Before the season started both Nate and I gave Greg Cowan a hard time about his rather optimistic prediction on the 2012 campaign. Greg had jokingly predicted the playoffs, doing his best Jim Mora voice and we blew it off as another crazy Canadian rampage, fueled by fatback and Tim Horton's coffee.
Who's laughing now?
After a complete drubbing of the Jaguars the Colts are now in the driver's seat for the AFC wild card--a feat only Jim Irsay and Greg Cowan would have predicted when they jettisoned anyone who wore a horseshoe in 2011. With an incredibly soft schedule ahead aside from the Patriots and two contests against the Texans it appears that this may not back into the playoffs but possibly march into them instead with head held high.
Last week many in the media played off this possibility citing the AFC's overall weakness and the Colts' buttery schedule. They were right on both counts but something new has emerged from that sketchy situation that others in the AFC should fear: confidence. This team has taken the situation and turned it into pure intestinal fortitude.
That confidence coupled with the knowledge the Colts may only need to win 3 more games to make the playoffs should lead to a little more respect. In fact it's my opinion that the Colts are not overrated as some have suggested, but rather underrated based on their remaining schedule and other wild card contenders.
At this point the wild card race includes the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Dolphins are at a disadvantage thanks to their head-to-head loss to Indy and have a brutal schedule ahead. If they peak and knock off Buffalo twice and steal one from New England the race gets more interesting. The Bengals and Steelers are in a crowded AFC North race. The Bengals are seemingly in the best place to ensure a playoff spot thanks to a soft schedule albeit one loaded with road games but counting out the Steelers would be a huge mistake as they currently own the 6th spot. The Steelers actually have a pretty tough schedule against both division teams and others fighting for a playoff spot. Should they stumble Cincy will rise. The Chargers shouldn't be trusted as they have nothing for the Broncos and face a schedule loaded with other AFC wild card contenders.
Among those teams I'd only take the Steelers and possibly the Bengals as clear favorites over the Colts. Toss in other pretenders like the Jets, the Raiders and the Titans and I'd take the Colts every day, twice on Sunday. Sure the Jets beat Indy once but would you expect that again?
Maybe I'm insane but based on the crop of AFC teams I'd argue that considering Indy any worse than the 6th best team in the conference would be a huge mistake.
Then again I've been wrong before.
"Fatback and Tim Horton's Coffee"
I sure hope they're competitive against the patriots. It could be a real confidence killer if they aren't.
Ok, first the humor: If you're not spending at least 1/3rd of the season busting Greg's chops for whatever reason (real or imagined), you're not doing it right. I don't think they get enough oxygen up there in Canuckistan, plus the TV signal is weak whereas the cosmic ray influence is strong, so there's plenty of room to find stuff to poke fun at. After all, everyone at that latitude claims to see lights in the sky after dark, so I'm certain there's an environmental effect making the population trend towards the delusional. Hallucinogens in the diet, perhaps? ;)
Now, speaking seriously: I'm not certain that calling the Colts "underrated" is really an accurate way to put it. Rather, given the definite and obvious flaws on the defense and O-line, I would say instead that the team's exceeding expectations. And yes, there's a difference between the two. "Underrated" would suggest that the quality of the players as well as the ability of the team to execute was not properly evaluated to begin with. "Exceeding expectations", on the other hand, means that the summation of the team was fair, yet they've managed to execute better than the sum of their parts. It was entirely fair to assess many problems winning games given the defensive deficiencies - and really, they're still there and on display. It was also fair to assess problems to the O-line due to the patchwork nature of assembling castoffs together. Frankly, that line would have gotten many other QB's killed by now. Yet, the Colts are 5-3, but the essential nature of those units haven't changed. Rather, they've found ways to play above themselves; for example, the defense that made Weeden look competent and Sanchez look like an All Star somehow found a way to execute against Green Bay. And the offense manages to get the ball moving despite Luck frequently being pursued. So my point is that it's less that they were incorrectly analyzed at the beginning and more that they've found effective ways to perform despite their problems. But make no mistake; the problems are still there. Again, the Jets. And a coin-toss win against the Titans (could you imagine what would have happened had Indy been forced onto defense for that game's OT?).
So, are the Colts trending towards making the playoffs and exceeding expectations? Definitely. But were the evaluations wrong to begin with? I would say no. We can genuinely say that the effect of having a stellar QB was underestimated; Luck is performing well despite the flaws, as well as losing a receiver (Collie) expected to contribute. But the flaws haven't gone away. It's merely that their effect has been minimized.