The Colts are not an elite team at this point: Without a running game, Dallas Clark, and with key injuries on defense, Indianapolis is still a very good team, they're just not an elite team. The Patriots proved themselves to be in the class of the elite, with back-to-back wins against the Steelers and Colts, but they're still second in their division given their head-to-head loss to the Jets.
One of those two teams should claim the number one seed in the AFC playoff bracket, with the number two seed most likely going to one of the seven-win teams in the AFC North (Pittsburgh or Baltimore). Indianapolis could go on a run, finish 12-4, and lock up the number two seed, but their highest priority at the moment is to get healthy on both sides of the ball and win their division. They were an elite team last year without a running game, but they also had Clark and Austin Collie fully healthy for the entire season.
Injuries to Gary Brackett and Clint Session are holding the defense back in 2010, especially defending the short passing game, which was exposed on Sunday against New England. When Collie, Session, Brackett, and possibly Bob Sanders return, the team could come together late in the season, have several key players fresh for the post season, and make a deep playoff run.
But, they'll still need some lucky breaks. Clark leaves a big void in the offense, Peyton Manning is showing signs of pressing and trying to do too much — as evidenced by his three interceptions on Sunday and two picks against the Eagles — and the Colts are only 2-3 against teams with winning records.
The playoff picture is not that murky: Right now, the bottom line is that Indianapolis needs to win their division. It would be fantastic if they could win 12 games yet again in 2010, but that may not be necessary in order to secure a playoff spot. The wheels have come off in Houston and the best they can finish is 10-6. Tennessee has lost three straight and will most likely start a rookie quarterback the next two weeks.
The Colts also have two games coming up against the Titans, which they can use to create some more separation in the division standings. It's true that Jacksonville currently leads the AFC South due to a head-to-head victory over Indianapolis in Week 4, but the Colts have a home date coming up against the Jaguars in Week 15 and Jacksonville is the only team on their remaining schedule with a winning record.
Indianapolis started the 2008 season 3-4 and still finished with 12 wins. If they can rip off six straight victories and win 12 games this season — not impossible, but also not very likely — then they'll surely win their division. But, 11-5 or 10-6 should be enough this season to get them the third or fourth seed. They were the third seed when they won the Super Bowl in 2006, so a playoff bye and home field advantage might not necessarily be the recipe for success.
Pat Angerer is a good player that will be a great player, but the defense needs its captain back: Most of the key injuries on defense for the Colts in 2009 came in the secondary, which has historically been able to withstand more injuries. The defensive backs are responsible for tackling their man, keeping the play in front of them, and not taking any chances.
It's easier for them to keep the offense from making plays than it is for the linebackers to go out and make plays happen. Tyjuan Hagler could have changed the game simply by catching an interception that hit him right in the chest. Session and Brackett have done a better job than their replacements in covering their zones in the short passing game. Kavell Conner's tackling skills leave a lot to be desired.
The team may still have lost on Sunday to a Patriots squad that was operating at peak efficiency had Session and Brackett been in the game, but having those two men in the lineup give the Colts the best chance to win.
Having said that, the one man Indianapolis can't afford to lose on defense is Antoine Bethea: Aaron Francisco has played better in recent weeks than originally thought possible, but the Colts would be left vulnerable to passes over the top and in the deep seam if Bethea were to miss significant time. He supplements the run defense and does a fantastic job in the role of "hero" in the passing game.
Beyond what Bethea brings to the defense, the value of his potential replacement — either Chip Vaughn or rookie Mike Newton — is significantly lower than Bethea's value, so that would have a seriously detrimental effect on the defense as a whole. Whether Bethea's replacement would contribute less against the run, or leave the defense vulnerable to the deep pass, there would be a deep void in the secondary, one which even Sanders could not fill (if healthy).
Above all else, don't forget the ace in the hole: Even before Rusty Smith was appointed starting quarterback of the Titans, the Colts had the best quarterback in the division by a wide margin. Throughout the course of their respective careers, Manning and Tom Brady were 1 and 1a when arguments regarding the best quarterback in the league were made. Manning held the advantage for the past few seasons, but Brady grabbed the title on Sunday with a more efficient, effective, and turnover-free performance.
But, if asked anonymously, every coach in the league not named Bill Belichick would take Manning over their guy, with the possible exception of Andy Reid, since Michael Vick is playing extraordinarily well right now. At this point in the season, all teams have issues, all teams have injuries, and all teams have holes. In the division and in the conference, the Colts have a clear edge against almost every team. That will serve them well on their way to the playoffs and beyond.
Talk about it in our Insider's Forum!
Follow ColtPower's updates on Twitter!
What We Learned: Colts at Patriots
Colts Blitz Top Stories
10 worst NFL plays of all timeBoneheaded mistakes that these 10 NFL players will never live down.
Scout NFL Network08/22/2016
Trevor Siemian's Orange ReturnThis Sunday, Trevor Siemian will throw his first pass in the state of Florida since high school, when he was known as Mr. Olympia.
Mile High Huddle12:16 PM
Daily Dr. Roto: Week 4 Waiver Wire WednesdayGet out the insurance card, get out the co-pay because the office is open my friends. It's Waiver Wire Wednesday so let's find out who to target in Week 4!
Scout Fantasy10:43 AM
Week 4: Vegas Vs. FantasyUsing Vegas' odds, lines and spreads, Fantasy Football Expert Armando Marsal gets a feel for how this week's matchups will pan out. It's not a perfect science; however, it…
Scout Fantasy10:21 AM