Should Colts Relax in Pursuit of NFL Title?

At 13-0, the Indianapolis Colts are closing in on a perfect NFL regular season. Should they rest players — and risk a loss — before the playoffs? Scott Simon and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport discuss the dilemma.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, the latest from Steven Spielberg producing and directing.

But first, time for sports. The Indianapolis Colts are the verge of history this football season, but do they really want to make history? Last week, Peyton Manning and the Colts defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars to continue their season undefeated, 13-zip. They play the San Diego Chargers tomorrow and could be the first team to go undefeated since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, when the season was shorter. Ron Rapoport joins us from Chicago.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So do they have an obligation to go all out now and try and win these next few games, or should Coach Dungy rest his regulars, Peyton Manning?

RAPOPORT: You know, Scott, it's kind of hard to feel sorry for the coach of an unbeaten team, but let's try, shall we?

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: I mean, what if the Colts win their three remaining regular-season games...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...sweep into the Super Bowl and then lose? Do people then say, `Way to go, Colts'? You know, `You really gave the NFL record book a run'?

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: Or will they remember it as the best team ever not to win a Super Bowl? I think what happens is that if Dungy rests his starters at the close of the regular season so they'll be fresh for the playoff, that's--it's something he could do, and maybe they lose. But do you want to lose to San Diego--which is a very good team...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...tomorrow or Seattle next week and then their playoff opponents might start to think they're not so invincible anymore, which is not really a good thing?

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: So yes, you can see it both ways. Maybe he wants to rest his starters, but on the other hand, you don't want to give the other teams any ideas.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me raise an ethical question with you. My gosh. Whoever thought I'd raise an ethical question with you?

RAPOPORT: Ethics? Sports? Where are you coming from?

SIMON: Well, let me just try this. Is--do they have some obligation to the integrity of the game to go all out and play their best people? Because after all, the other teams, you know, aren't playing just for the exercise. They want to secure some playoff spots, too. And playing not to win is dishonest.

RAPOPORT: Well, it's not a question of playing not to win. I mean, all of your players are on the team.

SIMON: Giving less than your best effort is...

RAPOPORT: Right. But, you know, if you have 50 players on your team--which NFL teams have 55 or something--who's to say that you have to use these players instead of those players? Obviously, it seems to me, the goal is to win a Super Bowl. So if your--if Peyton Manning--who's, you know, the greatest quarterback in the league probably--or Edgerrin James, who's one of the top running backs, has a little twinge and you'd rather keep him out even at the expense of possibly losing the game so he'll be ready for the playoffs, isn't that the smart thing to do? You know what I think the Colts are proving, Scott?

SIMON: What?

RAPOPORT: Is that if you're going to lose, you'd better do it early in the season than late.

SIMON: Yes.

RAPOPORT: I mean, if they'd lost one of the first two games, they'd be just another good team in a league that's had its share.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: But now they've set themselves apart this way by putting themselves in a position to be the first NFL team ever to win 19 games in a season. They put a big target on their backs, and I think ethical problems are the least of them at this point.

SIMON: Do you see another team beating them? That can beat them?

RAPOPORT: Is there another team that can beat them?

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: Either of these next two teams could. San Diego is playing very well. And Seattle next week is terrific, and I think they play them in Seattle. So that could really be a problem for them. No, there's no question about it.

SIMON: OK. Ron Rapoport, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and our sports commentator here on WEEKEND EDITION, thanks very much.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

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