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Are the Colts As Good/Bad As You Think?

Denver Broncos v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Two seasons ago, after 7 games, the Indianapolis Colts were sitting at 2 - 5 and I wrote an article titled “The Colts aren’t as bad as you think”. After I posted that, the team went 8 - 1 to finish the season. At the same point last year, the Colts were 5-2 and I said the team was not as good as their record (Are the Colts as good as you think?). After that article, the Colts finished 2 - 7.

Since apparently I have the power to dictate the rest of the season, I thought I would crunch the numbers and let the world know if the Colts 5-3 record is indicative of their play and how the season will turn out.


CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

In Chris Blystone’s recent power rankings article, six sources ranked the Colts between 11th and 15th with an average rank of 12.7 . . . so, 13th. Additionally, Vegas places the Colts tied as the 11th most likely team to win the Superbowl at 30 to 1.

Since the Colts are in a 6 way tie for 10th in actual record, that all pretty much lines up with “you are what your record is”.

I disagree . . . again.


POINT DIFFERENTIALS

Point differentials are a strong indicator of how good a team is.

Fun fact: Did you know that games are decided by point differentials?

If you look at the season team point differentials (per game), the top 3 teams are KC, BAL and PIT, which pretty much aligns with consensus power rankings. Where do the Colts rank in point differential? 7th, much higher than their consensus ranking.

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Rank Team Points For Points Against Diff Games Avg Diff
Rank Team Points For Points Against Diff Games Avg Diff
1 KC 286 183 103 9 11.4
2 BAL 227 142 85 8 10.6
3 PIT 235 161 74 8 9.3
4 MIA 222 161 61 8 7.6
5 ARI 234 180 54 8 6.8
6 GB 253 204 49 8 6.1
7 IND 208 160 48 8 6.0
8 NO 244 200 44 8 5.5
9 TB 250 203 47 9 5.2
10 LA 193 152 41 8 5.1
11 SEA 274 243 31 8 3.9
12 TEN 232 201 31 8 3.9
13 SF 225 207 18 9 2.0
14 BUF 242 233 9 9 1.0
15 ATL 243 251 -8 9 (0.9)
16 CHI 178 190 -12 9 (1.3)
17 LAC 205 216 -11 8 (1.4)
18 LV 218 229 -11 8 (1.4)
19 CAR 210 226 -16 9 (1.8)
20 MIN 217 234 -17 8 (2.1)
21 PHI 186 205 -19 8 (2.4)
22 CIN 194 214 -20 8 (2.5)
23 NE 166 194 -28 8 (3.5)
24 CLE 206 237 -31 8 (3.9)
25 WAS 153 188 -35 8 (4.4)
26 DEN 174 217 -43 8 (5.4)
27 DET 197 240 -43 8 (5.4)
28 NYG 168 219 -51 9 (5.7)
29 HOU 193 242 -49 8 (6.1)
30 JAX 179 247 -68 8 (8.5)
31 DAL 204 290 -86 9 (9.6)
32 NYJ 121 268 -147 9 (16.3)

PYTHAGOREAN WINS

Football Outsiders takes point differentials one step further and performs an Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation, which estimates the number of wins a team “should have” given their cumulative points for and against. Historically, that measure has been a pretty accurate way to “guess” wins.

According to their math, the Colts are playing like a team who wins 10.5 games, which is the 6th highest Pythagorean wins. That isn’t a prediction of wins, but rather simply a strength index.


BLOWOUTS

Good teams blowout bad teams and bad teams get blown out. So far this season, the Colts have accumulated 3 wins by 3 or more scores, but 0 losses by that much.

That differential of 3 net blowouts ties for the most in the league (BAL, MIA). At the other end of the spectrum is the Jets (0 blowouts, blown out 5 times).


DRIVE SUCCESS RATE

Drive Success Rate is a very good predictor of future point differentials. The Colts have a season long offensive DSR of 75.3% which in past years would have been great, but in this offensive heavy year, that is only 18th best. Defensively, the story is much better, as the Colts have given up a paltry 69.1% DSR ranking them as the 2nd best defensive unit.

The differential between those numbers (6.2%) is the 3rd highest net DSR, suggesting the team is much stronger than their record.


PREDICTIVE MODEL

This year, I created a model using a team’s past performance in rushing, passing and special teams to provide a win probability for every game and it has been more successful than Vegas spreads in predicting winners (so far). The model has estimated that at this point in the season, the Colts should have had 4.9 wins, so take that as you will.

For the rest of the year, my model thinks the Colts get another 4.7 wins, for a total of 9.6 on the season. That may not seem that great, but the model’s variance is pretty tight. Only a few teams get more than 10 or less than 6 predicted wins, even though in reality that number will likely be higher.

The bottom line is that 9.6 wins is the 7th highest predicted wins in the league.


DVOA

So far, none of these measures have adjusted for opponent. Football Outsiders is famous for ranking teams by their DVOA metric, which includes an opponent adjustment, so let’s look at that.

The Colts schedule has been pretty easy so far and you would think they would be adjusted down quite a bit in DVOA. However, even after those adjustments, the Colts have the 6th highest team DVOA in the league (22nd offense, 3rd defense, 6th special teams).


CONCLUSION

By almost every measure, the Colts are easily a top 10 team, probably closer to 7th or 8th. With everything I know today, I think a 10 win season is probable. Unfortunately, I have the Titans at 11 wins giving them the division. No matter, Colts still get in the playoffs with a wildcard where they will face . . . the Titans.