<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Spoiler, hunter or contender? My <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GMCPlaybook?src=hash">#GMCPlaybook</a> question for <a href="https://twitter.com/SBNation">@SBNation</a>: what role will your team play? <a href="http://t.co/jBTDuZIm7O">http://t.co/jBTDuZIm7O</a></p>— Marshall Faulk (@marshallfaulk) <a href="https://twitter.com/marshallfaulk/status/529760769031012354">November 4, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Marshall Faulk's question for us this week deals with the Colts and the playoffs. We're not so much going to answer what the Colts need to do to make the playoffs because, well, they're lucky to play in the AFC South. But what role will the team play come playoff time?
Here's the thing about the Colts: they benefit greatly from playing in this division because they're easily the best team and are almost assured of making the playoffs. With that said, however, they're becoming a dangerous team that may get into the playoffs in part thanks to their division but could stay around in the playoffs and be dangerous. What role will the Colts play come playoff time - spoiler, hunter, or contender?
For our purposes, a spoiler is a team that isn't really expected to go far in the playoffs but could potentially ruin the chances of another team expected to go far. A hunter is a team that could make a run if things align in the right way but who aren't expected to compete with the favorite(s) in the conference. A contender is a team that has realistic Super Bowl expectations and who are regarded as a team that could legitimately play their way through the playoffs to the big game. When looking at the AFC playoff picture, I see three contenders, a couple of hunters, and then a couple of spoilers. I see teams like the Steelers, Chargers, Chiefs, etc. as hunters - those that could present a challenge and who could potentially make a run. There are plenty of potential spoilers as well, and then I see the Patriots, Broncos, and Colts as the three in the contender category right now. For this article, we'll look specifically at the Colts and I'll explain why I think they're in that category.
As for Denver, only two teams have scored more on them this season than the Indianapolis Colts, and those teams are the Seattle Seahawks (who needed overtime to score more than Indy) and the New England Patriots - both of whom were playing at home. Sure, the Broncos have improved since that game, but so have the Colts. And Indy came within seven in a game on the road when they weren't playing that well. As for New England, the Colts will face them coming off of the bye week in a huge game, no doubt.
The Colts have the league's number one offense in both points per game and yards per game and they have a quarterback on pace for the most passing yards in a single season and the fifth most passing touchdowns in a single season. Andrew Luck is playing at an MVP level and the offense is functioning at a terrific pace. There's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon and that should carry into the postseason. This Colts' team is built around offense and they have a dang good one. With the Broncos and Patriots both boasting a top-three offense in terms of points per game and MVP-candidate at quarterback, that's where the Colts are best built to contend with them - Indy has both of those things as well.
Defensively, the Colts have concerns. The biggest concern comes when facing a veteran quarterback who knows how to work against the blitz - something that Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of. But they've also shown a tendency to be able to get to the quarterback and have a top secondary against the pass. They can be exposed, no doubt, but they've been putting together a solid body of work this year. Ultimately, the Colts' defense won't be winning them many games come playoff time, but they can play well enough to let the offense win games.
Furthermore, the biggest concern for the Colts would be traveling to Foxborough to play the Patriots in the playoffs. But here's also where the Colts could hold an advantage: they've played the toughest part of their schedule and have come out with a 6-3 record. Now, in the final seven games, they have some tough games in the Patriots, Browns, and Cowboys, but they've also got three division games and a home game against the Redskins. New England, meanwhile, have the Colts, Lions, Packers, Chargers, Dolphins, Jets, and Bills left. The Broncos have the Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Chiefs, Bills, Chargers, Bengals, and Raiders. Clearly Denver's schedule is easier than New England's, but the Colts are set up well to finish with a good record. They have a very real shot at getting one of the AFC's top two seeds, which would mean they'd have to play just at most one road game to get to the Super Bowl. They don't need a top two seed to compete, but it's another factor that could help.
Ultimately, this Colts team has been led by their offense but helped by a surprising defense and a stellar special teams unit. As long as Andrew Luck is at quarterback for the Colts they'll be scoring points and they'll be contenders in the AFC.
For more on the Colts as contenders, check out this article. It's from a couple weeks ago, but much of what is said still rings true.