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Are the Colts a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

NFL: OCT 20 Texans at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We have reached the point at which it is safe to say one thing with certainty. The Indianapolis Colts are a good football team. Frank Reich has them playing together as a balanced team that is more than capable of picking up the slack when one unit comes out flat. They’ve won in a variety of ways and against teams with a multitude of different strengths.

What’s more, they don’t appear to have any clear and obvious weakness across the roster, something that typically begins to reveal itself about pretenders by the midpoint of the season. While there are certainly areas that the Colts can improve, there are none that present themselves as serious inhibitors to winning football.

All this begs the question: Just how good is this team?

NFL: SEP 22 Falcons at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ahead of this season, every analyst and national pundit said this was a team that would be at the top of the AFC and contending for a Super Bowl. The shocking retirement of Andrew Luck left everyone reeling, and most opinions immediately cemented that this Colts team would fall into the Jeff Fisher zone without its star QB.

Through week 7, the Colts have proven otherwise. Jacoby Brissett hasn’t been Andrew Luck, but with the surrounding talent on both sides of the ball, he hasn’t needed to be. Despite the team’s hard pivot to a run-heavy offense so far this season, Brissett is still on pace to throw 3,701 yards and 37 touchdowns with 8 interceptions.

He is efficient with the ball, evasive in the pocket, and gets the team in the right looks to win games. Maybe he doesn’t offer Luck’s ability to make ridiculous throws on the run or make devastating strikes downfield when the play seems dead. However, he also doesn’t make the same kinds of soul-crushing turnovers Luck tended to. Is he as good as Andrew Luck? No. But he doesn’t need to be.

Behind the Colts’ stellar offensive line, the run game has flourished and is on pace to rush for 2,059 yards on the season. That versatility of style and attack on offense makes the Colts a tough team to prepare for defensively. If you decide to stack the box to stop Marlon Mack from chewing you up and spitting you out on the ground, you risk letting T.Y. Hilton and Jacoby Brissett dice you up through the air. Oh, and given the offensive line’s talent, you might get run on anyway.

On the defensive side of the ball, early struggles had some worried. There were instances of bad tackling, poor angles, and generally fundamentally poor football. As this unit has gotten healthier up front, however, they have turned a corner. Jabaal Sheard’s return, and that of Darius Leonard, make this unit look very different.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The cornerbacks have stepped up their play, and the defensive line isn’t letting running backs go wild against them any longer. Add to that the emergence of Khari Willis as a starting caliber safety, and the potential return of Malik Hooker, and this unit looks pretty frisky and should only get better.

Another consideration is this team’s schedule. The combined record of their remaining opponents as they stand currently is 26-33. They’ll face just 3 teams who currently have a winning record during that time, and they just beat one of those them.

Which leaves us with that initial question. Is this Colts team a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

The knee jerk reaction might be to say no. This team isn’t ready. This offensive style and production can’t win the big game.

However a look at the numbers says maybe it is worth reexamining.

Frank Reich has taken a team with similar offensive production all the way to the Super Bowl and beat the Patriots to win it. Like that Eagles team, this Colts team is built in the trenches and has talented depth on both sides of the ball. They are a team that can win games in many different ways, and they face competition in the AFC that has been absolutely decimated by injuries.

It isn’t easy to make it to a Super Bowl. Harder still is actually winning one. But after back to back wins against the Chiefs and the Texans—teams that will almost certainly be in the playoff picture come December—and with a roster that is slowly getting healthier and finding its stride, the reasons this team can’t be playing meaningful football in February are slowly receding into the background.

There is a lot of business for the Colts to take care of between now and the end of the regular season, but with the team Chris Ballard has built, and the job Frank Reich is doing, it doesn’t seem like there is a team left in the NFL they cannot go toe-to-toe with.

This team is a contender.