The Obstructed AFC Wild Card Preview

Playoff time has arrived in the NFL. The Colts and Texans take it to round three while the Ravens and Chargers do battle for the second time in three weeks. And honestly, these may be the hottest teams in the AFC so this may be the best games we’ve seen in a while in terms of Wild Card games. And could the winners be more of the favorites than the Chiefs and Patriots? Time will tell with that. But today, let’s look at these two games.

Sep 30, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLTS AT TEXANS, 4:15 (SATURDAY), ESPN:

FOR THE COLTS: It will be very important on how they start the game. They need to take the Texans fans out of the game early. They jumped to a 17-7 lead at halftime in Houston last month not looking back in a 24-21 stunner. It gave Indianapolis that massive momentum of a team that doesn’t need to be messed with. Andrew Luck is getting stronger and better as the season continued while TY Hilton has been a monster in this stretch (while being “questionable” with his nagging ankle injury) and to me being one of the game’s elite receivers. Adding on top, the Colts may have found a stud at running back in Marlon Mack (25+ rushing attempts in two of the final 3 games of the season). The defense has been pretty good in this run and has a feel of the 2016 Falcons defense down the stretch of playing stronger and stronger with a young group of standout players led by Darius Leonard. But once again, they have to be on top of their game against DeShaun Watson and frustrate him as much as possible. Also, trying to find a way to keep DeAndre Hopkins from being a massive factor will be a key.

FOR THE TEXANS: Trust the stars. Houston has a bevvy of great players on both sides of the ball. DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins on offense. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jonathan Joseph on defense. Those guys will have to play the games of their lives. Lamar Miller also needs to have a big game on the ground to keep Houston from sinking even at home. Last game against Indianapolis he only rushed for 33 yards on 14 carries. That needs to be better. Watson played decent, but was also sacked 5 times so the Texans need to do a better job of protecting their young quarterback. If Houston has no answer for the Colts pass rush, it may be a major repeat of last time out. The other major key is can the Texans put pressure on Luck the entire game? He was sacked twice but still threw for nearly 400 yards last game and nearly 500 the time before. Houston can’t shut down Luck, but they can’t let him take over a game like he’s been doing. Or the Texans (my AFC pick) will be going home Saturday.

OUTLOOK: This game will be FUN. I have no dog in the fight (and no, I do not bet on games) so I am going to enjoy seeing this game on how it plays out. I think we will see offense, but also I think we will see key stops being made and whoever gets that key turnover may win. I just think right now despite the hot streak they have gone on, the Colts are still a tad young and winning on the road against a team with a lot of veteran punch in the Texans is a tough task in January. I’ve told a few of my friends however that if there is one team I REALLY want to see win in the playoffs, it is the Colts. I just think the task is too great for a youthful squad. But maybe they aren’t smart enough to realize it and make that run. TEXANS 34, COLTS 31

Dec 22, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is pressured by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) in the third quarter at StubHub Center. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

CHARGERS AT RAVENS, 1:05 (SUNDAY, CBS)

FOR THE CHARGERS: The leader of the crew, Philip Rivers, needs to be composed. I know he is a fiery guy and people love him for that. However, when things go awry sometimes, it helps nobody on the team. That win in Kansas City the Chargers had in December, I felt Rivers kept his emotions in check well enough to give Los Angeles that W. However, one game later, it somewhat went away and the team lost at “home.” The team that frustrated him? The Ravens. And this time the game is in Baltimore. The weather forecast doesn’t play out to be a disastrous one for the team coming in from southern California (sunny and 55 is the kickoff forecast) and since I have joked a few times the Chargers have played 16 road games the last two years, it may not amount to much. But Baltimore really frustrated that balanced Chargers offense. And they went after the leader. So all the weapons of Melvin Gordon (12 carries for 41 yards vs. the Ravens), Keenan Allen (5 receptions for 58 yards), Mike Williams (1 reception for 7), and Tyrell Williams (1 reception for 12), would be useless. The good news is Hunter Henry, who has been out all season, may play Sunday so it will help out the offense and maybe spread Baltimore out. But if Rivers is pressured constantly (sacked 3 times in that game), there isn’t going to be much hope for the Chargers. Defensively, they really didn’t have Lamar Jackson completely take over the game in the win, but will have to be a little bit better and really win the field position war. The Chargers have studs around like Joey Bosa and Derwin James. They just need to step up in a big way to shut down Jackson & Co. The best bet however is for the Chargers to build a lead late and make Jackson pass.

FOR THE RAVENS: While the talk and love will be going to Lamar Jackson, the defense is what will be key. If they pressure Rivers and frustrate Rivers like last time, I don’t see the Ravens losing this game. Now if Rivers plays well and some hiccups happen, that is when Jackson will be brought in focus. He reminds me a lot of Michael Vick where he relies on the running and passing is still a question mark (for the record, I do think he will be a better passer as seasons progress). Part of it is the receivers have to make plays. But if the Ravens are down, that will be the big thing. But he can dictate the tempo of the game with his legs. If he doesn’t make mistakes with the ball, he should be fine. That means he better keep an eye out on Bosa because he won’t be fine for that long.

OUTLOOK: The more I have thought about this game, the more I like Baltimore at home. The issue isn’t really the Chargers playing on the road as they are pretty good and they’re accustomed to playing in front of crowds who pull for the other team. But it is how they can frustrate Rivers. I think Rivers had a great year, but he is one of those guys who wears his emotions on his sleeves. Baltimore is a team who feasts on those kinds of quarterbacks throughout its history. And while that isn’t Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on that side of the ball, CJ Mosley is coming into his own and a few other “no-namers” are coming into their own. The Chargers will put up a fight, but offensively will have issues I think while Baltimore does just enough to make the key plays needed on offense to win. RAVENS 20, CHARGERS 13

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC South Preview-2018

For the last few years, the AFC South has been regarded as one of the worst divisions in the NFL if not the worst.  It felt like a 9-7 or an 8-8 team would win the division, thanks to injuries to star players within the division or just plain out ineptitude.  But it has a feel the AFC South from top to bottom will be a little different and maybe one of the more tougher divisions in the NFL in 2018, assuming that certain stars do not get injured.

Last year, Jacksonville’s defense was the talk for getting turnovers and having a physical play to their defense.  They won the division with it and were a few plays away from stunning New England in the AFC Championship.  Tennessee with their run game and Marcus Mariota took that next step and returned to the playoffs and stole a first round win in Kansas City before getting educated by the Patriots.  The Texans for a brief moment had looked to have a great offense to go with a great defense thanks in part to DeShaun Watson.  However, Watson was injured as well as JJ Watt and it derailed the season.  And the Colts, while looking pretty rough without Andrew Luck, weren’t as awful as the record points out to be and has some pieces moving forward.  Will it be Jacksonville’s year to take over the AFC?  Will Tennessee make a bigger jump and jump ahead of Jacksonville?  Will a healthy Texans team return to the top and will Indianapolis look like a threat with a healthy Andrew Luck?

Jacksonville

(1) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 

LAST YEAR: (10-6, 1ST PLACE, DEFEATED BUFFALO IN WILD CARD ROUND; DEFEATED PITTSBURGH IN DIVISIONAL ROUND; LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Cody Kessler (Trade-Cleveland), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Indianapolis), TE-Niles Paul (FA-Washington), G-Andrew Norwell (FA-Carolina), CB-DJ Hayden (FA-Detroit), CB-Dexter McDougle (FA-New Orleans), S-Cody Davis (FA-Los Angeles Rams), S-Don Carey (FA-Detroit), DT-Taven Bryan (Draft-Florida), WR-DJ Chark (Draft-LSU), S-Ronnie Harrison (Draft-Alabama)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Chad Henne (FA-Kansas City), RB-Chris Ivory (Buffalo), WR-Allen Robinson (FA-Chicago), Allen Hurns (released-Dallas), TE-Marcedes Lewis (FA-Green Bay), LB-Paul Posluszny (retired), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Houston)

Jacksonville, who had been the target of jokes throughout the last decade of being a stale team and ranking near the bottom of the NFL for a while, surprised many and made it to the AFC Championship.  And they nearly pulled off the upset.  Blake Bortles, who has been much maligned because of his play over the years, played solid throughout, not making porous decisions with the ball, thus earning him a contract extension.  But the running game of Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon really kicked it in gear last year and is the Jags bread & butter.  It is a key reason why they let two key targets in years past of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns walk.  On defense, which they were excellent lat year, they only improved their roster this year.  They added Taven Bryan from Florida and Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, two great defensive players on defensive oriented teams in college while adding more depth with Cody Davis, Don Carey, and others.  The Jaguars look primed for a late January run, even with Bortles, but if Bortles can continue to make smart decisions, who knows what might happen.  KEY QUESTION: Is Blake Bortles good enough to take the Jaguars to the Super Bowl.  If he just makes the right moves, it is possible with that defense.  He was a couple of plays away last year.

MY PREDICTION: 11-5.  Jags defense is a very young and tough-minded bunch.  They will not be easy for anybody on their schedule this year.

Henry

(2) TENNESSEE TITANS

LAST YEAR: 9-7 (2ND PLACE; DEFEATED KANSAS CITY IN WILD CARD, LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN DIVISIONAL)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Arizona), RB-Dion Lewis (FA-New England), WR-Michael Campanaro (FA-Baltimore), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Houston), DT-Bennie Logan (FA-Kansas City), LB-Will Compton (FA-Washington), CB-Malcolm Butler (FA-New England), LB-Rashaan Evans (Draft-Alabama), LB-Harold Landry (Draft-Boston College

KEY LOSSES: QB-Matt Cassel (FA-Detroit), QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Houston), DT-Sylvester Williams (Released-Detroit), LB-Avery Williamson (FA-New York Jets) S-Da’Norris Searcy (FA-Carolina), RB-DeMarco Murray (retired)

Like Jacksonville, Tennessee ended their playoff drought and had a come-from-behind win against Kansas City before the Patriots had their way with them.  With DeMarco Murray gone, expect to see Derrick Henry be the main guy in the backfield, and he is a load to bring down.  And the Titans added Dion Lewis who can be a multi-purpose guy and change the climate when he is subbing for Henry.  It’s a great move for Tennessee and it will also take a load off of Marcus Mariota to throw and hopefully his targets of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews continue to trend upwards as they could have a very formidable offense in 2018.  On defense, which struggled at key times last year, the Titans added Bennie Logan at tackle and Malcolm Butler from the Patriots to shore up any shortcomings there.  The Titans also drafted Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, who could be a sleeper.  So while the Titans I believe are already a good team, the potential is there to be far better and be a threat in the AFC.  KEY QUESTION: How far can the Titans go in 2018?  As far as the defense takes them and Mariota is healthy.  The running game is there but with Mariota being a mobile QB, he is always at high-risk of injury.  Defense has to get better especially being in a division with the Jags and Texans (when they’re healthy).  KEY QUESTION: Can the Titans offense become multi-dimensional and have a quality passing game?  That’s a key one to look at.  Mariota can pass the ball.  It’s a matter of can Matthews and Davis keep taking steps upward?  Again, adding Lewis will help and I think they will take a step in the right direction.

MY PREDICTION: 10-6.  Maybe lofty, but the pieces the Titans have in place are excellent pieces like Mariota, Henry, Jurrell Casey and if the players respond around them, watch out.  

 

Houston

(3) HOUSTON TEXANS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Tennessee), QB-Joe Webb (FA-Buffalo), WR-Sammie Coates (Waivers-Cleveland), C-Zach Fulton (FA-Kansas City), G-Senio Kelemete (FA-New Orleans), T-Seantrel Henderson (FA-Buffalo), SS-Tyrann Matthieu (FA-Arizona), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Jacksonville), CB-Johnson Bademosi (FA-New England), S-Justin Reid (Draft-Stanford), OT-Martinas Rankin (Draft-Mississippi State), S-Jordan Akins (Draft-UCF)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Tom Savage (FA), QB-Josh Johnson (FA-Oakland), RB-Andre Ellington (FA), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Tennessee), G-Breno Giacomini (FA-Oakland), S-Marcus Gilchrist (FA-Oakland), CB-Marcus Williams (FA-Arizona), LB-Brian Cushing (released),

Whatever could have gone wrong for Houston in 2017 pretty much went wrong.  JJ Watt was lost for the season after 5 games with a broken leg and has now only played 8 games in two seasons.  DeShaun Watson played great in his short time starting in 6 games and going 3-3 before he was lost to a torn ACL during practice.  And after Watson was injured, that was it for Houston.  That said, both Watt on defense and Waston on offense changes the entire Houston dynamic.  Watson has weapons with DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller and the Texans will have a couple of key additions in the secondary (which was lit up last year) in Tyrann Matthieu and Aaron Colvin, both of whom expect to play huge roles for the team.  Adding on, Jadaveon Clowney continues to get better and better for Houston.  So the Texans could have the potential to really be a massive threat in the AFC, if the injury bug doesn’t hitting key pieces of the team.  They have an excellent shot to win the division this year and I practically forgot Houston went 4-12 last year, which I think Texans fans can relate as it was a forgettable year.  KEY QUESTION: Will JJ Watt ever be the same player after the injuries suffered the last two seasons?  I won’t doubt a guy like JJ Watt ever, but it is a question people need to ask.  Two major injuries and only 8 games in 2 seasons what does he have left?  My guess is he isn’t going to be the same guy, but I also think the Texans are a better team defense than in years past this year.

MY PREDICTION: 9-7.  Of course, if the Texans are healthy they could be better than this, but will need guys to step up if Watt is lost for any time again.

San Francisco 49ers v Indianapolis Colts

(4) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Ryan Grant (FA-Washington), WR-Kasen Williams (FA-Cleveland), TE-Eric Ebron (FA-Detroit), T-Austin Howard (FA-Baltimore), G-Matt Slauson (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), DE-Denico Autry (FA-Oakland), DE-Chris McCain (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), Rakeem Nunez-Boches (Waivers-Kansas City), LB-Najee Goode (FA-Philadelphia), G-Quenton Nelson (Draft-Notre Dame), LB-Darius Leonard (Draft-South Carolina State), G-Braden Smith (Draft-Auburn), DE-Komoko Turay (Draft-Rutgers, DE-Tyquan Lewis (Draft-Ohio State)

KEY LOSSES: RB-Frank Gore (FA-Miami), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Jonathan Bostic (FA-Pittsburgh), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Seattle), Rashaan Melvin (FA-Oakland), CB-Vontae Davis (Released-Buffalo)

Andrew Luck has been the Colts franchise since he arrived in 2012.  For the first 3 years when Luck was on his game and playing at MVP caliber level, Indianapolis was near the front of the AFC.  When Luck struggled in 2015 and 2016 as the injuries came in, the Colts struggled.  When he wasn’t on the field, Indianapolis bottomed out at 4-12, though they were competitive in about six of those 12 losses and could have won those.  Jacoby Brissett served in admirably for Luck in that time.  However, Luck is back and he will have a new coach waiting for him in Frank Reich.  Of course the key question will be how well can Luck throw the ball?  Could he be Drew Brees 2.0 where he flings it everywhere or will he end up being a Chad Pennington where 10 yards is about as far as he can go?  But he does have good receivers in TY Hilton and Ryan Grant to throw at and maybe Eric Ebron can step up after a disappointing run in Detroit.  Indianapolis also made key moves on the line signing Austin Howard and drafting Quenton Nelson to make sure the hits on Luck are minimal. The Colts have more questions than their divisional counterparts though, notably on the defense.  Malik Hooker is a good pick from the 2017 Draft and the Colts signed Chris McCain who had 5 sacks with the Chargers last year.  But that is still a major work in progress.  The other concern with Frank Gore gone at running back there is a running back-by-committee where it includes Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Marlon Mack, and now 4th round pick Nyheim Hines from NC State.  So the Colts will be on the upswing, but right now, they are still a healthy distance behind their divisional foes to me at least.  KEY QUESTION: If Luck struggles throwing, would they consider taking him out?  It’s very possible.  A quarterback with a shoulder injury and had a hard time recovering from?  Luck is far from a lock being that QB who was a potential MVP candidate from 2012-2014.

MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Colts will be better though the run game will be an issueand still have some gaps on the defense that need to be answered.

That’s it for this week.  Will be back in 2 weeks from now.  Be safe!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Cursed Cities in America: Indianapolis

Sometimes teams win a world championship and many believe, “well, that city isn’t cursed anymore. They got over the hump.”  Ask any Cleveland fan.  They still feel cursed with their sports teams, especially after the Cavs won the Finals in 2016.  I mean, points are valid.  The Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series that same year and then they fell in the ALDS in the next year after being up 2-0 on the Yankees.  And the Browns have been an amazing 1-31 in those two years, so….

Which brings me up to Indianapolis.  It may not be the first we think of with having a curse on their necks in part because of the Colts Super Bowl win in 2006, so of a championship drought of 12 years with only 2 teams isn’t bad, but we need to look further.

Indianapolis hosts the Colts and Pacers.  Both teams have seen great success especially since the mid-90’s. However, since the one year of the Colts winning the Super Bowl, it has always seemed like for whatever reason, these two have come up short time after time and have been more of a bridesmaid to their conferences.  A cursed bridesmaid at that.

INDIANAPOLIS:  INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, INDIANA PACERS:  (1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP; DROUGHT OF 12 YEARS): 

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES SINCE ARRIVING IN INDIANAPOLIS, ONE SUPER BOWL WIN, DROUGHT OF 12 YEARS)

For older fans, they remember the whole Mayflower moving truck in the middle of the night as the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis.  So for a curse on Indianapolis, it is warranted.  The first 11 seasons in Indianapolis the Colts only made the playoffs once and it was the strike year of 1987 where the Colts were no match for the Cleveland Browns.   The Colts in 1990 tried make an impact by trading up to get the #1 pick from the Falcons and drafting to get Jeff George to get them over the hump (Indianapolis was pretty much a .500 team from 1987-1989 and hoped George would get them to that promised land).  However, George struggled with injuries and had a lot of issues and came off as a brash, arrogant jerk who wasn’t living up to his expectations as the Colts finished 1-15 in 1991 and 4-12 in 1993 (in a season where he held out for part of it, thus getting booed by the Indy faithful).  The Colts traded George to Atlanta after the season.  Indianapolis then went with veteran Jim Harbaugh and drafted Marshall Faulk where they ended up sneaking to the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh in 1995 despite going 9-7.  A year later and drafting Marvin Harrison, the Colts made it back to the playoffs at 9-7 but being bounced out by the Steelers again.

However, the Colts struggles returned as they went 3-13 in 1997, but the silver lining was that they got the #1 draft pick in 1998.  And they selected Peyton Manning.  Manning’s first year wasn’t a glorious one as Indianapolis stayed at 3-13 and it was Manning’s worst year of his amazing Hall of Fame career (which is understandable; he was a rookie).  But after that, the Colts started to roll.  From 1999-2010, the Colts made the playoffs 11 of the 12 times, winning 10 or more games each year.  However failures arrived the playoffs for the Colts.  In Manning’s first playoff year in 1999, the Colts went 13-3 and won the division but were bounced in the divisional round at home by Tennessee.  A one-and-done loss would happen in 2000 to Miami and 2002 to the Jets (where they were destroyed 41-0 in their playoff game).  In 2003 and 2004, the Colts had one of the best offenses ever and actually garnered success in the playoffs, winning their first rounds in both, but then would run into the Patriots, who would forever be their albatross, first losing in the AFC title game in 03 and the divisional in 04.  In 05, the Colts actually escaped New England and took the top seed in the playoffs, but a slow start in that game compiled with a shanked FG by a then often reliable yet mouthy Mike Vanderjagt costed the Colts the game, thus making people wonder if Indianapolis would ever get over that hump.

2006 did change the fortunes when the Colts upended New England in the AFC Championship game in a come-from-behind manner and then the Colts would take down Chicago in the Super Bowl.  However the next two years were one-and-dones to San Diego both times.  The Colts got back into the Super Bowl in 1999 but lost to New Orleans to which many were stunned.  In 2010, the Colts got back to the playoffs, but were another first round bounce-out as Manning was starting to have neck issues needed to have season ending surgery before the season even started.  Indianapolis took it on the chin in 2011 without Manning as really he was the cog, going 3-13.

But again, a silver lining happened, somewhat.  The Colts, unsure if Manning would ever play again, drafted Andrew Luck (and said bye to Manning).  The Colts went to the playoffs in Luck’s first three years, as many went “well, they made the right choice.”  However, Luck couldn’t get past New England (and really got stomped by Patriots in the process).  Worse, after the 2014 season, Luck himself was starting to experience those nagging injuries and stunted his progress.  In 2017, Luck’s throwing shoulder continued to be a problem after surgery and missed the whole season as the Colts, combined with sketchy signings and drafts fell to 4-12 and many wonder despite Luck being able to throw again, if he will ever be the same.

To me, the Colts, having that 1999-2010 run should have probably ended up with more Super Bowls than just the one, similar to how I am reminded of the Atlanta Braves in baseball.  They had some great teams, but just never got over that hump.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  I can’t put the Manning walking off the field without shaking anybody’s hands from the Saints after the Super Bowl loss, so the image I still have is the Vanderjagt shank miss against the Steelers in the AFC playoff game.  To me that was the best Colts team they had in that run and came up short.  I know the Colts won it all the year after, but I just felt like they could have had engineered a dynasty in the middle of the Patriots dynasty at that point.

CURSED MOVE:  Without question, trading for Jeff George.  They traded a nice package including Andre Rison, who was a beast for the Falcons and Chris Hinton, who was a nice offensive tackle as well as draft picks which included Mike Pritchard, who did well for the Falcons in the system he was in.  As for George, he was more of a headache for the Colts than anything, and by 1994, he was shipped to….the Falcons and had two pretty good seasons with them before imploding on Atlanta.  Some point the Colts traded away Faulk to the Rams as another cursed move, but while Faulk did win an MVP there and is in the Hall, I don’t see that as a cursed move as Indianapolis got Edgerrin James to replace him while Indy got Mike Peterson & Brad Scioli in that trade.  Both were solid players for the Colts, but Scioli retired early because of injuries.  So it wasn’t a fully cursed move, but the Colts could have netted more.

CURSED RATING: 3/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED)

Pacers

INDIANA PACERS (1 NBA FINALS APPEARANCE): Bridesmaid: the woman who accompanies her bride on her big day.  Or in sports terms: the Indiana Pacers.

Up through the early 90’s, the Pacers were irrelevant in the NBA.  From 1977-1989, Indiana only made the playoffs twice and put out some very bad teams in that timespan.  However, the Pacers in the 1987 draft changed their futures by selecting a lanky shooting guard from UCLA named Reggie Miller.  It took Miller a season or two to get going, but when he did, he was one of the best shooters in NBA history and many still think he is.  Adding on, he found ways to draw fouls, get under teams’ skins, and one of the best trash talkers on top of it.  After four years of being a 1-and-done team in the playoffs from 90-93, the Pacers, after making good moves of drafting the likes of Rik Smits (1988), Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and trading for the likes of Derrick McKey, Byron Scott, and Mark Jackson, found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Indiana’s first run to the Conference Finals was a memorable one as they went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Knicks team with Patrick Ewing,  Charles Oakley,  Anthony Mason, and John Starks.  After the Knicks dominated the first two games, Indiana answered the bell at home, winning those two, which set up a classic Game 5 where Miller was on the largest stage, shooting the daylights out of the ball in the Garden, to Spike Lee’s dismay.  Miller was seen yapping at Lee and giving him the choke sign to his Knicks as the Pacers were one win away from the Finals.  However, Indiana failed to close out in either Game 6 or Game 7.  But many thought the Pacers were at the forefront in the East.  However, the next season despite beating the Knicks in the 2nd round (another classic series), the Pacers fell in 7 in the Conference Finals to the upstart Orlando Magic with Shaq and Penny leading the way.  3 years later, the Pacers would lose to the Jordan Bulls in the conference finals in 98 and the Knicks in 99.  In 2000, Indiana would finally get past their Eastern Conference demons and get to the Finals where they ran into the Lakers, in the process of building their new dynasty with Shaq and Kobe, thus really ending that chapter.

Miller stuck around for the Pacers through 2005, but wouldn’t see another Eastern Conference Finals run until 2004 when Indiana actually pulled the best record in the NBA that year, but again, fell in the Conference Finals to the Pistons, where their old coach Larry Brown (who coached those Pacers teams in the mid-90’s) was running things.  Indiana would fall to Detroit in 05 in the semis, but the season was marred by a regular season incident with Detroit fans which costed Pacers stars Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal to miss pretty much the entire season, knocking them out of the front of the conference.  From 06-11, Indiana was either one-and-done or they weren’t even in the playoffs as they were just a patchwork team.  In 2012, the Pacers made it to the semis losing to the LeBron & Miami.  The next two seasons, Indiana would get back to the conference finals, only to lose to Miami on both rides, really solidifying Indiana’s “Bridesmaids of the Eastern Conference” moniker.

It has to be frustrating if you’re a Pacers fan to see all the years, whether or not Indiana was a favorite to get that far and to come up short, as most of those series went 6 or 7 games.  It has to be an ultimate gut-punch.  Worse, the coaches that have been there, notably Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle, have won championships after they left Indiana.

CURSED MOVE:  The Pacers have somewhat avoided making bad decisions as a whole.  However, for some reason, trading Antonio Davis to the Raptors for Jonathan Bender sticks out.  It seemed like somewhat of a good idea at the time, getting more of an athletic youngster in Bender and he would be on a team with seasoned vets to show him the way.  However Bender never panned out and injuries riddled his career.  Davis had some strong years in Toronto and could have been a key piece against the Lakers in the following season when Indiana made it to the Finals.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  “The Malice at the Palace.”  While never considered major rivals with one another despite sitting in the same division for years, the Pacers and Pistons were at the forefront of the Eastern Conference in the mid-2000’s.  Both played a physical, grinding defense that would frustrate you.  And tensions were escalating between both.  Most know it.  In an early regular season game, the Pacers went to Detroit, beating the defending world champion Pistons and bad boy Ron Artest committed a hard foul on Ben Wallace, with Wallace taking exception.  Teams tried to separate Wallace and Artest, who showboated on the scorer’s table, laying down as a Detroit fan threw a souvenir cup at him. Artest charged after the guy (he got the wrong guy though) and Artest and the fans got into a donnybrook.  Pacers stars Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson got into it as well in the stands as Detroit fans fought back and it escalated on the court where fans were challenging Artest, Jackson, and O’Neal as an image of O’Neal slugging out a Pistons fan is still a moment.  However, it costed the Pacers a lot as Artest was suspended for the entire season (including playoffs), Jackson for 30 and O’Neal for 15.  The Pacers fell back big time in the standings because of that while Detroit won the division.  Worse, the Pacers were eliminated by the Pistons for the second straight year in the 2nd round.

CURSED RATING: 4/5 (CURSED)

Indianapolis won’t stick out as being a cursed town thanks in part to their Super Bowl title in 2006, but we are getting to that point that 2006 is becoming more and more of a distant memory.  It also has that vibe that the Super Bowl win doesn’t negate all the heart-breakers that the city has suffered with both the Colts and Pacers.  So really, the city has to be considered cursed with their two major professional sports teams (nothing against the Indianapolis Indians though).

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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