up the Pacers twice on this thing, which is probably more than the Pacers deserve …
MILLER: The Colts, though—they figured out long ago that crippling emotional pain is far better for business than competent apathy ever could be, and business has been BOOMING ever since. A million *additional* reasons to feel miserable and broken on the inside isn’t cool! You know what is cool? A BILLION additional reasons!
SCHULTZ: That’s actually a good question to ask fans here: Would you rather be hurt or would you rather be bored? Would you rather jump into a flaming pool of rabid crocodiles while desperately holding onto a double-digit lead (Colts) or sit in an eternal waiting room listening to Contemporary Jazz at the endodontist’s office before getting a root canal for every tooth (Pacers)?
RUBINO: Isn’t boredom its own kind of a death?
MILLER: It is indeed. It’s called Law School. Never mind that, though.
To answer your question, Michael, what happens from here is this: a 3-and-1 finish (“Believe!”) will lead to a sketchy Wild Card City motel next to the Damon’s Grill (“BEEELIEVE!!!”) and a first-round loss to the Patriots, 52-6 (“We deserve the cold, unloving darkness of hopelessness; we were foolish to ever wade into the light at all, if even only for a bit.”) It will be Sam Ehlinger’s first game as a starter and he’ll have 37 turnovers. It’s gonna hurt. Can’t wait.