The Indianapolis Colts are in the Playoffs – How Far Will They Go? [POLL]
After an unbelievable turnaround, the Indianapolis Colts are 11-5 and enter the NFL playoffs as AFC's fifth seed. Will the fairy tale continue, or will their Cinderella story come to an end? I have thoughts.
No one, myself included, would have ever predicted that a team who ended last season with two wins and fourteen losses would make a turnaround like this, especially after the organization literally rid themselves of nearly everyone who had a hand in their success over the past 10+ years. Peyton Manning — gone. General Manager Bill Polian — gone. Coach Jim Caldwell — gone. Numerous players such as Gary Brackett and Joseph Addai found themselves out of a job as well after that forgettable season.
To replace them, they drafted Andrew Luck with the first pick in April's draft, hired Chuck Pagano, a man with years of coaching experience at both the college and professional level, but only held the roll of Defensive Coordinator for one year with the Baltimore Ravens, and brought in former Philadelphia Eagles Director of Scouting, Ryan Grigson to run the club as General Manager. Couple that with fact that a sizable portion of the roster was overturned, and you have a team that was supposed to be in "rebuilding mode".
But it seems the Colts didn't get that memo.
I told anyone who would listen that I would have been tickled with a 6-10 season. That's four more wins than last year. It also would have meant missing the playoffs again, but as long as there was some showing of improvement, I would have been happy. After an 11-5 season and a trip to the playoffs, color me ecstatic!
This wasn't supposed to happen. Along side Luck, the Colts have started rookie Vick Ballard at running back, rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and two rookie tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. But then, cancer happened. Coach Pagano's diagnosis of a treatable form of leukemia in late-September ignited a spark in the team that led them to play inspired football. They weren't just playing for themselves or their city, they were playing for the man who is leading them on their journey, they wanted to make him proud, and they did just that.
Now I'm not discounting the fact that they had one of the easier schedules this season. Their opponents were a combined 93-115. Two of those teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars ended their seasons with the same record the Colts ended theirs last year, 2-14. When the Colts played really good teams, they lost. New England pounded them 59-24 in week 11, and their first meeting with the Houston Texans a few weeks ago ended in a 29-17 loss. They even struggled at times against some of the not-so-good teams on their schedule, a few of those games needing late game comebacks to secure the win. But as the saying goes, "Champions find ways to win." Are the Colts championship material?
They enter this weekend's Wild Card round of the playoffs facing a Baltimore Ravens team that stumbled in the closing weeks of the regular season, losing four of their final five games after starting the season 9-2. Even though it's a home game for the Ravens, I predict the Colts will win and move on to the second round of the playoffs.
It's in the second round where I'm afraid reality will hit. Depending on how things play out, Andrew Luck and company will have to travel to either New England or Denver, and unfortunately I think that's where their youth and overall lack of experience will be exposed and their hopes of a trip to the Super Bowl will end. As noted earlier, the Patriots put a sound thumping on the Colts in week 11 and have only been playing better since then, and Denver is tied with Atlanta for the best record in the league thanks in part to good ol' number 18 picking up where he left off after recovering from four neck surgeries in just over a year. Although I'll be honest, I would love to see them head to Denver and knock Manning and the Broncos out of the hunt. Nothing against Peyton, but how many times did we Colts fans get all jacked up after a 10+ win season only to see the team get bounced from the playoffs in their first game? The correct answer is, more than I care to admit.
Even if my prediction comes true, I think the future looks exceptionally bright for our Colts. Andrew Luck and the rest of the rookies can only get better as they gain more experience from year to year which I think will make them a legitimate contender every season. What do you think?