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Are the Colts a Playoff Team?

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

What it Would Take to Make the Playoffs

Before we even start to consider if the Colts are a playoff team, we need to look into whether or not they have a good chance of making the playoffs at this point. As it stands in the AFC, there are two teams that are near locks for their division titles and are locks for the playoffs: Patriots and Ravens.

The Chiefs are likely to win the AFC West division crown, but have a big match-up this week against the Raiders, who are one game back. The Colts are still in a fight for the AFC South division with the 7-4 Houston Texans and the emerging 6-5 Tennessee Titans. These teams are also in the hunt for a wildcard spot.

The Buffalo Bills, at 8-3, are looking very good for the first Wild Card spot, and with a few easy match-ups ahead, it looks like they’ll be getting that spot. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are also in the hunt for the 2nd Wild Card spot. In essence, the 6-5 Colts are battling against the following teams for either the division or the 2nd wildcard spot:

  • 7-4 Houston Texans
  • 7-4 Kansas City Chiefs
  • 6-5 Tennessee Titans
  • 6-5 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 6-5 Oakland Raiders
  • 5-6 Cleveland Browns

The Colts have a massive game against the Titans this week, one that if they lose, they can kiss their chances of making the playoffs almost entirely away.

The Steelers and Raiders hold tiebreakers over the Colts thanks to head-to-head victories. In short, the Colts can’t end up tied with the Steelers or Raiders.

If the Colts get to 8-8, which means they go 2-3 in their last 5 games, then they will not make the playoffs. If they get to 9-7, which means they go 3-2 in their last 5 games, then they have around a 50% chance of making the playoffs, but it means that the Raiders nor the Steelers can go 3-2 and the Texans would have to go 2-3 to make things easier for the Colts. If Indy ends up getting to 10-6, which means they go 4-1 in their last 5 games, then the odds of making the playoffs are very good, almost likely, and they would have a decent chance of winning the division. If they get to 11-5, which means they go 5-0 in their last 5 games, then the wildcard spot is definitely a lock and they would have a very good chance at winning the division.

Are They Playing like a Playoff Team?

Over the past ten years, the average point differential of teams seeded from 3 to 6 in the AFC has been +68. The standard deviation of all the figures is 53. That figure measures the dispersion of the group.

In Layman terms, if you add and subtract 53 from 68, you can figure out what are good point differentials and what are bad point differentials. 68 plus 53 equals 121, so any point differential above 121 would be considered extremely good for a team seeded from 3 to 6. There weren’t many teams that scored above 121, but the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars were one of them and they made it to the AFC Championship only to lose narrowly to the Patriots. That was a very good team. On the other end of the spectrum, 68 minus 53 is 15. This is the relevant figure. A number below this figure would indicate that a team is bad and not worthy of a playoff spot. This includes any team with a negative point differential, which includes the 2012 Colts playoff team.

As it stands right now, the 2019 Colts team through 11 games has a point differential of +18. They’re barely qualifying as a “legit playoff team”. If anything, they are at the bottom of that spectrum. The Oakland Raiders, a team tied with the Colts, are at -56, which is without a doubt the lowest of any team and unless they turn it around, it would be a statistical miracle (and one of the biggest anomalies ever) if they were to make a playoff with a figure that low.

To sum it up without using numbers, if the Colts keep playing like they’ve been playing, they might just squeak into the playoffs and be a legit but not serious playoff team. If they play just slightly better, they’ll have a good chance of making the playoffs and be a lot more respectable. If they lose points overall from here on in, then this team will have a tough time of making the playoffs and if they do, they won’t be serious in any sense.

Since 2009, AFC Playoff teams (all seeds) with a point differential of less than +15 are 2-4 and have never made it past the second round. That +15 figure is crucial because it seems to separate the good from the bad. If the Colts fall below that figure, even if they were to make the playoffs, their run wouldn’t last long.

Let’s play the hypothetical game. If the Colts were to win their last 5 games by an average of 7 points a game, that would up their point differential to +53. AFC teams with a point differential of +53 or lower are 4-14 since 2009 and 5-19 since 2005. +53 or below shows that those teams are not legitimate and are not serious playoff teams as they have bad losing records and usually get beat early. So, even if the Colts win, on average by 7 points the rest of the season and make the playoffs, they won’t be serious contenders.

A point differential of +53 means that in an average game, the Colts would win by 3 points. That is not a large amount and considering that the Patriots and Ravens are at 183 and 184, respectively, it shows the disparity between the pretty good and the great teams of the NFL. By comparison, the Ravens and Patriots are winning games by an average of 16 points. Those are very high and impressive numbers.

While the road wins against the Chiefs and Titans plus a season split with the Texans looks respectable on paper, the Colts will need to beat a tough time like the Saints or Panthers for the non-stat analysts to be impressed.

The Final Answer

So, as it stands, the Colts are playing like a playoff team right now as their point differential and big wins over Kansas City, Houston and potentially Carolina, New Orleans and/or Tennessee would give them a good slate of wins and they would look respectable on paper. However, the reality is, even if they improve their play, to the point where get their point differential to +53, they are not a serious contender in the AFC and are a team you can expect to make a playoff run.

Are they playing like a playoff team? Technically yes right now, but if their play drops over the last 5 games, then the answer becomes no.

If they make the playoffs, can you expect them to be a serious contender? Definitely not.


Do you think the Colts a legitimate playoff team as of right now?

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