Yeah, that's right. Even without Andrew Luck for a handful of weeks, Indy is in good shape to win the awful AFC South. Plus mailbag questions on Aqib Talib, Greg Hardy and comparing J.J. Watt with Lawrence Taylor

By Peter King
November 11, 2015

Three thoughts about Andrew Luck missing the next two to six weeks with a lacerated kidney:

1. Man, it’s just one of those years for the Colts.

2. I still think the Colts will win the AFC South. Why? The division stinks out loud, first of all. Houston goes to Cincinnati on Monday night, and barring a 12-sack night for J.J. Watt, the Texans will be 3-6 heading down the stretch of the season … with New England still on the slate to come. The rest of Houston’s schedule is fairly manageable, as is Jacksonville’s. But if we talk about strength of schedule with teams in the AFC South, we should consider what foes think when they look at the teams in one of the weakest divisions in NFL history. Foes say, Houston; that's a win. Jacksonville; win. So the Texans and Jaguars—and the Titans, for that matter—have to prove they can string together some wins. Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville have one thing in common: None have more than a one-game winning streak this season. The Colts are 4-5. The next six weeks for Indy: bye, at Atlanta, Tampa Bay, at Pittsburgh, at Jacksonville, Houston. Say they traverse that schedule 2-3, with Luck back for games at Miami and Tennessee at home. I still like Indy to finish 8-8, or 7-9 at the worst. Houston, assuming it loses Monday, would have to go 5-2 to finish 8-8. Sorry. Not happening.

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3. I trust Matt Hasselbeck. He beat two subpar teams, the Jags and Texans, when Luck was out earlier this year. He played well. Eight quarters, zero turnovers, 95.0 rating, 63.2 percent completions, three touchdowns, only three sacks taken. He’s a veteran who knows the most important thing is to put the ball in the hands of his playmakers and get the ball out of his own hands. He’s got Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw, and an obviously good group of receivers. His team’s got to have confidence after beating Denver, and from Hasselbeck winning his two starts and being a veteran of big games before. Maybe this says more about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL than anything else, but I would trust Hasselbeck to start a game I needed to win more than any backup in football today. Now all he’s got to do is win a couple—just don’t let the ship sink without Luck.

A couple things about Hasselbeck. Since he turned 35, he’s 19-18 as a starting quarterback, with a 42-to-31 touchdown-to-interception differential in games he’s started. He quarterbacked Seattle to a playoff win over New Orleans in Pete Carroll’s first year as coach, throwing four touchdowns against the Saints. He’s not a doddering old man. He’s a viable player. GM Ryan Grigson has to be happy he spent $3 million to secure Hasselbeck’s services before the season, because without him, there’s little chance Indy could survive this tsunami of bad events this year.

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This could be a bonding experience for the Colts, strangely. I know Chuck Pagano a little, and I would bet a lot that when this team comes off its bye early next week, his rallying cry will be, basically, Nobody thinks we can do it. We’re dead in the water! They’re laughing at us out there! We can’t win without Andrew Luck!

This is what I would be thinking if I were Pagano: Hasselbeck’s the perfect soldier. He’s smart, he’s confident, the team believes in him, and, honestly, I think we’re 85 percent as good with him as we are with Andrew—for the short term. He doesn’t make the big mistake like Andrew does right now.

It’s not a good day for the Colts, to be sure. But they should give thanks for two things: the historically bad division they’re in, and the bald quarterback who will keep them in the race until Andrew Luck returns.

Now for your email:

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HARDER STANCE ON HARDY

Why does Greg Hardy “have the right to work” in the NFL? Many employers terminate employees if they get arrested and don’t hire them upon successfully defending themselves in court. Is it written into the CBA or player contracts that they have this right? Don’t the equipment employees that were formerly employed by the Patriots have a right to work? As you wrote, “we’re a country of second chances.” But it feels like it’s another privilege for the exceptionally talented and not for everyone.

— Matthew W., Malvern, Pa.

Greg Hardy does not have any current charges against him in a court of law in America. He does not have any pending charges against him in any court of law in America. He currently is not subject to any discipline by the NFL for any off-field incident. That means he has the right to play football if one of the 32 teams chooses to employ him. The Cowboys did. I am not in favor of telling 32 independent entities that a person who is good at football cannot play football. If one of the 32 teams wants to hire him, that is that team’s decision, not mine.

• PETER KING’S MMQB: A look at all the action from Week 9, including Mike Zimmer’s gutsy call and Marcus Mariota’s beautiful game winner. Plus, Peter’s take on Greg Hardy

UNBEATEN TIEBREAKER?

With New England and Cincinnati looking unstoppable this season, I was curious what would the tiebreaker be if both teams finished 16-0? Obviously the common opponents and division winners would all be tied.  Who would get number one seed?

—Dan, Canton, Ohio

Under your scenario, when two teams tie at 16-0 for the top seed in a conference, the first tiebreaker would be strength of victory in all games. Strength of victory is the combined winning percentage of the 16 opponents each team played that year. So, all you would do is total the record of the opponents of each team and the better percentage would yield the number one seed. The loser in that exercise would be the number two seed.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE

I'm a die-hard Bronco fan, but Aqib Talib’s eye poke was embarrassing, bush league, and potentially compromising of the other player’s career. As much as I love how he plays and contributes, a two-game suspension would have been more appropriate. What are your thoughts?

—Jim

Taking away 1/17th of a person’s salary for the year seems fair to me. I don’t think I would have been outraged if the league gave Talib a two-game suspension, but one seems enough to me.

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LT VS. JJ

The difference between Lawrence Taylor having 63 sack in four years and Watt possibly having more with eight more games to go isn't just about the position they played. Taylor played in an era where the quarterback threw the ball 20-25 times a games, while quarterbacks these days can throw anywhere between 40-55 times. That's almost double the opportunity for a sack per game.  That’s in the vicinity of 1,000-1,400 more pass plays in four years that Watt has to get more sacks. I understand how great J.J. Watt is, but you can't compare him to LT.

—Hilario G., Texas

In 1986, the year Lawrence Taylor had 20.5 sacks and won the MVP award, New York Giants opponents threw 587 passes and opposing quarterbacks were sacked 59 times. That means that quarterbacks dropped back to pass a total of 646 times (that does not include the number of times that a quarterback scrambled for positive yardage, of course). In 2014, opposing quarterbacks for the Houston Texans threw 619 passes, and quarterbacks were sacked by the Texans 38 times. That means opposing Houston quarterbacks dropped back to pass 657 times that year. Over a 16-game period, in 2014, opposing Houston quarterbacks dropped back 41.1 times per game, on average. In 1986, opposing Giants quarterbacks dropped back 40.4 times. So I would disagree with you that Watt has a lot more chances than Taylor did back in the day. It just isn’t true.

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BRIDGEWATER HIT

I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more outcry in regards to the hit on Teddy Bridgewater. I am a Rams fan, and like many fans, I tend to put on blinders when my team commits a foul. But this was different. After witnessing the hit I couldn’t help but feel like my team was guilty of a dirty hit, and this tainted the rest of the game for me, as a Rams win would’ve felt like it came with an asterisk. I also can’t help but agree a little with the comments about Gregg Williams’ past, and think about the fact that the Rams also put out Ben Roethlisberger earlier this year. Aside from Mike Zimmer’s obvious outrage, why do you think there hasn’t been more coverage of this? If the hit would have been on Tom Brady, would it then be the talk of the league? 

— Zack, Ottawa

I think there has been a lot of coverage on it. Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy discussed it Sunday night, Jeff Fisher devoted a good portion of his press conference on Monday to it. I saw it all over ESPN on Monday… Personally I think it got a lot of play, but however much play it got, the only point I would make about it that maybe is being lost is Lamarcus Joyner’s impassioned comments about it after the game. He said his family and Bridgewater’s family are friendly in Miami and he would never try to hurt a player intentionally, nevermind Bridgewater who he knows. I still think it was a cheap shot, but Joyner’s remarks gave me pause. We can all think that Joyner was trying for a cheap hit on Bridgewater. But we don’t truly know, do we?

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.  

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