,It isn’t much of an exaggeration that Sunday is a must win for the Indianapolis Colts if they want to have more than just a high draft pick in 2024. For this season to have even an outside shot at the playoffs, the Colts have to beat the Panthers on Sunday. Currently sitting at 3-5 is undesirable, but 4-5 heading into a matchup with the Patriots before the bye looks much more comfortable.
Expectations coming into the season were emotionally high as they normally are. Fans want their team to win as many games as possible and start out with the belief that maybe, just maybe, their team could be the one that defies the odds and the poor preseason predictions to go from “worst to first” in their division and make the playoffs. That is the allure and the trap for sports fans. Pick a team and believe.
Logically, however, expectations were tempered. A rookie coach and quarterback, a young roster with several holes/thin spots, and coming off a disappointing 2022 season didn’t allow for most to actually think this team would be contenders. What the Colts are building has encouraging signs and the future is looking good. The future isn’t necessarily 2023 though.
With that said, the Colts have a chance to be slightly ahead of schedule. Winning against the Panthers would go a long way to validating that thought. A win would match the total of all of last year at the halfway point of the season. It would stop the bleeding of a three game losing streak and put some bravado back into the players. It would help establish a culture of winning; something that has been missing for some time around Indianapolis.
A loss, however, would almost cement the fact that this is a season of development. There would be no more expectations on Sundays. The hopes and thoughts of winning would be replaced in many minds with “let’s play well while looking forward to the future for a high draft pick”. The optics of a loss to the lowly Panthers would also be unfortunate. The Panthers are bad; like second worst team record-wise bad. Losing to that team would be the proverbial “stick a fork” in the Colts moment. They would be done.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will go a long way in providing a direction for the rest of the year. A win and the Colts are back in it. A loss and the season is most likely done from a winning perspective. Sure, more can be gained through development, but with Anthony Richardson sidelined for the rest of the year, is there a ton to truly get excited about on game day? Whatever camp you are in regarding playoffs or draft pick, you will either be entrenched after Sunday or heading for the exits.