So I had this idea last week to write an article giving five reasons the Colts could still make the playoffs (Mr. Editor can confirm, lest you think this is a reactionary piece following an emotional victory; I’m above such things of course), but on that Monday we were informed of Coach Pagano’s diagnosis and football suddenly seemed unimportant.
Well, after that big win I won’t look quite as smart now (but still pretty smart) as I give you my five reasons the Colts could still make the playoffs this season. You know what, screw that, equivocating is for cowards and politicians, and I’m certainly no politician. Here are the five reasons the Colts WILL make the playoffs in 2012. That’s right, I said it, and I stand by it. Call me crazy, optimistic, or a homer, but I for one believe it’ll happen. In order of ascending magnitude.
It’s quite unfortunate that the Colts were unable to close out the game against Jacksonville, 3-1 would help me out, but even so, being 2-2 given the teams we’ve faced is no small accomplishment.
Chicago, now 4-1, has proven that their defense is still a dominant force (leading the NFL with 18 sacks, 13 INTs, and 5 defensive TDs), while Minnesota, assumed by many to be a powder-puff team, is itself sporting a 4-1 mark after wins over the 49ers, Lions, and Titans the past three weeks, not to mention a top 10 defense.
I need not remind you what Green Bay has done the past two seasons (though I will anyway), winning the Super Bowl in 2010 and going 15-1 last season. They’re off to a less than stellar start this year but were a blown call away from 3-1 heading into yesterday’s contest with the Colts (I know, revisionist history, but it helps my argument, so just go with it).
That’s a 9-2 mark against teams not from Indianapolis. The only “bad” team the Colts have faced is Jacksonville and they’re a division foe who always plays us tough (and a game we should have won 5 different times).
Not too shabby. From here the schedule gets a bit fluffier. Next week we face a Jets team minus their two best players, Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes; a winnable game to be sure. Here’s our next five games on the schedule.
- @ New York (2-2)
- vs. Cleveland (0-5)
- @ Tennessee (1-4)
- vs. Miami (2-3)
- vs. Jacksonville (1-4)
Doesn’t get much easier than that. If we can go through that stretch 4-1 (6-3) or even 3-2 (5-4) we should be in great shape heading into the back half of a schedule that gets significantly harder.
4. The Pagano factor
I don’t really know how to quantify this other than to say that what we witnessed yesterday was something amazing. The Colts came out flat in the first half, no doubt pressing a bit in an effort to do the improbable and upset the Packers for their ailing coach. But what transpired in the second half of the game was nothing short of magical.
Facing a 21-3 deficit the Colts came out and played inspired, shutting down the Packers vaunted offense to the tune of 6 total points in the second half, 5 sacks, and 3 drives netting negative yardage. To put it mildly, the Colts dominated.
On the other side of the ball they demonstrated an incredible faith in their young quarterback, running a no huddle offense for much of the second half, resulting in 27 points and only 1 punt. Their 16 point third quarter more than quadrupled their entire season total of 3 points heading into the game.
After the game players admitted that, while they had been deliberately downplaying it during the week, the motivation to win for their coach was constantly on their minds. Words like destiny and fate get thrown around a lot in sports, generally to diminishing effect, but what the Colts have on their side going forward is not destiny, it’s simple human psychology; the team with the greater desire usually wins, and I don’t think the Colts will be facing many teams with a stronger will to win than their own or a better cause to fight for. It’s about more than football for them now, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
It’s an intuitive and generally held belief that young teams tend to improve at a much faster rate than do their veteran heavy cohorts (assuming the coaches know what they’re doing). While the Colts are actually only the 18th youngest team (surprising I know), you have to consider that the primary nucleus is quite inexperienced.
Players like Reggie Wayne (34 in Nov.), Dwight Freeney (32), Cory Redding (32 in Nov.), Robert Mathis (31), Mewelde Moore (30), and Adam Vinatieri (40) tip the age scale a bit, the Colts are relying on many young players in key positions.
Luck (R), Hilton (R), Allen (R), Fleener (R), Freeman (1), and Castonzo (2), are all first or second year players still working through the NFL learning curve, their full potential hidden behind uncertainty and hesitation as they adjust to the speed of what must feel like a whole new game.
As they gain experience, learn from their coaches and veteran teammates, and begin to fully understand the schemes, we should see rapid improvement as the season goes on, that hidden potential being replaced by on field production (just in time for the hardest stretch of the schedule).
2. Andrew Luck
Simply put, Luck has been incredible through 4 games. His 302 yards per game is 3rd best in the NFL, his ESPN total QBR of 77.6 puts him 4th, and the guys over at Advanced Football Stats put his win probability added at 2nd behind only Ben Roethlisberger.
That’s all well and good, but as diehard fans we have seen every snap the young prodigy has taken and there’s very little doubt that he’s extraordinary beyond all our expectations. While he’s 25th in traditional QB rating (mostly due to that outlier in week 1 against the Bears), his propensity to make plays at the biggest moments has thrilled and confounded us in equal measure.
Through 3 games most of us knew that we made the right choice in the draft (arm strength be damned), but after what happened yesterday against the Packers there’s little doubt we have the next great quarterback. How many years did it take even Peyton Manning to master the no-huddle offense? Luck was doing it in his 4th game (perhaps not yet on the level that Peyton ran it) and it’s only bound to get better with time.
1. The rest of the AFC wild card teams
With Houston looking like a world beater it’s highly unlikely that the Colts win the AFC South, but with a dearth of quality teams in the middle of the AFC there’s a more than reasonable chance that they could snag a wildcard spot.
I think most pundits will peg in one of the two powerhouse teams in the AFC North, Baltimore or Pittsburgh, with the 1st wildcard, we will assume that’s the case as well. This leaves one spot for everybody else. Houston and New England appear to be no-brainers to win their divisions, so let’s look at who that leaves.
- Cincinnati (3-2) – possibly the Colts biggest obstacle. They have a good young QB, a great young WR, and a defense that is solid but not outstanding. The primary issue for Cincinnati is their division. With each team facing the others twice a year it is very difficult for three teams from the same division to make the playoffs, it will be tough for the Bengals to reach 9 wins.
- New York Jets (2-2) – Rex Ryan has shown that he can produce winning football teams, taking the Jets to the AFC Championship his first 2 seasons as head coach, but when your QB is Mark Sanchez, a player who seems to be getting worse not better, there’s only so much you can do. Barring some kind of crazy turn around I doubt highly that the Jets win 8 games.
- Denver (2-3) – Denver or San Diego will win the AFC West (Oakland and Kansas City a combined 2-7), but what the other does may determine the Colts playoff chances. Denver has Peyton Manning, and as we all know very very well, the man doesn’t lose more than 7 games a year, he just doesn’t. I know Denver is fading fast as a Super Bowl contender in most people’s minds, but their schedule has been brutal and Manning is still rounding into form (his last 2 games have been spectacular). I have a hard time seeing anything worse than 9-7 for the Broncos.
- San Diego (3-2) – San Diego on the other hand is a tough nut to crack. They’ve been a thorn in the Colts’ side for many years and may prove to be so again in 2012. So far they have beaten Oakland, Tennessee, and Kansas City, teams that are a combined 3-11, while losing to the 5-0 Falcons and 1-4 Saints. I don’t pretend to know what SD will do going forward but their schedule might be the easiest of the wild card contenders. I hate Philip Rivers, and Norv Turner is a joke, but this is a team that every year is picked to win 12 games, and every year they fail miserably to reach that goal. Here’s hoping 2012 is more of the same, 8-8 is my prediction.
So there you have it, incontrovertible proof that the 2012 Indianapolis Colts will be in the playoffs. Don’t even bother arguing against it, my case is iron tight. If the Colts can win 9 games they are in, a feat they I find not only possible but likely (yes, I understand the ramifications of the jinx I just created by typing that sentence, consequences be damned).
Good luck proving me wrong (I did go 11-3 in the staff picks this week, so you know, I’m pretty smart).