Divisional Round: Colts @ Chiefs

After a dominant performance in Houston, the Colts travel to Missouri for a conference semi-final against the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s take a quick look back at last week to see what brought us here.

On wildcard weekend, Indianapolis was firing on all cylinders. On the offensive side, the Colts held the ball for over 16 minutes in the first half. This allowed for three touchdown drives, and kept Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense on the bench. Two Andrew Luck touchdown passes to Eric Ebron and Dontrelle Inman, and a 2 yard Marlon Mack touchdown run were all that Indianapolis needed due to an excellent defensive day.

On the defensive side, the Colts nearly pitched a shutout. On the Texans lone scoring play, wide receiver Keke Coutee seemed to have released the ball and fumble into the end zone, which would have kept the Texans off the scoreboard, as the play would have resulted as a touchback. As it was, the play stood as called on the field for the touchdown.

The Texans had no answers for Indianapolis, and the Colts rolled to a 21-7 victory in Houston. When the Colts face the Chiefs on Saturday, their mantras will remain the same, which are to have an obsession to finish, and get to 1-0 this week. This team has essentially been playing playoff football since week 7. At 1-5, Indianapolis knew that they needed a mentality change if they hoped to have any shot at the post season. “1-0” may be simple, and may be generic, and it’s not the first time a coaching staff has used the mantra, but this young Indianapolis team has responded in a huge way, by winning 10 of their last 11 games.

This week the Colts walk into a toxic environment. A stadium with deafening noise, a high octane offense, and a team with a big chip on their shoulder. See, the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game in Arrowhead Stadium in 25 years! To put that in perspective, the last time the Chiefs won a home playoff game was when gas was $1.11 per gallon, George Bush Senior was president, and I was in diapers. Every team wants to win, but I’m not sure any playoff team needs a home playoff win more the Kansas City. Not to mention that their head coach, Andy Reid, has also had his run of playoff struggles. Reid is 11-13 in career playoff games with only 1 Super Bowl appearance (lost to Patriots in SB XXXIX 24-21). In fact, Reid only has one playoff victory as the Chiefs head coach, which came in 2015, when Kansas City bested the Houston Texans in the wildcard round.

So, the history is in favor of Indianapolis. Not only does Kansas City have a poor record at home, and have a coach that is perennially bad in the playoffs, but the Colts also have a lot of postseason success against the Chiefs. Dating back to 1995, the Colts have never lost to Kansas City in the playoffs, going 4-0 in that stretch. In the overall series history, Indianapolis leads the Chiefs 16-9, and the Chiefs were a stepping stone on the way to a Colts Super Bowl run in 2006.

With all of this winning though, it might be time for Kansas City revenge. Heartache has befallen the Chiefs organization for what seems like forever, as they have alway seemed to have a great team, but fall short in the playoffs. Could this be the year they break the Colts curse? I don’t think so, and here are five reasons why:

1) The Chiefs defense is bad. How bad you ask? Well, the Chiefs give up an average of 26.3 points per game (24th), rank 31st in Yards against, and give up an astonishing 5 yards per rushing attempt (only the Los Angeles Rams give up more (5.1). With a running back that just gouged the league’s top rushing defense to the tune of 148 rushing yards, that’s bad new for this Kansas City defense. They might have had a saving grace in their pass rush, because they actually led the league with 52 sacks. I say might have, because even though the Chiefs can get to the quarterback, Andrew Luck is an expert at pre-snap reads, not to mention the Colts offensive line is the leagues’ best at preventing sacks. They’ve only given up 18 all season, including last week’s wildcard matchup against Houston.

2) To piggyback on the Chiefs defense being bad, the Colts offense is very good. Averaging 27.1 points per game is just the tip of the iceberg for these Colts. Ranking 2nd in passing touchdowns, 6th in passing yards are a little deeper, but what has really impressed me over the last few weeks is Indy’s ability to kill the clock. Long sustained drives are what I believe will be the death of this Chiefs team. If the Colts run the ball with effectiveness, Andrew Luck can orchestrate quarter long drives. Drives like this will keep the Kansas City offense cold in the cold snowy weather expected for Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. Which brings me to my next point.

3) Snowy weather will win the day. An offense that is productive on the ground is dangerous. An offense that can run in the snow is unstoppable. The Colts have a few things going for them in this snowy scenario, the first is that Marlon Mack is an elusive back that can eat up yards. If he can be a mudder on Saturday, that’s a big win for the Colts offense. The second is that, the Colts defense hasn’t given up a 100 yard rushing performance to anyone. Should that trend continue, it might force Mahomes to try an make plays that aren’t there. Indianapolis has forced at least one turnover in 16 of 17 games this year. So, the odds are likely that Mahomes will slip up at least once.

4) The Indianapolis secondary is underrated. When cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II shut down Deandre Hopkins in Houston for the second time this season, it wasn’t a fluke. The duo has been solid for several weeks now, and has only matured over the course of the season. Add in safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, and you have a defensive backfield that is capable of giving Patrick Mahomes fits. If Indy can get pressure on Mahomes, this secondary is ready to pounce on big play opportunities.

5) Andrew Luck. Need I say more? Ok, I will. If anyone is able to keep pace with the guy who threw the most touchdowns this year, it’s the guy who threw the second most touchdowns this year. Luck has had a career season, but more than that, his career is loaded with 4th quarter comebacks, game winning touchdowns, shootout victories, and long methodical drives. Andrew Luck has also been to the playoffs before, and has won against a high powered Chiefs offense.

My prediction: My prediction is that bodies at rest stay at rest, and the Chiefs look slow in the snow coming off of their bye. The Colts practiced outdoors this week to prepare for the cold weather, and judging by the shorts Quenton Nelson was wearing, it didn’t faze them a bit. With an offensive running game that is on point, and a defensive squad that is capable of timely turnovers, I’ve got the Colts stealing one in Arrowhead 31-28 behind an Adam Vinatieri game winner.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr SB Nation

Advertisements

Wildcard Weekend: Colts @ Texans

Of all the games this weekend, this one looks to be the most even of all. With each of their regular season games being decided by just a field goal, the Colts and Texans will square off in Houston tomorrow for a rubber match.

In their first matchup of the season, the Texans had controlled most of the game, and had a commanding 28-10 lead in the 3rd quarter. However, Andrew Luck and the Colts offense would not go away so easily, as the offense went on a 21-3 run to force overtime.

In overtime, the Colts would get the ball first and run a 13 play drive generating just 50 yards, finally settling for a 44 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, and putting the score at 34-31. On the ensuing Texans’ drive, the Colts defense held Deshaun Watson out of the end zone, and forced a 29 yard Fairbairn field goal.

Then it got real interesting. Facing a 4th and 4 on their own 43 yard line, Head Coach Frank Reich decider to take a gamble. He kept the offense on the field. One incomplete pass to Chester Rogers later, gave the Texans unbelievable field position. 4 plays later, Houston stole a win in Indianapolis with a Fairbairn field goal. many fans were left scratching their heads, and wondered why the Colts didn’t punt. The answer to that came during the postgame press conference, as the Indianapolis locker room echoed the same thing, ” We wanted to play to win, not to tie.”

The second round of this fight went much smoother for the Colts. After both teams stumbled out of the gate offensively, the Texans struck first. A late first quarter run by Alfred Blue, gave Houston a 7-0 run. It wasn’t until 6:33 left in the second that Indianapolis put up their first points with a 4 yard Marlon Mack rush. The score was set up by a 60 bomb from Luck to T.Y. Hilton on the previous play. Hilton would go on to finish with 9 receptions for 199 yards! That was the big momentum shift the Colts needed, as they went on to score 10 more points in the second, to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

Coming out from the half, the Houston offense looked to have shaken off their own rust, as Deshaun Watson orchestrated a 16 play, 75 yard drive, capped by a 1 yard push into the end zone by Houston running back Lamar Miller. The drive took nearly 7 1/2 minutes off of the clock, but didn’t cool off the Colts, as they responded on the very next drive.

Indianapolis would go on a 75 yard drive of their own, and answer Houston’s score with an Andrew Luck strike to wide receiver Zach Pascal in the corner of the end zone from 12 yards out. The Colts would keep a 24-14 lead until late in the 4th, when Deshaun Watson found Deandre Hopkins in the back of the end zone with just 2:37 left in regulation.

Houston chose to trust their defense instead of attempting the onside kick. Things looked good for the Houston defense, until an Andrew Luck hard count got linebacker Jedeveon Clowney to jump offsides on a 3rd and 1 at the Indianapolis 48. The penalty allowed the Colts to drain the remaining time off of the clock and spoil the Texans’ comeback attempt.

Now we gear up for round 3. Here is the stat breakdown for this wildcard battle:

– Each team claimed an away victory in the regular season.

– Scoring Offense: IND-5th/HOU-15th

– Points Against Defense: IND-10th/HOU-T 4th

– Offensive Line Rank: IND-1st/HOU-32nd

– Defense Sacks: IND-19th (38)/HOU-12th (43)

– Turnovers: IND-T 22nd (24)/HOU-T 3rd (16)

– Takeaways: IND-T 10th (26)/HOU-4th (29)

– Team Rushing Yards: IND-20th/HOU-8th

– Team Passing Yards: IND-6th/HOU-17th

– Pass Defense Yards: IND-16th/HOU-28th

– Rush Defense Yards: IND-8th/HOU-3rd

As you can see, on paper, these teams are about as evenly matched as they come. Where one team has a weakness the other has a strength, and vice versa. This makes the decision for this game very difficult, and it may come down to who has the ball last. I’m going to go with the Colts in this one for a few reasons. I’ll list three.

The first reason: I think Indy is one of the few teams that can contain Deandre Hopkins. With a depleted wide receiver group due to injury, Indianapolis held Hopkins to just 36 yards on 4 catches in their last game in Houston. If they can get that kind of production from their secondary this weekend, that takes away a huge part of the Houston offense.

The second reason: The Colts have proven to be effective pass rushers against the awful Texans offensive line. Houston has given up a league worst 62 sacks on the year, and the Colts can take credit for 12 of those. I’ll be expecting to see Deshaun Watson rattled again this weekend.

The third reason: The Colts are capable of winning ugly. Playing against a division opponent is never easy, especially on the road, in the rain, in prime time. However, the Colts managed to do just that, and overcame 12 penalties and two turnovers in what was essentially a playoff game last weekend. I credit the Indianapolis offense for slowing the game down, and dictating the pace. The Colts steamrolled the Titans in time of possession, as the chewed up over 40 minutes of game time. The best defense was a good offense, and I think they’ll take that confidence into Houston.

My prediction: With the reasons above, and the fact that Andrew Luck has advanced further in the playoffs every time he’s been there, I’ve got Indy winning this one 34-24.

Photo Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Colts regular season review

The 2018 Indianapolis Colts managed to do what only two other teams have done since the AFL-NFL merger. They found a way to march into the playoffs after beginning their season 1-5, and join the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and 2015 Kansas City Chiefs in the rare category.

Beginning the first quarter of the season at 1-3, Indianapolis found a way to improve in each successive quarter during the season (2-2, 3-1, and finally 4-0). Finally ending at 10-6, the 2018 Colts are a far cry from the pre-season predictions given by ESPN, USA Today Sports, and several other sports news outlets. Back in August, USA TODAY Sports picked the Colts to go just 2-14, and ranked them dead last in the NFL power rankings, ESPN Staff writer Mike Wells had the Colts going 7-9 when he wrote his game-by-game prediction prior to the 2018 NFL Draft, and IndyStar reporter Zak Keefer gave his prediction on September 5th, and pictured the Colts at 7-9.

Looking back, I can see where the poor projections came from. Andrew Luck, who had finally worked his way back from a torn labrum, was a huge question mark. The secrecy intimidated many, and questions were raised about his ability to withstand the rigors of a full NFL season. Additionally, many were afraid that Luck would face a tough time behind an offensive line that had just given up 56 sacks (NFL high) the year prior. All of this mixed with being the NFL’s youngest team, a historically poor defense, and having Josh McDaniels’ pull a disappearing act was a recipe for disaster.

However, these things that seemed to be road blocks at the time, can now be looked at as blessings in disguise. Andrew Luck is as healthy as he’s ever been and put together another top 5 quarterback year. Young players and free agent acquisitions stepped up this year in a big way. Eric Ebron had a career year on his way to a Pro Bowl selection, Marlon Mack stepped into the lead role, and Denico Autry led the Colts with 9 sacks. Then the rookies were sensational. Guards Quenton Nelson (Pro Bowl) and Braden Smith helped form a wall that only let up 18 sacks all year (NFL best), running back Nyheim Hines caught 63 passes on the year, as well as totaling 739 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns, and defensive rookie of the year candidate Leonard posted a franchise record and NFL leading 163 tackles, while also tallying 7 sacks, 8 pass deflections, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions during an impressive rookie campaign.

…but wait there’s more!

The Colts defense under Matt Eberflus (a leftover Josh McDaniels assistant) managed to work their way to rank 11th in total defense, 8th in rushing defense, 10th in points against, and were one of 3 teams that didn’t allow a single 100 yard rusher all season (New Orleans and Houston were the others).

On the offensive side of the ball, the Colts’ skill position players were explosive. The offense’s 27.1 points per game ranks 5th in the NFL, to go along with being 7th in total yards (386.2) and 6th in passing yards per game (278.8). Running back Marlon Mack totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns on the year, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton led Colts pass catchers with 76 receptions and 1270 receiving yards, and Eric Ebron had a nose for the end zone, as found pay dirt on 14 occasions (13 rec/1 rush).

Special teams didn’t flex their muscles too often this season, but were effective when they did. The Colts are tied with Tampa Bay for the 4th fewest punts on the year (57). However, Punter Rigoberto Sanchez and the punt team managed to generate the third best net punting averaging with 44.5 yards per punt. Also, out of the 57 punts, 24 were fielded inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Indianapolis gave up only 93 punt return yards all year which was second only to the New Orleans Saints who gave up just 60.

Kicker Adam Vinatieri showed that he’s still got it this year. The all-time leader in points went 23 of 27 on field goals this season (long 54 twice), including a game winner in the final seconds against Miami. The 46 year old has been a mentor and vocal leader in the Colts locker room, as well as an inspiration for old guys everywhere.

Frank Reich came to Indianapolis preaching one important mantra, “have an obsession to finish.” I think that mantra was embraced and fully encapsulates the Colts’ 2018 season. Starting 1-5 and facing elimination, Indianapolis dug in, and out muscled 9 of their last 10 opponents to secure a wildcard birth. Darius Leonard has mentioned on Twitter this week that the Colts aren’t satisfied, as he was quoted tweeting,…”We’re not happy that we’re in the playoffs, we’re trying to hold up that Lombardi trophy.” The Colts have improved every quarter of the season, and it would be the ultimate improvement and show of perseverance if they can manage to string together 4 more wins on the road to the Super Bowl.

photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel- USA TODAY Sports

Week 17 preview: Colts @ Titans

The game is a story of perseverance. Both teams have had their highs and lows during the season, but no matter the outcome of tonight’s game, they will both end with winning records.

The Colts’ first half of the season was a low note, as they fell to 1-5 out of the gate. The message boards and Facebook comment sections were a battlefield between those who screamed to, “Fire Reich” and “Bench Luck” and those who remained cautiously optimistic that their team still had a chance due to the rough shape of the entire AFC South at the time. (Houston led the division at just 4-3 at the time)

Now the Colts have come roaring back, and have placed themselves in a position to steal the AFC South crown, should the other two contenders slip up. Winning 8 of their last 9 games, Indy has become the hottest team in the league. They’ve killed winning streaks, beat playoff teams, and stifled premier running backs on their way to 9-6.

Tennessee began the year on a roller coaster ride. With 6 of their first 7 seven games being decided by a touchdown or less, the Titans managed to go 3-4 at the beginning of their 2018 campaign. Then, they dug in a little deeper, winning their next two against the Cowboys in Dallas and coming home to dismantle New England 34-10! Then another hiccup, as they dropped their next two to Indianapolis and Houston on the road, but they didn’t lose sight, and have managed to win their last 4 games on their way to 9-6. So, the big question for Tennessee is which version of their team will show up? Will it be the team that couldn’t seem to win the close games, or the more recent Titans who have won 6 of their last 8?

You can see a lot of similarities in these two teams. For example:

Both have forced a shutout

Both have been shut out

Both have had winning streaks of 4+ games

Both have losing streaks of 3 games

Both have top 10 defenses over the second half of the season.

Both defenses are holding teams to an average of 13.5 points or less in the last 4 weeks

There are differences though. These are the most lopsided of those differences:

Passing TD’s – Luck 2nd (36) > Mariota 29th (11)

PPG- IND 7th (26.7) > TEN 26th (19.5)

Rushing YPG- IND 21st (104) < TEN 5th (128.7)

Passing YPG- IND 6th (278.9) > TEN 29th (187.3)

PPG allowed- IND 13th (21.8) < TEN 2nd (18)

I think this will be a hard fought battle. I believe that the Titans of week 11 are a thing of the past, and they will show up in prime time in front of their home crowd at Nissan Stadium. That being said, the Tennessee has a lot of players playing banged up or missing the game due to injury. To me, there are two big things to watch for in this game. The first will be Marcus Mariota. If he does in fact play, what level will he be at? Stating that he was numb throughout his body last week raised eyebrows, and it will be interesting to see how effectively he will be able to grip and throw the football. The second, is watching how effective the Titans rush defense will be without starters Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo in the lineup. Colts’ running back Marlon Mack has shown great ability in many games this season, as he’s racked up nearly 800 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns on the year. With the run stopping Casey out of the lineup, will that mean a big night for Mack?

My prediction:

I think this game has the potential to be a shoot out. Titans running back Derrick Henry has been in a zone the last 4 weeks, but on the same token, the Darius Leonard and the Indy defense contained two of the NFL’s best backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley. I say the Colts get the edge and the win for their ability to put points on the scoreboard and that they have a top 10 defense against a bottom 10 Titans offense. The Colts have a top 10 scoring and passing offense, and I think that will show on Sunday night. Indianapolis wins this one 31-20.

Photo Credit: AP Photo – Darron Cummings

Who to root for as a Colts fan in week 17

This year has been full of ups and downs for Indianapolis. Starting off 1-5 to begin the season, the Colts have managed to pull off a historic season saving comeback. Now, having won 8 of their last 9 games, the Colts control their own fate, as they travel to Tennessee to battle the Titans on Sunday Night Football.

Everything that needed to go right for the Colts in week 16, did! Last week, the Colts needed a win and a bit of help. With the Steelers falling to the Saints 31-28, the Colts got exactly the help they needed, and now face a, “win and you’re in” scenario in week 17. The Philadelphia Eagles also helped out, keeping the Colts’ divisional hopes alive, while beating the Texans 32-30 at Lincoln Financial Field. Should the Texans lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, the Colts could capture the AFC South title and potentially the 3 seed. This result would give Indy a home game in the playoffs, and they would most likely host a 6th seeded Texans team.

So, in week 17, here are the games to watch:

Colts @ Titans: It’s win or go home on Sunday Night Football. A game that was originally slotted for 1pm, was flexed due to both teams battling for at least a 6th seed. The Titans are a bit banged up this week, as quarterback Marcus Mariota and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey suffered injuries in week 16. While Mariota is optimistic that he’ll start in week 17, he is still listed as questionable.

The Colts are arguably the hottest team in the NFL right now, having won 8 of their last 9 games. A week 11 trouncing of the Titans in Indianapolis, gives the Colts a lot of optimism in this road matchup. With a final score of 38-10, it was one of Indy’s more convincing wins on the season. Quarterback Andrew Luck brings a career record of 10-0 against Tennessee, and his last performance against this Titans team was one of his best. Luck finished that game 23 of 29 for 297 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He also posted a passer rating of 143.8 (the second highest of his career). The Colts won the game so convincingly, that Luck was able to hand the reigns over to backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett for the final 10 minutes. Will it be another blowout this week, or does Tennessee have a music city miracle up their sleeves?

Houston vs Jacksonville:

Colts fans should be cheering for a Jacksonville team that shut them out just a few weeks ago. Blake Bortles is set to return to the starting lineup after somehow worse quarterback play with Cody Kessler at the helm. With any luck, Bortles will be the good version of himself this weekend, and help keep the Texans from taking AFC South crown. While it is unlikely, given the poor performances of Jacksonville this season, it’s not impossible. The Jaguars have won against the Colts, and managed to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots earlier this year. Perhaps Jacksonville create some of the magic that helped them in those wins, to overthrow the Texans in Houston.

Week 16 preview: Colts vs Giants

This week the New York Giants bring a 5-8 record to Indianapolis, and while they have been eliminated from the playoffs, they are still very capable of pulling off an upset. The Giants started off in a slump, beginning the season with a 1-7 record. Now, they have won four out of their last 6 games, and hope to finish on a strong note heading into the offseason. Two games this year by the Giants include going on the road to beat the current AFC South leading Houston Texans, and besting the NFC North champion Chicago Bears at home. It’s also worth noting that 6 of New York’s losses have been by 7 points or less.

As the season has gone on, quarterback Eli Manning and rookie running back Saquon Barkley have built solid chemistry, as Barkley has caught 82 passes from Manning, for 654 yards and 4 touchdowns. Barkley has also had a very successful rookie campaign running the ball, as he has tallied 1,155 yards (3rd in NFL) and 9 touchdowns (tied for 5th in NFL). Barkley will be the second top 5 running back the Colts will face in as many weeks.

There are a couple items of concern for the Giants. The first, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been out for last two weeks, is trending towards missing this week’s game as well. The second, the Giants missed OBJ last week, as the New York offense put up a goose egg against the Tennessee Titans, falling 17-0 and effectively knocking them out of playoff contention. Not having OBJ would be a huge loss for a Giants team that will have to face a top 10 Colts defense this Sunday. In fact, since week 7, the Colts are the number 1 defense in yards against, and only have one game all season in which they haven’t forced at least 1 turnover. Over the last three games, they’ve been even more impressive, as they’ve averaged just 9 points against. This week will feature a unique battle of rookie of the year candidates when Saquon Barkley faces off against Darius Leonard. Leonard is currently leading the NFL with 146 tackles to go along with his 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 pass deflections, and 1 interception.

On the offensive side, Indianapolis is operating like a well oiled machine. They currently rank 8th in points per game (26.6) and total yards per game (381.5), as well as 7th in passing yards per game. (273.6) Andrew Luck ranks second in the NFL in touchdown passes with 34, and the Colts’ offensive line is tied for first in the NFL with just 16 sacks given up on the year. Indianapolis also has 2 Pro Bowl selections. The first is veteran Eric Ebron, who is having not only a career year for himself, but has set Colts franchise records for receiving touchdowns and total touchdowns as a tight end (12 and 13 respectfully). The other Pro Bowler is rookie guard Quenton Nelson, who made headlines earlier this season as the NFL offensive rookie of the month in October. This was the first time the award had been given to a guard in NFL history, which certainly speaks volumes about his level of play and character on and off the field.

Overall, I believe Indianapolis is the more complete team in this matchup. Especially if Odell Beckham Jr. misses his third straight game to a quad injury, look for Indianapolis to pull ahead early and stay there. With the Tennessee Titans likely looking at a win against the banged up Washington Redskins this weekend, and the Baltimore Ravens facing a tough opponent in the Los Angeles Chargers, the Colts and Titans could be playing for a wildcard spot in week 17. This week, I’ve got Indianapolis winning this one 28-17.

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey-Getty Images

Colts shutout Cowboys to stay in AFC playoff race

The Colts have asserted themselves as mobile, agile, hostile, certifiable, undeniable giant killers the last two weeks. Ending the Texans’ 9 game winning streak two weeks ago in Houston wasn’t good enough for Indianapolis. This week, they shut down and shut out a Dallas offense who had been playing lights out since acquiring Amari Cooper in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. As winners of their previous 5 games, there was reason to believe that Dallas would continue their hot streak against a Colts defense that historically has been poor against the Cowboys; However, this year’s Indianapolis Colts defense is not the same as in years past. This year, the Colts have quietly built a top 10 defense, and have shown that they’re no longer one trick ponies.

This game was statistically interesting in the beginning. Dallas controlled the clock for most of the first half, as they managed to keep the ball for over 19 minutes! Unfortunately for the Cowboys, time of possession is nothing if you don’t do anything with it. The opening drive went 10 plays for 45 yards, and took 5 minutes off of the clock, but the Indianapolis defense stepped up, as defensive tackle Denico Autry batted down a 48 yard Brett Maher field goal attempt. With both teams scrambling to recover the blocked kick, Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard fell on the loose football, and the Colts took possession at the Dallas 44 yard line. That block pretty much set the tone for the Cowboys day. Dallas had a few opportunities to keep this game close, but ran out of steam, or made costly mistakes in the red zone.

From the 44 yard line, Indy began their first offensive possession. The Colts chipped away at the Dallas defense, as Andrew Luck reeled off two quick passes to Nyhiem Hines and T.Y. Hilton to get a first down. From there, Marlon Mack took over the drive. Over the next 6 plays, Mack would run 5 times for 34 yards and a touchdown from a yard out. After seeing a drop off in yards over the last few weeks, Mack turned in a career high performance in this game, as he ended with 139 yards on 27 carries and 2 touchdowns.

Those were the big stories of the day. Mack runs wild, Dallas fizzles out on each of their drives, Indianapolis forces a shut out, and the Cowboys winning streak ends at 5 games. It was a great team win for the Colts, and much needed. As winners of 7 of their last 8 games, Indianapolis is now a feared playoff contender. They’re the kind of team that no one wants to face this time of year. Top 10 on offense and defense, killing winning streaks, and getting hot at just the right time, stirs up some memories of dark horse teams of the past. When I think of this team, I find them eerily reminiscent of the 2007 New York Giants who managed to sneak in to the NFC 6th seed at 9-7 and run the the table, all the way to a Super Bowl victory against the then undefeated New England Patriots. I find myself asking if Indy could make similar waves if they manage to break into that last AFC wildcard spot.

To get into the playoffs though, the Colts don’t control their own destiny. Indianapolis needs to keep winning. With 5-9 Giants team at home and a road trip to Tennessee to battle a Titans team that Indianapolis beat 38-10 in week 11, the schedule looks favorable. That being said, the Colts will also need either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens to lose one of their final two games. With the Steelers facing the NFC’s top team (New Orleans Saints), and the Ravens facing the 11-3 Chargers next weekend, the odds look good for at least one of those teams to drop a game. If this happens, and Indy handles the Giants, the Colts would face a “win and you’re in” scenario in Tennessee week 17. Indy also has another interesting (less likely) playoff scenario. Should they win out, and should the Texans face a devastating collapse by dropping their final two games, Indianapolis would finish at 10-6 with the AFC South crown atop their heads.

Photo Credit: OregonLive.com