Since their stunning upset of the Green Bay Packers the Indianapolis Colts have been the subject of intensely positive media attention. Not only was the victory incredibly unlikely and a harbinger of Andrew Luck’s future but it also had a bit of mythological heroism to it due to the recent announcement that head coach Chuck Pagano is battling leukemia. Everyone has portrayed Pagano as lying in a hospital bed, buoyed by his team’s effort against the odds. Whether true or not Colts fans can agree this win is one of the most memorable since the 2007 Super Bowl win without exaggeration.
What does the win mean however? Is this a sign of a shocking run toward the playoffs or just another hill on the roller coaster?
While reviewing the games to date and more specifically the individual performances in those games some facts become evidently clear.
First, the Colts are an incredibly uneven team whose secondary is still a liability and whose offensive line is a disaster. Sending offensive lineman Seth Olsen to IR was one step short of putting him out to pasture which is what they should do. The performance of those two units is so distractingly bad that whatever positives the rest of the team manages are overshadowed by their blantant inability.
While that is somewhat debilitating for the Colts the good news is there are bright spots.
Reggie Wayne is playing like the best receiver in the league. Did anyone expect that? When he returned many hailed it as one last ride into the sunset, a chance to mentor younger players or perhaps a bit of insanity since he’d play for an awful team. It turns out that not only was Reggie more than capable of leading this team but he also was a bit smarter than the rest of us. It seems Wayne understood this team could actually complete a turnaround quickly enough to earn him another shot at a ring.
Another bright spot in the first four games is simply the fact that the Colts are competitive. Before the season I reviewed the schedule and came to the realization that no matter how bad the team was they had a shot to be 3-2 after the first five games. In reality that may happen and were it not for blown coverage against the Jaguars they may be sitting at 4-1. There’s no way to see this as anything short of a stunning start for a team that has so many deficiencies.
Which brings me to my point: what is a realistic expectation for the remainder of the year?
The remainder of the year is absolutely loaded with winnable games. As we saw against Jacksonville the team isn’t going to win all of those but looking ahead there’s a chance that the Colts are in a spot to shock some people. Let’s take a look ahead and see what the future holds.
The next five weeks for the Indianapolis Colts looks like a feast. The Colts face a reeling Jets team coming off a short week this Sunday, the Cleveland Browns who will be without their best cornerback in week 7, the Titans, the listless Dolphins and finally the Jacksonville Jaguars. While nothing is a given for the Colts it is entirely plausible that they win four or five of those games. While momentum is entirely overrated confidence is not. If the Colts pull out a win against the Jets their confidence level will skyrocket which will be a big boost as they work through the weak schedule.
In weeks 11 and 12 the team face stiffer challenges from the AFC East: New England and Buffalo. Counting on a win against either team would be foolish although the Colts proved against Green Bay they can be competitive and pull out a close win. The Patriots and Bills both feature a running game that should punish the Colts. I’m not expecting wins but if they manage to beat one of these teams I wouldn’t be shocked.
After the Bills and Patriots they’ll face the Lions whose pass-happy approach won’t suit the Colts well. Like the prior two games I can’t expect a win against Detroit. The good news is that Detroit isn’t very good in pass defense so there is a possibility of a shootout. Expecting a young team to pull out a win in a game like that isn’t high on my list of things to do often.
In the final four weeks the Colts have two very winnable games against Tennessee and Kansas City and also face the Texans twice. While that schedule certainly isn’t a great way to finish there’s a chance that winning those two games puts the Colts in a spot to live up to Merrell Hoge’s prediction of a surprising turnaround.
Add all of that up and there’s a chance this team doesn’t win another game all year or they could go 9-7 and have an outside shot at the playoffs. While 9-7 seems optimistic it surprisingly also is a place where optimism and realistic expectations may collide. Unthinkable a few months ago to Colts fans this team may just be able to win 9 games.