This season has not been a perfect one by a long stretch. The Colts have suffered a number of injuries and lost out on games it seems they should have won. They sit at 3-5, and through the first half of their season they faced the toughest stretch of their schedule.
Despite the humbling start, Colts fans have been eerily confident in the direction of the team. So much so, that they have stood in stark contrast to the other fan bases of the AFC South. Those fan bases have seen their confidence erode from beneath them as their teams disappoint through their performance, due to injury, or in the Texans’ case, show just how close to the edge of the cliff they are operating.
Throughout all this, Colts fans have had a relatively flat and confident air about them. Why? Because they entered this season looking for marked improvement. The organization set realistic expectations for their fans and the primary measuring stick for this season’s success was always going to be if they managed to fix some issues that have existed before.
That has clearly been the case. The Colts’ offensive line with the additions of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith has gone from a complete liability to a strength of the offense in a season. The linebacker group looks dramatically better with Darius Leonard and a healthy Anthony Walker. The running backs with the emergence of Marlon Mack and the contributions of Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins look set to play a pivotal role in the offense for years to come. Oh, and the tight ends might be the most effective and well used tight end group in the league, with Eric Ebron leading the way and having a career year.
Are there other holes? Definitely. The secondary still needs work, the team needs more wide receivers to aid T.Y. Hilton, and they need more from their defensive line, though that has also seen measurable improvement. More than that, this team hasn’t simply rolled over and been beaten down like they were sometimes in the past. Their worst performance of the season came against the Patriots, but it also featured largely the 4th string defense due to an absurd number of injuries both before and during the game. Because of this, fans have remained confident despite underwhelming results.
Now, however, fans have a different reason to be confident. The AFC South has been a bit of a dumpster fire this season. The rest of the AFC hasn’t been all that much better. The playoff race remains absolutely wide open with half the season to go. What’s more, the Colts have a much more favorable stretch in their schedule, and are reaching their healthiest point as a team so far in the season.
All this has come to a head to leave Colts fans feeling pretty good as they prepare for the arrival of the Jaguars this Sunday. Make no mistake, this is not a rubber stamp W for the Colts. This Jaguars team has all the elements needed to thump most of the AFC. However, anyone who has ever attempted to bake before knows that just because you have all the ingredients doesn’t mean you can make something incredible.
Last season everything worked for them. This season it seems that the coaches forgot to grease the pan, set the oven too hot, and didn’t hear the timer when it went off. It has been a bit of a disaster. However, those pieces are still there, and the team has had a bye week to rest. It is completely possible that they will come out of their bye week looking more like we expected them to this offseason.
Still, the fact that a team starting so much young talent as well as having so many key contributions from their first and second year players is able to look at the back half of their schedule and see a very realistic playoff berth has buoyed Colts fans’ confidence to the highest point it has been all season. This week’s FanPulse survey shows a 94% confident feeling about the direction the team is going, and a win Sunday would only strengthen that feeling.
Elsewhere around the division, fans are not feeling so confident. The Texans have looked like a team that could get hot and make a real run if they can stay healthy, but that hasn’t stopped Texans fans from limited expectations. Just 53% feel good about the team going forward.
The Titans got a win this week as well, but given their many issues and some of the games ahead for them, fan expectations remain low at just 45%.
The Jaguars have fallen the farthest. Through week 5, Jags fans remained very sure their team could replicate its prior success. Since then, as the team has stumbled, the wheels have fallen off for most fans and they’ve seen their confidence plummet to just 12%.
The Colts have a chance to show that they are an improved team and that fans were right to place confidence in their direction. If they can have a strong back half of their season, they might be able to show that the fruits of that progress are ripening earlier than many of us thought they could.
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