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Do the Colts Have What It Takes to Win the AFC?

Currently tied at the top of the AFC South with a record of 5-2, the Indianapolis Colts are in position to be one of the seven teams in the AFC to make the playoffs this season. Having played only one divisional team thus far (0-1 divisional record), the Colts finish out their year with five of their nine remaining games being against divisional opponents. They clearly control their own fate inside a tough AFC, but many might be quick to sweep the Colts under the rug when they start talking about teams who have a legitimate shot at making the Super Bowl. With a team built around its offensive and defensive lines, the Colts not only have a real shot at making the playoffs, but actually winning the conference. Here’s why:

The Colts’ defense is one of the best units in the NFL

The Colts’ defense has taken a step forward this season compared to last. They’ve done this with the offseason additions of DeForest Buckner and Xavier Rhodes, as well as recent success of some of their draft picks, like safety Julian Blackmon (2020), cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (2020), linebacker Bobby Okereke (2019), cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (2019), and safety Khari Willis (2019). Below is where they rank in some key defensive categories this season:

  • Lowest amount of missed tackles this season (27)
  • T-1st in interceptions
  • T-1st in rushing TDs allowed
  • 2nd in rush yards allowed per game (79.9)
  • 2nd in total yards allowed per game (293.4)
  • 2nd-lowest yards per carry allowed (3.4)
  • 5th in points allowed per game (19.4)
  • 6th in pass yards allowed per game (213.6)

Their defense is playing perfect complementary football to their offense. Limiting opponents' ability to create big plays after the catch or on the ground with sure tackling has been a big factor toward allowing just 19.4 points per game this season. Teams need to sustain long, methodical drives to score versus the Colts, and when teams get impatient and try to take shots down the field, the Colts’ secondary makes them pay. Indianapolis is tied for the league lead in interceptions forced this season. The Colts’ take advantage of their opportunities to force takeaways. On the season, they are ranked fifth in turnover differential with a plus-5 margin.

The Colts’ offense was tailor-made to complement their defense

Built around one of the best offensive lines in the NFL with four of their five starting offensive linemen drafted by the Colts in the first or second round. Their game plan this season has been simple: establish a run game to open up the pass game. One concern for this team, though, is their effectiveness running the football. No running back on the active roster currently averages over 4.0 yards per carry this season. Rookie Jonathan Taylor averages 3.9, Nyheim Hines averages 2.9 and Jordan Wilkins averages 3.7. On the plus side, none of the running backs have fumbled this season. But the ineffectiveness of the run game is disappointing considering the offensive line talent. Expect their run game to improve, though, as Taylor continues to develop over the course of the season. The talent is there – he rushed for at least 2,000 yards twice at Wisconsin, and never rushed for less than 1,900 yards in any of his four seasons. Quarterback Philip Rivers is on track to have a career high in completion percentage -- currently he holds a 69.7% mark on the season. Rivers has benefited from great offensive line protection, having been sacked just seven times. He is the least sacked among NFL quarterbacks with at 200 passing attempts. In Rivers, the Colts seem to have found a great fit at quarterback for their offense. Rivers’ experience, leadership and play seemed to have helped this offense take a step forward from last season. Having only seven turnovers this season, which is tied for sexth in the NFL, combined with their ability to control the time of possession, the Colts’ offense grinds the clock and controls the tempo of games. Pairing this with their above average ability to put points on the board (10th in points per game with 28.3), their offense can be quite the challenge and has enough talent to be competitors in the conference as long as their defense continues its dominance.