Coming into the 2018 NFL season, there were not too many people outside of Indianapolis who thought the Colts were going to amount to much this season. As far as we all knew before the season began, the offensive line was still terrible. There was no reason to believe the defense was going to be any better than it had been in recent years.

But they were getting Andrew Luck back.

Yes, getting their franchise quarterback back was a good reason for the hometown fans to be optimistic and even excited for the season. But playoffs?

Nah. No way. Not going to happen. No chance whatsoever—and then the season started, and the haters felt vindicated.

To be fair, the Colts were competitive in just about every game in their 1-5 start. But too many mistakes by Luck and others doomed them in each game. It didn’t help that they often struggled to run the ball as well.

At 1-5, they looked dead in the water. Luck was making them more competitive, but without other guys stepping up, they were not going to be much better. Then it happened.

Guys started to step up.

The offensive line had not played poorly but figured out how to do better. Over the last five games, they have not allowed Luck to be sacked once. In the first five games he was only sacked ten times, so they were doing well. But they figured out how to play even better.

Drew Brees is the only quarterback sacked fewer times than Luck now (nine compared to ten for Luck).

Through the first five games, the Colts running game was practically nonexistent. But then Marlon Mack returned from an early injury to get things moving. He had 89 yards against the Jets and followed that up with two 100+ yard days before coming back down to Earth against Jacksonville (29 yards).

He had a respectable outing in the blowout win over the Titans (16 carries for 61 yards). Between the 78.5 yards a game Mack is averaging and the 31.8 by Jordan Wilkins and 25.5 by Nyheim Hines, the Colts have managed to develop a respectable run game (14th overall; 112.8 yards a game).

So, they are finally protecting the quarterback and are doing a decent job of running the ball. Andrew Luck is certainly doing his part in the passing game. With three touchdown passes against the Tennessee Titans in Week 11, he has seven consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes.

But in recent years with the Colts, it hasn’t been the offense that was the problem. It was the defense. They couldn’t stop anyone from scoring—but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore (or at least not all the time}.

The Colts are holding teams to an average of 24.9 points a game so far this season (18th overall). That isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either. Since they are averaging 29.8 points a game on offense, what they are doing on defense is just fine.

Does this mean they are actually contenders this season?

Many would say no and point to the four teams the Colts beat during their winning streak. To be fair, the Bills, Raiders, and Jaguars are not very good this season. Tennessee had been good, but they also had injury issues last week.

 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck celebrates after Jack Doyle scored on a three yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

When they did face teams considered real contenders, they didn’t fare so well. But those games (Eagles, Texans, and Patriots) came within the first five weeks of the season.

A case could be made that the Colts have evolved and improved since their dreadful start. If that is indeed the case, then the AFC could have a new contender in its midst. But how can we know that they are?

The Colts will get a few chances in the weeks ahead to show how well they can play. After the Dolphins and the Jaguars, they will get to see the Houston Texans again followed by the Dallas Cowboys. Should they be able to survive against both Houston and Dallas, they will deserve much more respect than they are currently getting.

Does that mean they will be contenders? Can they win it all? Their odds are not too terrible. According to Betway Sports, the odds are +4000 to win the Super Bowl (as of November 21).

Contenders? Eh—it may still be a stretch to call them contenders. But it certainly wouldn’t be shocking to see them ruin the party for someone else.

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