Week 17 is usually a crapshoot in the NFL, kind of like how Week 1 is. We never know for sure how good teams are going to be, so there are many uncertainties in season openers.
Equal to that -- for different reasons -- is Week 17. The end of the season brings a lot of different approaches. Some teams go all out, trying to end the season on a winning note. Others play like they just can't wait to clean out their lockers and move on to the next year.
For other teams, Week 16 is the time to start playing out the string. Among those would be the Indianapolis Colts.
At 14-0, Colts management -- led by team grand poobah Bill Polian and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell (in the photograph) -- faced a dilemma. Go for the unbeaten season, maintain a rhythm for all your starters, or sit the important players, assuring their health for the playoffs?
By now, you know what the Colts did. They took quarterback and MVP favorite Peyton Manning out of Sunday's game with the Jets, leaving a 15-10 game in the hands of rookie Curtis Painter. The bug-eyed youngster quickly turned 15-10 into 29-15, and the Colts had their first loss.
Meanwhile, teams like Green Bay have a decision to make this week. The Packers can't improve their playoff position, no matter what they do. They're a wild card team, they're going on the road for the first round, and it's likely they'll have to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl.
Sunday's Week 17 game is meaningless. What should they do?
For the Packers, it should be obvious. You do what the Colts did. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher, and Charles Woodson start, play a few series, then depart for a cozy seat on the bench.
Why is this so obvious, while what the Colts did was so obviously wrong?
To start, recent history works against the top seeds. Last year, only Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Arizona won home playoff games. AFC top seed Tennessee and the NFC's top seeded Giants both were one and done, losing to their respective conference's sixth-seeded teams, both of whom had upset division champions on the road the previous week.
Furthermore, the Colts have done this dance before, only to be met by an epic fail in the playoffs. The last two times Indianapolis secured a first-round bye, they were ousted in the divisional round by a road underdog. In fact, Peyton Manning is now 0-3 in his career in the divisional round after a first-round bye.
In all three situations, the Colts half-assed their season finale and lost.
This time around, the Colts decided not to wait for their season finale. They half-assed the 15th game, will almost assuredly do it again Sunday in Buffalo, and could go into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak.
There have been 43 Super Bowl winners. Many of them have been non-descript, except within their own franchises. Once the list hits 50 in a few years, it will become more and more watered down with forgettable figures.
The 1972 Dolphins are unforgettable. The 2009 Colts no longer have an opportunity to be unforgettable.
Yes, the objective to win the Super Bowl is a noble one. Everyone wants to do it. But given the way the playoffs have unfolded over the last few years (No. 1 seeds have not battled in a Super Bowl since New England-Philadelphia in 2004), don't you owe it to your fans to have a little momentum heading into the tournament?
Speaking of the fans, how mad are you today if you're a Colts season-ticket holder? It's bad enough to think that your team basically threw a game in front of you, but how about the fact that they're throwing your money away?
Let's say a good season ticket for Lucas Oil Stadium costs $750 (arbitrary figure, I know). Two of them (since you're not sitting alone) will run $1500. You're buying tickets for two games (preseason) that don't count and won't be taken seriously by anyone. Now, a third game has been thrown away by your team, since they are afraid of getting any good players hurt.
That means that 30 percent of your season ticket money will have gone to tickets for games that the home team isn't trying to win.
Doesn't that make you question your investment a bit? I mean, if they're not trying to win, what the hell are you doing spending so much money on the game? What fun could it possibly be to watch the home team go through the motions, especially against a team desperate to win?
As much as you have to respect the Colts for what they've accomplished, it's easy to see why people respect the Patriot way more. With an unbeaten season in their sights, New England played their 2007 season finale like it was the most important game of the year, even though home field had been clinched for weeks.
Guess what? No one was seriously injured, everyone was entertained, and the Patriots won.
It's too bad, for the sake of everyone who likes football, that Indianapolis didn't treat history with the same reverence. Maybe they could have finished the job that New England didn't.