After a tough road loss to the Houston Texans, the Colts have left everyone wondering the same thing: Is this a playoff team or isn’t it? The power rankings this week illustrate that continued question. Earlier in the year the team stepped up to win tough games, but over the past month of football, a lot more has gone wrong than right.
A commanding win against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars is beginning to look less like a “get right” game and more like an example of just how adrift the Jaguars are. With the Colts receivers ineffective, hurt, or both, and with Marlon Mack sidelined with his broken hand for at least another week, this team is up against a make-or-break game against the Tennessee Titans. A win could very well have them right back in the playoff discussion. A loss likely spells the end of their playoff hopes.
Here’s where the Colts ranked in the national media:
Let’s start with the obvious: Darius Leonard should have been credited with the play of the night on defense, a strip and apparent fumble recovery that would have given the Colts new life in the final minutes against the Texans. But the replay review buzz never came, leaving the All-Pro linebacker to fume in the locker room after a gutting 20-17 loss. The Colts and their fans are right to be frustrated -- furious, even -- but the game wasn’t lost on that play alone. The Colts didn’t make enough impact plays on offense. Jacoby Brissett threw for just 129 yards and Eric Ebron led all Indy pass-catchers in receptions (4) and yards (44). Indy also got a bust performance from T.Y. Hilton, who returned from his calf injury but had two key drops that short-circuited potential scoring drives. With a chance to put the AFC South in a stranglehold, the Colts flinched.
What they’re thankful for: General manager Chris Ballard.
Ballard has helped the Colts weather the storm of Andrew Luck’s retirement in late August. The Colts likely would be in position for a top-five draft pick had Ballard not been adamant in putting together a complete roster, instead of one that relied heavily on Luck’s talent. The Colts have a defense that is in the top half of the NFL statistically, and they have the third-ranked rushing offense in the league -- all while being right in the thick of the AFC South race.
The Colts would be looking great in the playoff race had they won last Thursday. Their conservative game plan was a little too conservative. But what’s done is done, and the Colts will need to win at least three and maybe four of their last five games to make the playoffs.
Indy’s trip to Houston in Week 12 presented the Colts with a golden opportunity. Down the Texans for the second time in 2019, and the Colts would essentially have a two-game lead in the division with just five games remaining in the season.
That didn’t happen—largely because the Colts put forth a flat performance offensively. The team managed fewer than 300 total yards of offense and just 121 passing yards against a leaky Texans secondary despite the return of wideout T.Y. Hilton.
The Colts had success running the ball even without Marlon Mack, but they all but abandoned the passing game from the get-go. They attempted just 25 passes in the game against 39 carries—and most were of the “dink and dunk” variety (4.7 yards per attempt).
It was a disappointing performance in arguably the team’s biggest game of the year. While the Colts are by no means out of it in the AFC South, they have precious little margin for error.
AFC South Rivals
USA Today: 7
USA Today: 25
USA Today: 13