News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 14, 2012

Till It's Over: Colts road to playoffs gets tougher starting this weekend

Craig Pearson
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It’s almost Thanksgiving and the Indianapolis Colts, minus Peyton Manning and allegedly in rebuilding mode, are among the elite NFL teams in the playoff conversation.

But these young Colts haven’t proven just yet that they’re ready to sit at the NFL’s grown-up table once again.

The 6-3 start is impressive, but is it shocking? No.

For one, I believed the hype that Luck is the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning or John Elway. No. 2, the AFC South has two of the worst teams in the league.

Beating an NFL team is never easy, but the combined record of opponents in Colts’ victories is 23-33.

As Chris Berman wrote in his NFL ranking, is it possibly the best story in the NFL that the Colts are 6-3?

No way. The Colts' win over the 6-3 Green Bay Packers is the only quality win of the six, and they've suffered awful losses to the Jaguars and Jets.

Best stories in the league are reserved for the amazing comeback of Peyton Manning and the rapid recovery by Adrian Peterson from knee reconstruction. Or even the Bears’ defensive prowess that has Chicago 7-2 and leading the NFL in point differential (242-133).

One could say the same for the Bears’ weak schedule in their 7-2 start, and Chicago is looking like it could be without Jay Cutler against San Francisco on Monday night.

Don’t get me wrong. Andrew Luck is a phenomenal story. Playing without new head coach Chuck Pagano adds to it, but Luck’s rookie year has already blown Manning’s away.

Luck has led Reggie Wayne and the Colts to sixth in the NFL in total yards, sandwiched between elite offenses quarterbacked by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.

The question is can Indianapolis continue to improve on both sides of the ball?

We’ll begin to find out this weekend. New England is the No. 1 offense in the league, ranking fifth in rushing yardage with 146 yards per game on the ground.

New England hasn’t been unbeatable by any means, barely hanging on to beat Buffalo on Sunday and losing earlier in the season to Seattle and Arizona.

Even New England is a work in progress.

“We’ll keep working on getting better in all the areas,” New England coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday during a conference call. “I didn’t think that was the level of play in any of the three phases that we are looking for that we really need. Hopefully we’ll be able to ramp that up and we’ll need to against the Colts, they’re one of the hottest teams in the league.”

The Colts have won five in a row, and it will be interesting to see how well they play on the road against the franchise’s biggest rival of the last 10 years. If Luck has another outstanding game, they’ll have a chance, but it comes down to the defense’s ability to keep Brady and his offense out of the end zone.

This game and the two matchups with the Houston Texans will decide the Colts’ playoff hopes. Indianapolis’ ability to slow Arian Foster and the Texans running game will dictate whether the Colts have a chance in those two divisional matchups.

A win in one of these three games, and I like the Colts chances.

If Indy goes 0-3 in those games, it’s likely an 8-8 season, which is also pretty darned good for a team with a rookie quarterback and a new coaching staff.



Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at craig.pearson@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig.