This season suggests that there are essentially two models for success in the National Football League: the Indianapolis Colts model and the Pittsburgh Steelers model.
The Colts model is the reality the league has created. By emphasizing offense at every turn – by making quarterbacks as precious a fabergé eggs and penalizing defensive backs for anything short of wearing strong cologne – the NFL has essentially changed the balance of power in the game. An elite quarterback can now unlock even the most dominating defenses.
And so those teams that have them – forced by the salary cap to prioritize their needs – have chosen to start an offensive arms race at the expense of their own defenses.
The three most elite quarterbacks in the NFL – the Saints' Drew Brees, the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, and Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers – have the 24th-, 31st-, and 32nd-ranked defenses, respectively, in a 32-team league.
This is what the Colts were famous for: leveraging their entire team to maximize the talents of Manning. He missed this year to injury, and they finished 2-14, the worst record in the NFL. They had made the playoffs for nine consecutive years previously.