The Colts aren’t out of the playoff picture, not even close. In the AFC South, all things are possible.
To explain how the Colts have a very good chance of winning the division, we need to break things down into three different parts:
- The current state of the team
- The current state of the division
- The remaining schedule and the important games
Current State of the Team
The Colts have been battered and beaten with injuries this season. The Colts currently have the following key players on injured reserve:
- Joe Haeg
- Matthias Farley
- Matt Slauson
Marcus Johnson and Deon Cain are two young depth players also on injured reserve. So while a lot of players have been injured, there aren’t many important key players who are out for the season. That’s reason number one to be optimistic.
We’ll use the point differential formula to calculate the “true” level of play of each team. This formula is used in all sports by bettors and analysts to determine how good a team really is. The point differential formula is:
(Points Scored)^2 / ((Points Scored)^2 + (Points Allowed)^2)
As it stands right now, the Colts are playing like a team that should have 2.5 wins (according to the point differential formula); this means that on paper, they are a 7-9 football team based on their play through the first 6 games. A 7-9 football team would come relatively close to a playoff spot in this division.
The Colts are losing 4.7 points per game. If the Colts were to finish the season as a 9-7 team, which means finishing the season 8-2, they would need to continue scoring 25 points a game (which is what they do now), but allow 12 to 13 fewer points per game. The Colts are allowing 30 points per game right now and in order to get to 9-7, they’ll need to allow only 17 to 18 points per game (average) in the final 10 games. The 8 remaining teams they will face are only averaging 18 points per game, so on paper, the Colts allowing only 18 points per game is very doable.
If we completely ignore the numbers, there are few things that are obvious:
- Andrew Luck has not been great through the first 6 games and I believe that’s due to rust and still adjusting to the NFL game after a very long layoff. As the season goes on, I believe he’ll only get stronger and his production will improve as he gets more and more comfortable.
- The Colts have had to play the last few games without their top two receivers, TY Hilton and Jack Doyle; having them back will only help the flow of the passing game and not put a reliance on average and below average receivers like Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal.
- The play of the offensive line has improved the last few games. Braden Smith has been serviceable and Anthony Castonzo’s return has added stability. With those two on the line, on top of a healthy Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson, the Colts should be just fine up front moving forward. Like Luck but in a different way, the two rookies, Smith and Nelson, are still adjusting to the NFL game, its speed and the very high quality of play. As the season goes on, they’ll get more comfortable and more accustomed to life in the NFL.
- The Colts have a very young defense, with most of their starters being 25 or younger. Considering it’s a completely new coaching staff and many new faces, things not being perfect at the beginning of the season isn’t a surprise to anyone. However, the talent level is obvious, with Darius Leonard looking like a potential rookie of the year candidate and Malik Hooker playing at a high level. Hooker is a good example of a player who has not shined on paper, but has shined on film. As the season goes along, this team should gel well.
The Current State of the Division
The Titans, Texans and Jaguars are all 3-3 with a slew of different issues. All three teams have negative point differentials and two teams (Titans and Jaguars) are dealing with several injuries to key players.
The Titans don’t have a healthy offensive line and Marcus Mariota has been banged up all season and clearly isn’t 100%. The Titans are also missing two key starters for the entire season with Delanie Walker and Jon Cyprien on injured reserve. They’re only averaging 14.5 points per game and they have only scored more than 20 points once this season. Their offense is having major issues.
The Jaguars are also having injury issues. Leonard Fournette has barely played this season and his timetable to return is still unknown. They are also missing a few starters on offense with Cam Robinson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Marqise Lee all being on injured reserve. Their supposedly stout defense has also been picked apart in recent weeks, allowing 70 points in the last 2 games, which indicates that they might not be as strong on defense as people might think.
The Texans, in my opinion, are the most dangerous team to the Colts. They’re on a three game win streak and while they have a slightly tougher remaining schedule than the Colts, it is still relatively easy. The biggest game of the season might be the Week 14 matchup in Houston. Their biggest issue has been inconsistency. Their three wins came in one score games and they could’ve easily lost all three games. Their first win came against the Colts in overtime. The second came against the Cowboys in overtime. Both of those wins essentially came because of coaching decisions from their opponents. Their last win came against the lowly Bills and they only won because of an ugly interception from the spectacularly terrible Nathan Peterman. To say that they are a strong team is a stretch.
As it stands, according to the point differential formula:
- The Texans are playing like an 8-8 team.
- The Jaguars are playing like a 7-9 team.
- The Titans are playing like a 6-10 team.
There is a very strong chance that none of the three AFC South opponents finish with a winning record.
Remaining Schedule + Important Games
The season isn’t half over, so the Colts can still make up plenty of ground in the remaining 10 games. Of the remaining 8 teams the Colts play, only one has a winning record: the Miami Dolphins. Seven of the eight teams have negative point differentials, with only the Dallas Cowboys having a positive point differential. There is a very good chance that the 8 teams the Colts play in the final 10 games will not have winning records come season’s end. To sum that all up, the Colts will have an easy schedule for the rest of the season.
The important games are obvious, they have five remaining divisional games and in order to win the division they’ll need to win at least 4 of them. Three of those five games will be on the road, so winning those two home games are musts. As mentioned earlier, the Week 14 matchup against the Texans in Houston will be the biggest game of the season for the Colts. That will be a must-win game. If they can win both divisional home games, the Week 14 Texans matchup and one of the other two road divisional games, the Colts will seriously be in business.
The Colts are 20-1 underdogs to win the division, according to Vegas, so while the chances of winning the division aren’t likely (according to them), they certainly aren’t impossible and the cards seem to be stacking up properly. The Colts are playing many below average teams and with not-so-strong offenses. I believe if the Colts get to 9-7, they will win the division outright, because I don’t believe the other AFC South teams, based on their schedule and the state of their teams are strong enough to post winning records to finish the season.
The numbers suggest that the Colts are not far behind in the division and making it to the playoffs is still a very real possibility based on the state of their team, the AFC South and their remaining schedule. I believe strongly in the Colts pulling through, to the point that I even made a $15 bet on the Colts to win the division.