Some Colts fans may be too optimistic for believing they are capable of winning a playoff game. Others may be too cynical for not being sold on their ability to qualify for the playoffs.
One group or the other will look very smart in a few weeks, but I’ll be damned if I know which it will be.
At 10-4, the Colts could win out at Pittsburgh and at home against Jacksonville to claim the AFC South and pass the Bills and Steelers for the second seed. They could also lose to the Steelers this Sunday, and fall out of the playoffs entirely.
Kind of figures, doesn’t it, given how close the Colts are to being 7-7. If not for three exceptionally well-timed fumbles by the Texans (2) and Packers, the Colts could very easily be a .500 team without any viable path to the postseason.
Philip Rivers has been as good as any reasonable person could have expected, but still just barely good enough to keep the Colts in the AFC playoffs conversation. Three straight games with two touchdown passes and no picks have allowed the Colts to hang around in the mix for a playoff spot. He’s smart, accurate, competitive, fixed-footed, and a game manager without much in the way of what might be called dynamism.
The defense has been wildly uneven within each game. Yesterday was a perfect example. In the first quarter, the Colts defense was magnificent, sacking Deshawn Watson repeatedly and forcing three punts. After that third punt with 11:43 remaining in the second quarter, the Colts allowed two touchdowns and two field goals. The Texans fifth straight scoring drive was derailed by the fumble at the Colts two-yard-line that sealed the game.
Because we tend to believe what we last saw, local belief in the Colts as a Super Bowl threat is growing exponentially with each win. But a quick peak beyond the final score reveals what is true for almost all NFL teams – quality of rosters is so balanced that one big play decides most games. Had the ball bounced differently once in each of the three games against the Texans and Packers, the 7-7 Colts would prompt a different set of discussions.
Should defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus be fired? What about Chris Ballard and Frank Reich? How patient do we want Jim Irsay to be with them? How will the Colts spend the $40 million in cap savings as Rivers retires and Jacoby Brissett leaves town? Fortunately, the ball bounced the Colts way, so Ballard, Reich, Rivers, and (to a lesser extent) Eberflus are viewed as conquering heroes who may earn contract extensions.
I’m not trying to crap on your Corn Flakes, but the Colts are still a few tools shy of a full box if they are to be viewed through the same prism as the Kansas City Chiefs. They are missing a franchise quarterback, dynamic receiving weapon, and a game-wrecking defensive end.
What the Colts don’t lack is care with the ball and hunger in trying to take it away. Their turnover margin of +12 is tied for first in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. That’s how you win in the NFL, and if the Colts are to earn their way into the playoffs, that’s how they are going to do it in these last two crucial games.
Let’s hope the Colts continue to find ways to win, qualify for the tournament, and make this a January to remember. But it’s also important to understand Ballard and Reich have a lot of work to do this offseason to continue to bridge the gap between themselves and championship level teams.
Enjoy this run, and then get ready for an eventful March and April.