Entering the season, the Colts had plenty of doubters. After the first two weeks of the season, the Colts had even more doubters. Even now, there are plenty who doubt the Colts. But what we've seen from the Colts recently is more than just a team playing well, it's a team playing like the Super Bowl contenders they are.
We knew the Colts offense would be very good. Currently, they rank first in the NFL in yards per game and points per game. Led by MVP-candidate Andrew Luck, who entering this weekend was leading the NFL in yards, touchdowns, completions, and attempts, the Colts passing attack was the number one passing offense in football. T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Ahmad Bradshaw, and others have all stepped up to contribute to the offense, and overall the pass protection has been much better too. The rushing attack hasn't been great, but Trent Richardson is playing much better this year and looked better than he ever has in a Colts uniform on Sunday against the Bengals. We knew coming into the season that the offense would be great, and they've proved to be even better than we anticipated through the first seven weeks of the season.
We knew the Colts special teams would be very good as well - that's just what happens when you have Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri. McAfee is playing better than any special teams player in the league so far this year. Entering the game, he led the league in touchbacks on kickoffs, net yards per punt, and onside kicks recovered. 13 of his 27 punts have been pinned inside the 20 yard line, with only one touchback. He was named the AFC's Special Teams Player of the Month for September and the AFC's Special Teams Player of the Week for week six. Adam Vinatieri has yet to miss a kick this year, going a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals (with a long of 50, coming Sunday) and a perfect 24-for-24 on extra points. The Colts coverage units have been spectacular so far this season, too, and the return game has been good enough. We knew entering the season that the Colts' would have a good special teams' unit, though they have been better than expected too.
Really, there were only two question marks about this Colts team - the defense and the coaching. In the team's current five-game winning streak, those two areas have developed into strengths instead of question marks, and in doing so the Colts have developed into legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Consider the defense. On Sunday, they completely dominated the game from start to finish. They allowed just one third down conversion on thirteen tries. They stopped the Bengals' only fourth down attempt of the game. They forced eight straight three-and-outs to open the game. They held the Bengals to just 135 total yards - 88 of which came on the final two drives of the game when the Colts already led by 24-points. The Colts racked up four sacks and held the Bengals to zero points. It was about more than just the stats, however - the Colts played a physical football game and set the tone defensively, something we haven't seen much of from them in a while.
The Colts are white-hot, having won five games in a row, many of them in convincing fashion. In those five games, the Colts are allowing an average of 15 points per game and 271.8 yards per game. They've allowed just 8 third down conversions on 51 attempts - including only one in each of the past four games. They've allowed teams to convert just 1 of 5 fourth down attempts. The defense has forced 11 turnovers and recorded 20 sacks. Lest you think that the defense has just beat up on the AFC South, consider that two of the games (the two best, actually) came against top-ten offenses, statistically, in both yards per game and points per game (the Ravens and the Bengals). And the Colts have done it while missing some starters for various games - Robert Mathis (IR), Jerrell Freeman, Arthur Jones, Darius Butler, LaRon Landry (I mean, he was technically a starter).
Regarding the coaching staff, I wrote about it a few days before the most recent game. Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, Greg Manusky and Tom McMahon all deserve a ton of credit for what the Colts have done. They've gone from being question marks to being major contributors to a five-game winning streak. They're helping the team win games now, and it's hard to ask for much more from them. Let's especially give Pagano and Manusky credit - what they've done with this defense is downright fantastic.
The Colts started the season 0-2, and that will cause some to still overlook them. But they went to Denver, fell behind 24-0 in the first half, and stormed back to have plenty of chances to win in a one-possession loss. The next week, you can make a great argument that the Colts should have won but made some crucial mistakes late to lose it on a last-second field goal. Since then, the Colts have won five in a row by an average of 18 points. They've knocked off two of the AFC's better teams in the Ravens and the Bengals, and right now the Colts have to be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders. There's still Denver. There's still New England. And there's still other teams that could get hot. But right now, I think you'd be crazy to suggest anything else than the Colts as for real. They're playing as well as any team in the NFL right now. They have the league's number one offense, the league's best special teams unit (arguably), and in the past five weeks, arguably the NFL's best defense. The coaching staff has become a strength for the team instead of a weakness.
There still could be struggles ahead for the Colts. They have a tough schedule, with teams like the Steelers, Giants, Patriots, Cowboys, and others still looming. But they've proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. They've built the monster, and now that monster is dominating teams. They're not the favorites to win it all, but you'd better believe the Colts have firmly established themselves as Super Bowl contenders.