Yes, The Colts Can Still Land A Top Pick -- Here's How

Well, Indy has officially played and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the somewhat arbitrary rest-of-year bellwether a portion of the fan base was clinging to in what's quietly been a lost season since the second defeat to Tennessee. The Steelers were widely believed to be the second-weakest team remaining on the Indianapolis schedule, with only the Houston Texans left in the "should be a layup" column. Let's all collectively come to grips with the fact that any additional wins actively hurt the Colts, not help, which means it's time to talk turkey in this week after Thanksgiving -- it's on to Draft SZN.

A lot has been made in the Stampede Blue comments sections about how the Colts don't have a chance at a "good pick" and thus can't select a quarterback in the first round of the coming draft because they've won "too many games already." That's nonsense. Let's explore:

(Mods - feel free to put this on the front page. Let's face it, it's that time of the season. No need to add me to the staff Slack channel, this is a free one. ;) )

Current Week 12 standings:

  • 14 Indy (4-7-1)
  • 13 Detroit (4-7)
  • 12 Jacksonville (4-7)
  • 11 Las Vegas (4-7)
  • 10 Cleveland (4-7)
  • 9 Pittsburgh (4-7)
  • 8 Green Bay (4-8)
  • 7 Arizona (4-8)
  • 6 Carolina (4-8)
  • 5 New Orleans (4-8)
  • 4 Denver (3-8)
  • 3 LA Rams (3-8)
  • 2 Chicago (3-9)
  • 1 Houston (1-9-1)
Couple of notes right off the bat:
*An incredible 8 of the 13 teams in front of Indy have already taken their bye. This means that while Indy is on bye, the majority of these teams will be playing another game. That's another opportunity for those teams to get a win, and as we'll see later, NOT ALL THE TEAMS IN FRONT OF INDY ARE TANKING. This is a very important point that I want to highlight, so I'm going to bold and cap it.

*Many of the teams in front of Indy are either A. Not particularly bad teams or B. currently are on a hot streak.

*Four of the teams in front of Indy don't own their own first-round draft pick, thus have no incentive to tank.

Let's look at all 13 teams ahead of Indy, their remaining schedules, their projected final record, their quarterback situation, and whether they actually own their first-round pick:

14 Indy (4-7-1)
*remaining schedule: at Cowboys, at Vikings, Chargers, at Giants, Texans
*my projected finish: LLLLW
*Final Record: 5-11-1
*Is This Team Tanking? Not yet
*Does This Team Need A QB? Yes
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Is this team tanking? It's a great question, and it's easy to make a case for both sides. However, let's set that aside -- is this team REALISTICALLY good enough to get more than a single win against the Texans out of their last five? I'd argue... no, they're not. However, it would be awesome if Irsay and Ballard sat down with Saturday and expressed in no uncertain terms that the team needs to end up with a top 10 draft pick. Perhaps that conversation has already taken place. But, as we'll see as we examine the next 13 teams, Indy controls its own destiny. If the front office wants to, the path is there. Let's move on.

13 Detroit (4-7)
*remaining schedule: Jags, Vikings, at Jets, at Panthers, Bears, at Packers
*my projected finish: LLLWWL
*Final Record: 6-11
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? Yes
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Until Thanksgiving, the Lions were one of the hottest teams in the NFL, boasting a three-game win streak and a lot of positive energy - an arrow-up team in the best way. They have some very winnable games remaining on their schedule, including a road trip to Carolina and a home game against Chicago that I'm putting in the win column BUT I think their Week 18 game against the Packers likely won't feature Rodgers and potentially other GB stars and this could be a win as well. Ditto for the Jets game, but we'll be conservative and say six wins.

Now, let's look at other factors -- is this team tanking? Absolutely not. Dan Campbell is trying to save his job and prove to ownership that he's moving the team in the right direction. The Lions will try to win every remaining game and won't be benching star players with phantom injuries to boost draft stock. That's key. Does this team need a QB? Well, the answer is yes to this objective reviewer... but it's uncertain whether that's a this season or a next season problem for Detroit's front office. Goff has been acceptable and the team is finally winning games, so I could totally see an affordable extension in Goff's Lions future. Hard to know exactly how Detroit's GM will play it.

12 Jacksonville (4-7)
*remaining schedule: at Lions, at Titans, Cowboys, at Jets, at Texans, Titans
*my projected finish: WLLLWL
*Final Record: 6-11
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Ahh, our first division rival to appear on this list. Not the easiest remaining schedule, but games against the Lions, Jets and Texans leave room to add to the win total. I'll be conservative again here and say they only go 2 out of 3 on those games. Titans' final game of the season, like I mentioned above, could feature very different players (backups) if the Titans have clinched a playoff spot.

With Trevor Lawrence under center and exciting young players at the skill position, this team isn't tanking. We saw it on Sunday, when they went for two against the Ravens and secured a huge win. The Glitter Kitties will continue to try to stack up wins, use this draft pick on the defense somewhere and build a culture under Dougie P.

11 Las Vegas (4-7)
*remaining schedule: Chargers, at Rams, Patriots, at Steelers, Niners, Chiefs
*my projected finish: WWLWLL
*Final Record: 7-10
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Look out, we've got a win streak! Las Vegas has won two in a row and finally shown some signs of life. The Raiders are way too talented to be in this spot, and certainly have enough elite players at important positions to make life hard for opponents if this team starts clicking. As such, I see a .500 stretch run with wins against the Chargers, Rams and Steelers.

Look, they just paid Carr, paid Crosby, brought in Davante Adams... this team is trying to win games with a rookie head coach desperate to prove he belongs. This team will go down swinging and, as long as the offense continues to cover up how bad the linebackers and secondary are, should snag a few more wins.

10 Cleveland (4-7)
*remaining schedule: at Texans, at Bengals, Ravens, Saints, at Commanders, at Steelers
*my projected finish: WLLWWW
*Final Record: 8-9
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? No, Houston

The Browns are the first team that really shouldn't be this bad. Why are they down here? Largely because they've been starting a backup QB all year. Deshaun Watson is back, and he makes his debut on Sunday. This team just got a whole lot better, and they're looking to set a tone heading into the offseason that will carry over to the 2023 season -- think what Miami did last year down the stretch and how it carried over to this season.

I've got Watson struggling a little in his first three games back, including two divisional opponents, before figuring it out after a month and finishing strong with three winnable games. I project the Browns to be a playoff team next year, and they're going to prove with a strong late push. Oh, and they don't own their pick, so zero incentive to worry about where it falls in the draft.

9 Pittsburgh (4-7)
*remaining schedule: at Falcons, Ravens, at Panthers, Raiders, at Ravens, Browns
*my projected finish: WLWLLL
*Final Record: 6-11
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? Maybe
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Boy, the Steelers are interesting. By all accounts, they're not very good -- but they're getting better at running the football, they have a really exciting young wideout, TJ Watt is back to help the defense... This team is going to go the way of Pickett, their rookie QB -- games he plays well in, they should be able to be competitive. Games in which he turns the ball over and can't move the chains, they're going to lose. Speaking of Pickett, I'm not convinced he's their QB of the future -- so the question is, will the team double down on the positional need and draft QBs in consecutive season. Above my pay grade, but worth flagging here as a possibility.

My guess is this team is a little better than people give them credit for, and I could totally see the Steelers stun the Ravens in Pittsburgh in Week 14. They might also beat the Raiders, though I have that as a loss for our purposes. My point: Don't count the Steelers out. They're going to give opponents their best effort every week -- something the Colts might want to consider doing.

8 Green Bay (4-8)
*remaining schedule: at Bears, Rams, at Dolphins, Vikings, Lions
*my projected finish: WWLLW
*Final Record: 7-10
*Is This Team Tanking? Maybe
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Green Bay is another interesting team. Woefully falling short of expectations this year, the team has an offense that lacks knockout punch and a defense that can't stop the run. No bueno. Aaron Rodgers has a broken thumb and a torso injury, but told reporters on Wednesday that he's feeling better and expects to start against the Bears. However, you have to wonder how long the team is going to keep rolling him out there, especially when they could be giving some valuable reps to the supposed QB of the future in Jordan Love.

So, with that said, I think it's reasonable to look at that Week 18 game against the Lions and wonder how many starters will be playing in it. This team could easily finish the year on a three-game losing streak. Hard to see them losing to the Bears and Rams over the next couple weeks, however, which puts them firmly in the 6 Wins or Better Club.

7 Arizona (4-8)
*remaining schedule: Patriots, at Broncos, Bucs, at Falcons, at Niners
*my projected finish: LWLWL
*Final Record: 6-11
*Is This Team Tanking? No
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Welcome to the most toxic team in football. We've got another embattled head coach trying to save his job, so for the next month at least this team is going to try to win. We've got the tiniest man child in the league, in Kyler Murray, who when he isn't goofing off playing video games instead of film is fighting with former teammates in public and his coach on the sidelines. At some point, the cauldron of bile that is the Arizona Cardinals could boil over, scalding any and everyone and sending this team into a losing spiral. But my guess is that happens in the offseason. For now, this team has a couple wins left in them.

Denver is a win, the Falcons MIGHT be a win. Maybe this team sneaks a third somewhere, but I think that's unlikely. Arizona is the first team we've come to that holds a range of outcomes that includes finishing the year with better draft position than Indy. One thing's for sure - they ain't drafting a QB, and they ain't trading Kyler. Kliff will be fired in the offseason, I doubt it's an in-season situation.

6 Carolina (4-8)
*remaining schedule: at Seahawks, Steelers, Lions, at Bucs, at Saints
*my projected finish: LLLLL
*Final Record: 4-13
*Is This Team Tanking? Yes
*Does This Team Need A QB? Yes
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Look, it wasn't going to all be good news. Carolina is one of the worst teams in football, they're rotating three different starting QBs and have played four total, they've got an interim coach, and they traded CMC. Three of their four wins have occurred within the division, and the four was against everyone's favorite punching bag -- the Broncos. Hard for me to find a win on their schedule, but if I was going to, it would be the Hawks and the Lions. You can run on both those defenses, and that's how the Panthers have found offensive success. My guess is they bottom out and become one of the teams in front of Indy drafting a QB.

5 New Orleans (4-8)
*remaining schedule: at Bucs, Falcons, at Browns, at Eagles, Panthers
*my projected finish: LWLLW
*Final Record: 6-11
*Is This Team Tanking? Yes
*Does This Team Need A QB? Yes
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? No, Philly

Hear me out -- I know the Saints don't own their first-round draft pick, but I believe they've been soft tanking for a while now. There is just no way that Andy Dalton is the best QB on this roster, and yet he keeps getting trotted out there. The other alternative is that the head coach sucks AND Dalton isn't the best QB, but either way -- this is a Saints team that's been poor this year. This was supposed to be a roster that only needed a caretaker QB to get the ball to a wide array of weapons on offense behind one of the best O-lines in football and with a stalwart defense to limit what opponents could do offensively. Well, not much of that has come to fruition. Still, I think wins against a down-trending Falcons team and the Panthers are still in the cards.

Philly owns the pick, and I doubt the Eagles are in the market for a QB after the season Hurts has put together. I don't think we need to worry about the Saints pick impacting Indy's draft.

4 Denver (3-8)
*remaining schedule: at Ravens, Chiefs, Cardinals, at Rams, at Chiefs, Chargers
*my projected finish: LLLLLL
*Final Record: 3-14
*Is This Team Tanking? No, They Just Suck
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? No, Seattle

Boy, I almost feel sorry for Broncos fans. Russ Wilson was supposed to ride in on a white horse, saving the franchise and taking the team to the playoffs. Instead, he and the completely worthless head coach have proved to be an even bigger Achilles heal than the offensive line has been for Indy. Here's a crazy stat -- if the Broncos had scored 18 points in every single game this season, the team would be 7-4. The defense has been great, the offense has been nonexistent. And there's no way the team can get out of Russ' contract, so they're stuck with him. And NONE of this matters anyway, because the pick belongs to Seattle, who I don't expect to draft a QB in the first round this year.

3 LA Rams (3-8)
*remaining schedule: Seahawks, Raiders, at Packers, Broncos, Chargers, at Seahawks
*my projected finish: LLLWLL
*Final Record: 4-13
*Is This Team Tanking? Yes
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? No, Detroit

The Rams don't own their pick, but they are tanking. We're starting to see indicators that they're going to put their stars on ice for the rest of the season, starting with Stafford and Donald this week. Could be a rapidly lengthening list, too. Only win that jumps out is the Broncos, but this team can't run the football, has cut one running back and banished another, multiple wideouts on IR including Kupp, never addressed left tackle properly (Sound familiar??) and has many offensive linemen out or banged up... the list goes on. Good thing they won the Super Bowl, because they don't own this pick and can't use it to try and fix any of their problems.

This would be where Detroit takes a quarterback, IMO. If the Lions choose to go that route, the Rams pick should have them in a position to snag one of the more highly regarded signal callers from this class.

2 Chicago (3-9)
*remaining schedule: Packers, Eagles, Bills, at Lions, Vikings
*my projected finish: LLLLL
*Final Record: 3-14
*Is This Team Tanking? Yes
*Does This Team Need A QB? No
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

For better or worse, the Bears are going all in on Fields as their QB of the future, which means they won't be drafting a QB this offseason. That's good, because this team is B.A.D. and won't win another game the rest of the year as the front office puts Fields and his shoulder injury on ice and focuses on continuing to stockpile picks -- they already traded both their best defensive players for a haul.

1 Houston (1-9-1)
*remaining schedule: Browns, at Cowboys, Chiefs, at Titans, Jags, at Colts
*my projected finish: LLLLLL
*Final Record: 1-15-1
*Is This Team Tanking? Hell Yes
*Does This Team Need A QB? Yes
*Does This Team Own Its Own Pick? Yes

Houston is the worst team in football and will have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and will use it to become the second AFC South team to attempt to draft their QB of the future. Not much analysis needed here -- the Texans have the inside track to the top pick and aren't going to blow it.

What have we learned? Revised end-of-season standings:

14 Houston, via Cleveland (8-9)
13 Las Vegas (7-10)
12 Green Bay (7-10)
11 Detroit (6-11)
10 Jacksonville (6-11)
9 Pittsburgh (6-11)
8 Arizona (6-11)
7 Philly, via New Orleans (6-11)
6 Indy (5-11-1)
5 Carolina (4-13)*
4 Detroit, via LA Rams (4-13)*
3 Seattle, via Denver (3-14)
2 Chicago (3-14)
1 Houston (1-15-1)*

I've placed an asterisk next to each team I believe is drafting or would like to draft a QB, for reading ease

So, there you have it. If Indy wins only one more game the rest of the way, they'll likely finish with a top seven draft pick (Atlanta, a team I did not include because they currently are behind Indy in the standings, has a chance to lose out and sneak into the 6 spot ahead of Indy). The tie with Houston makes it easy -- no tiebreakers need apply.

I believe that there will be two, maybe three teams ahead of Indy who want to draft a QB - Houston, Carolina, and perhaps Detroit. There's also the possibility that a team behind Indy wants to trade up for a QB -- but that's a story for another article and I'm sure Ballard and the Colts would be involved in those conversations and offered an opportunity to throw their hat into the ring if such a trade was close to being completed.

However, one thing's for sure -- Indy is capable of securing a coveted top draft pick that could land anywhere from 6 to 10. They just need to not screw it up by winning meaningless games down the stretch.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors.