By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

The point has been belabored nearly to the point of oversaturation. But the Colts and their decision to bench their starters in a home game they led by five points in the third quarter last week against the Jets was and still is such a head-scratcher that it seemed appropriate to add two more cents.

The bottom line is, the Colts have decided as an organization time and time again that potentially achieving a perfect record is less important than conservatively protecting their starters from getting hurt and thus damaging a run at a championship. This is the third time they’ve been at least 13-0 in a season. The first two times, as well a couple of other times that they had locked up their division and a first round playoff bye early, they treated their last couple of regular season games as glorified exhibitions, chose rest for their starters over not just gunning for perfection but for keeping momentum and subsequently were bounced from the playoffs in their first game both times, both at home. The one time they were forced to keep their starters out there due to not securing one of the two top seeds in the AFC in 2006, they won the Super Bowl. Coincidence? Hardly.

Obviously the headline is the team’s conscious decision to throw their scrubs into the teeth of a tenacious defense as opposed to trying to go to 15-0 and perhaps beyond while playing at home. They have been criticized in all corners for this decision, as well they should have, because their actions didn’t guarantee them anything but a loss and also flew in the face of good manners both because of their obvious quitting in a game and because by ensuring the Jets the win, they damaged the playoff hopes of several other teams that had and will have to continue to play their asses off just to get a chance at the postseason. Furthermore, they outraged their loyal fans by giving up and the team’s public response, led by tone deaf team president Bill Polian, hasn’t measured up, from Polian’s saying that while they didn’t care about a potentially perfect season, they did care about securing the most wins of the decade as well as the most consecutive regular season wins (making them the only ones) to telling the fans that their aspiring for perfection doesn’t measure up to proper “football logic,” which is essentially the same thing as calling them stupid.

The Colts really blew this one. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, then they can look down their noses and laugh at how inferior everyone else is for not seeing their plan the way they do. But if they don’t – if the decision to not let their best players play a full, competitive game for an entire month doesn’t work, as it hasn’t every other time they’ve gone that way – then they will have a hard time living it down. Peyton Manning, who looked like he was ready for blood on the sideline while watching the scrubs lose the game last Sunday, would never do or say anything publicly that wasn’t toeing the party line. But I wonder what he really thinks about all of this.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. San Diego: Impossible not to recognize the Chargers as the current best team in light of their now 10-game winning streak. Their most recent win was only a 42-17 runaway in road game on Christmas against a Titans team desperate for a win to stay in the playoff chase.

2. Indianapolis: Since the Colts didn’t care about potentially finishing with a perfect record, they can’t possibly care about being bumped out of the top spot on our renowned, illustrious Patriots Daily, Around the League list either.

3. Philadelphia: The Eagles seem to have trouble finishing (335 yards in their first seven possessions last week against Denver, 59 in their next seven). But their offense is not only explosive but even sort of balanced, an odd notion for an Andy Reid-coached team, which covers for their somewhat suspect defense.

4. New Orleans: Wow, what happened to the Saints? When they destroyed the Pats a few weeks ago, they looked like the best team I’ve seen in years, probably equal to the Pats of 2007. Since then, they’ve been taken to the wire by the Redskins and Falcons and lost to the Cowboys and (gulp) Bucs in being outscored 100-96 over that stretch. Somebody better figure out how to convince them that the late-November tilt against New England wasn’t the Super Bowl, otherwise they’ll be one-and-done in the playoffs.

5. New England/Green Bay (tie): Two hot teams edge out the ice cold Vikings for the fifth and final spot. The Packers are locked in to a playoff berth thanks to six wins in seven games and both their offense and defense operating at near peak efficiency. The Pats are a more sentimental pick here. Sure, they’ve won three in a row and seem to be over their hideous defensive issues of November and earlier this month. But the competition hasn’t exactly been stellar over the past three weeks. Still, given the acumen, it’d hard to believe they won’t win at least one game come playoff time.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. St. Louis: Keith Null. Chris Ogbonnaya. Kenneth Darby. Brandon Gibson. Danny Amendola. Billy Bajema. Just a few of the guys the poor Rams are trotting out there these days. Not exactly Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt and Hakim. Seriously, if any of those dudes walked in here wearing t-shirts with their names written on them I still wouldn’t know who they are.

2. Detroit: Another week, another loss another offensive effort that produces less than 20 points. Even the worst teams have moments in time in which they win at least a little, right? It seems like eons since the Lions had one of those moments.

3. Kansas City: Give the Chiefs credit for making the Bengals sweat out last week’s nail-biter, especially since the game was on the road. As bad as this year has been, you have to believe that with a full year under their belts and given all of the great teams for which coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli have worked over the years, better days aren’t too far off.

4. Washington: Albert Haynesworth and his loser mentality excluded, how about the Redskins just starting to show some life prior to Bruce Allen being named their new GM then giving up almost immediately. Washington’s last two games have produced its most disgraceful efforts of the season and after this year, that’s saying a lot.

5. Seattle: Three straight losses by a combined total of 106-24. Matt Hasselbeck’s corpse at the controls and a trio of loud-mouthed, overpaid, underachieving receivers going on the radio to take on talk show hosts and claim that they are really a good team going through a tough time. I hope Jim Mora’s year as head man was fun because he ain’t getting a second one.

What’s Trendy

– Ray Rice, Ravens: With his 141 yards at Pittsburgh, Rice became the first player to pile up over 100 yards rushing against the Steelers in their past 32 game. Not too shabby, Ray.

– Andre Johnson, Texans: Seemingly the best, most complete receiver in the game, Johnson’s 71 yards against the Dolphins made him the second wideout in league history to post 1,500+ receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. alongside former Colt Marvin Harrison.

– Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: A career high and franchise record 206 yards on the ground was Stewart’s contribution to Carolina’s 41-9 carpet bombing of the Giants in their farewell to Giants Stadium.

What’s Not

– The Giants: Carrying on with that theme, the Giants needed a win to stay in the playoff hunt and had Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and 70,000 fans by their side to close out their home digs of the past 33 years. So, they played their absolute worst game of the season, a 41-9 blowout loss to the non-playoff Panthers, in which they trailed 24-0 at halftime, averaged just 4.8 yards per play and allowed 247 yards rushing. Ouch.

– Brandon Stokely, Broncos: His team only had four healthy receivers and he was one of them. Knowing that, Stokely slapped the outstretched wrist of an official after a perceived non-call, getting himself ejected from Denver’s eventual loss to the Eagles.

– Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN: Wojo, more of a personal, unpaid PR man for the object of his undying love, Brett Favre, than an actual columnist, wasted about 1,500 words on basically a press release regarding why the Vikings recent issues and coach Brad Childress’s recent tiff with the Holy One is all Childress’s fault; that he should capitulate immediately to every Favre whim with no questions asked and that if he doesn’t, that he is a moron. You know, despite the fact that he’s the coach and Favre is the player. There are many Favre-suckers out there, as has been documented in this space before, and some are worse than others. But Wojciechowski , who by the looks of his work over the past two or three years seems to have made it his life’s goal to be the king of that group, has now achieved it. Congratulations, Gene – you have no credibility, whatsoever.

And finally…

We’re down to the final hours of the decade so I thought I’d regale you with another list, this one my five favorite players of the past 10 years. Happy new year and thanks so much for reading Patriots Daily!

1. Tom Brady, Patriots: Three Super Bowl wins, a fourth appearance and multiple passing records both team and league wide are enough of a reason for him to be No. 1. But the ascension from skinny, unknown, sixth-round nobody to this? Outstanding.

2. Derrick Brooks, Bucs: Like Ray Lewis without one iota of the playing-for-the-cameras bombast, Brooks led the fearsome Tampa Bay defense for years and years, not just routinely putting up stats but making play after play after play with a quiet authority and class that so many Lewis-types could never understand. One Super Bowl title as well.

3. Devin Hester, Bears: Before Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs showed up, Hester spent a couple years holding the mantle of the best return man of a generation. He had five punt or kickoff return scores in his rookie year of 2006 (including an amazing one in the Super Bowl against the Colts) and another six in 2007. Every time he went back to field a kick those first couple years was noteworthy even if he didn’t wind up in the end zone just because of the threat. Then, of course, the Bears erred in their evaluation of him and turned him into a receiver, which he’s never truly grasped, robbing the rest of us of the most electrifying return man of his generation.

4. Ty Law, Patriots: He was already a star before he picked off Kurt Warner and ran it back for a TD in Super Bowl XXXVI. But that play, along with his three INTs of Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game two years later cemented his place as the most clutch, effective Patriots DB of the decade. Forget about his wasted time with the Jets (twice), the Chiefs and now the Broncos. He’s a Patriot, through and through.

5. Torry Holt, Rams: He exploded onto the scene as a second-year man for St. Louis’s 1999 champs with 82 catches for 1,635 yards (19.9YPA ) and a key role in the Rams Super Bowl win over Tennessee. There were many more amazing moments, including his amazing 2003 numbers (117-1,69612TDs-106 YPG ) in a career that is still chugging along for the Jaguars. I think I had Holt on at least one fantasy team for something like six straight years.