Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote an ESPN Insider story breaking down the fact that NFL teams that start the season 0-2 are unlikely to make the playoffs. While this is certainly true and while the Colts have started the season 0-2 the last two seasons and went on to not make the playoffs, this year could be different.
The biggest thing in the Colts favor to this point has been that the AFC South has not looked considerably better. As expected, the Titans have started the season as the early front-runners but the Texans and Jaguars are entirely beatable for their own set of reasons. At this point, the primary reason is that despite seasons of relatively high draft picks and a massive focus on defense and running backs, neither has a quarterback that has proven anything in the NFL (okay, Bortles has proven that he’s bad).
The second thing in the Colts favor is what continues to be a soft schedule. In two of the next three weeks Indianapolis faces two teams that are possibly even worse than they are — even without Andrew Luck. The Browns and 49ers represent teams that the Colts have to beat in order to keep their hopes alive. After the next three games, which includes a likely loss on the road in Seattle, Indy kicks off its division schedule on the road against the Titans.
While this appears like a sure loss without Andrew Luck, and it doesn’t look promising that he will be back at this point, the Titans haven’t beaten the Colts since 2011 and have only beaten the Colts once since 2008. It is likely that Brissett will have been the starter for the previous four games, and that he might already have two wins under his belt. By this point, he should have a full grasp of the playbook and the Colts will likely have Vontae Davis and Ryan Kelly back on the field.
The odds are against them, and a glance at the remaining schedule might make this the most important game of the season, but we’ve already learned some things about this Colts team that could take the Titans by surprise.
While the rest of the NFL might still be asleep on what is happening in Naptown, this defense could be starting to turn a corner. We already know that the defensive line is worlds better than what it has been in recent years and that the front seven has been making it very difficult for opponents to run the football. Last week, our rookie defensive backs gave early reasons to feel confident in their progress and in their long-term prospects as legitimate NFL starters.
This week Vontae Davis and Darius Butler returned to practice. When or if Clayton Geathers also returns, this secondary could get really talented, really quickly.
Last week the Colts sacked Carson Palmer four times and the defense had seven tackles for a loss. And this group hasn’t started its two best defensive players yet? Uh oh, Ballard and Monachino might be on to something here. Well, at least they have given fans something fun to watch develop.
The point is that the Colts have already shown signs of coming a very long way after their embarrassing blowout in Los Angeles. If the team can get and stay healthy, this defense in particular could really be hitting its stride six weeks into the season. The offense will have some continuity by that point. Chester Rogers might even return from his hamstring injury and insert more fire power into the offense.
It’s not implausible that the team could turn things around. It will have to fight its way out of a hole — one that it has already put itself in — but its reasonable to believe that when Luck returns, if this defense can continue coming together, the Colts will be a tough team to beat in the back half of the season.
3-5 in the first half could get it done if Luck and lead the team to 6-2 in the back half.
Aaron Schatz notes that three teams who started the year 0-2 have made the playoffs over the last two seasons. Overall, there is a 42 percent chance that at least one 0-2 team will get there. Right now, Schatz rates the Colts chances behind the Chargers, Giants, Saints, Bears, and Bengals. Still, he notes that the Colts are somewhat different than the other 0-2 teams because if Andrew Luck returns healthy he represents a singular change that none of the other 0-2 teams have to look forward to.
If Luck returns soon, the Colts can probably jump back into the division race because no AFC South team has started 2-0.
There is still a lot of work to do if the Colts hope to dig themselves out of an early hole. It all starts with this weekend’s game against the 0-2 Browns, but don’t go to sleep on them just yet. As awful as it might sound, 3-5 in the first 8 weeks might be enough to survive if the team can get Luck back healthy. Not that it matters but at the halfway point, with a healthy Andrew Luck, I would bet that Schatz and other talking heads would put the Colts at the front of the line in terms of odds of making the playoffs for teams with a record of 3-5 or worse.
The trick is getting there.