After a 25-16 Week 3 loss to their AFC South rivals, the Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts were 0-3 in a disappointing start to a season with high aspirations. Even with the league’s first 17-game season this year, making the playoffs from an early 0-3 hole is a huge uphill battle.

But Carson Wentz, Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr., and an opportunistic defense have led the Colts to six victories in their last eight games: a 6-2 stretch after an 0-3 start. Even in the two losses, a 31-25 defeat in Baltimore and a wild 34-31 overtime loss to the Titans, the Colts proved they could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the NFL, just as they previously did with a Week 2 27-24 to the Rams.

Crowded Standings and Tiebreakers

Credit: Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports

The Colts are now 6-5, in the middle of the standings in a crowded AFC. The Titans are 8-3 but have already swept the season series against Indianapolis, making winning the AFC South crown an unlikely scenario for the Colts. Even if the Colts go 6-0 down the stretch, the Titans would need to finish 3-3 or worse in order for Indianapolis to win the division. It’s certainly not impossible, but if we lower our expectations to say, a 4-2 finish for the Colts, the Titans would just need to win two of their remaining six games to clinch the AFC South. With matchups against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Houston Texans, the Titans would likely be able to jog it in for the division crown.

While winning the AFC South isn’t completely out of the question just yet, the much more likely road for the Colts to the 2021-22 NFL postseason is one of the AFC’s three wildcard positions. Indianapolis currently sits ninth in the AFC with a 6-5 record, but the conference’s wildcard race couldn’t be tighter. The Colts are one of five teams in the AFC with six wins this season, with an additional three teams (including the 5-4-1 Pittsburgh Steelers) holding five wins. This puts a whopping eight teams in a narrow race for three wildcard spots.

After Week 11, the AFC’s wildcard race looks like this:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
  2. Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)
  3. Buffalo Bills (6-4)
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
  6. Cleveland Browns (6-5)
  7. Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)
  8. Miami Dolphins (5-5)

With the super tight race, the Colts just need to win as many games as possible to close out the season, rather than relying on other teams falling behind.

Of the eight teams currently in the AFC wildcard race, the Colts have only played the Buffalo Bills head-to-head: Indianapolis is coming off an incredible 41-15 victory in Buffalo. Holding a head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo could prove useful if the two teams end up tied in the final standings. The only caveat is that is Buffalo is still very much alive in the AFC East race. If the 7-4 New England Patriots are bounced back into the wildcard bubble, Indianapolis’ Week 15 matchup with New England will hold some extra weight.

The only other team in the AFC playoff picture that the Colts will face this season is the 5-5 Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders are reeling and may not make it to the final stages of the AFC playoff race, but if they are involved, the Colts will have a chance to both earn a head-to-head tiebreaker as well as hand the Raiders a loss in their January Week 17 matchup.

Speaking of tiebreakers, the Colts have a 5-3 record in conference play: the first tiebreaker used if no head-to-head matchups exist. The 6-4 Los Angeles Chargers are the only team currently in the wildcard hunt with a better mark: a 4-2 record in conference play. With the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars on the remaining schedule, the Colts should be able to extend their solid conference record which could be an extremely valuable tiebreaker at the season’s end.

Remaining Schedule

Credit: Eagles Wire/USA Today

The Colts have a mix of weak opponents, solid opponents, and a couple potentially overwhelming opponents (though luckily, they’re both NFC teams) over the season’s final seven weeks.

  • Week 12: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)
  • Week 13: At Houston Texans (2-8)
  • Week 14: BYE
  • Week 15: Vs. New England Patriots (7-4)
  • Week 16: At Arizona Cardinals (9-2) (Saturday Christmas Game)
  • Week 17: Vs. Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)
  • Week 18: At Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)

Realistically, a 4-2 finish or better should get the Colts into the playoffs. With a slew of five and six win teams in the conference, there will likely be a slightly smaller bunch of nine and ten win teams at the end of the season. It’s not impossible the Colts sneak into the playoffs at 9-8 with a 3-3 finish, especially if any wins came against the Patriots or Raiders, but Indianapolis would have an astronomically better chance of qualifying for the postseason with a 10-7 record. If the Colts can finish super strong and reach 11 wins, they would likely be a lock for a wildcard spot.

Anything is possible in the NFL, and both the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars have upset superior opponents (the Titans and Bills, respectively) in recent weeks. Still, let’s chalk up two wins for the Colts against these AFC South rivals. After all, Indianapolis has beaten both Houston and Jacksonville already this season, by a combined score of 54-20.

To get to a 4-2 finish, the Colts would then need to split their four remaining matchups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and Las Vegas Raiders. With the way Derek Carr and the Raiders have been trending, the Week 16 home matchup with Las Vegas seems like the most winnable game of the bunch. The three matchups against the Buccaneers, Patriots, and Cardinals are admittedly tough, and the Colts might not be favored in any of them, although they could be against New England at home.

Jonathan Taylor and the Colts High-Flying Offense

Credit: AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

But with five 30+ point scoring performances in the past six weeks, the Colts offense has climbed to become the league’s fifth-highest scoring team, now averaging 28.1 points per game. While Carson Wentz’s passing offense ranks just 23rd in the NFL, second-year running back Jonathan Taylor has burst on to the scene to help the Colts become an offensive juggernaut. Taylor has been unstoppable, scoring a touchdown in eight straight games, and coming off a mind-boggling 185-yard, five-touchdown (four rushing, one receiving) performance in the Colts Week 11 win over the Bills. Taylor has rushed for over 100 yards in six of his past eight contests, and has recently taken the season rushing yardage lead from the injured Derrick Henry with 1,122 yards on the ground this year. Taylor’s 13 rushing scores are also a league-high through 11 weeks.

Wentz, in his first season with the Colts, has thrown just one touchdown pass and 286 yards over the past two weeks: and yet Indianapolis scored 64 points in two wins. With Taylor’s dominance on the ground, Wentz doesn’t have do anything flashy or risky to keep the offense churning. He’s averaged 5.3 yards per attempt over the past two weeks, playing it safe and committing zero turnovers.

But if the Colts need Wentz to empty his toolbox and play his best football, he’s more than capable. Wentz threw for 402 yards and two touchdowns with 128.5 passer rating in a 31-25 Week 5 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In Week 9’s blowout win over the New York Jets, Wentz posted a season-high 134.3 passer rating with three passing scores and over 73% of his pass attempts being completed in a 45-30 win. Wentz averaged 11.5 yards per attempt against the Ravens, proving he can have an efficient passing day even when taking deep shots, thanks to threats like Michael Pittman Jr.

That’s not to say Wentz is always going to be the quarterback you need him to be. In a Week 8 loss to the Titans, Wentz threw two interceptions (one a crippling pick six from his own endzone,) completed just 53% of his passes, and had a season-low 4.5 yards per passing attempt. Amazingly, the Colts still had a chance to win this game in overtime. Indianapolis hasn’t lost by more than six points since a 25-16 Week 3 loss to the Titans. Wentz has good weeks and bad weeks, yet the Colts are still in the game (and usually on the winning end) every week for the past eight weeks.

Will the Colts Make the Playoffs?

Credit: Colts Wire/USA Today

If the both the passing and rushing offense are clicking, there’s no reason the Colts won’t be able to keep up with the likes of the Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Patriots. Tampa Bay and Arizona have lethal offenses, but the Colts are one of the few teams that may be able to keep up with them.

Again, if the Colts can handle their matchups with the Texans, Jaguars, and Raiders, just one more win should be enough to get the Colts into the postseason at 10-8. I’m not sure which team it will come against, though beating New England would play best in to the Colts favor, but I am confident Indianapolis will win at least one of these three matchups.

Barring a change of fortune, an epic collapse, or a couple teams in the wildcard race running the table, the Colts should be able to qualify for the postseason this year. Wentz could become the third different quarterback to lead the Colts to the playoffs in the past four years, with Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck doing so in 2020 and 2018. Wentz, Taylor, and company would then be searching for the Colts first playoff win since Luck defeated the Texans in the wildcard round of the 2018-19 NFL playoffs.

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Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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