The Colts are off to a hot start at 6-0 and have looked impressive in their last four wins, blowing out their opponents by a combined score of 138-42. They have a 2 1/2 game lead over the Texans, a three game lead over the Jaguars, and a six-game lead over the Titans, who are all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
They already have division wins over Jacksonville and Tennessee and play Houston twice in the next five weeks. If they can win Sunday and sweep the Texans, they can give themselves considerable breathing room in the division, which is always the first and most important step in making it to the playoffs. As they learned last season, having to travel for that first game can be a death sentence.
If the season ended today, Denver would be the first seed and Indianapolis would be the second seed due to the fact that the Broncos are also undefeated and have played more conference games and therefore have more conference wins.
The Bengals would be the third seed and the Patriots would be the fourth seed since they lead their respective divisions. The Steelers would be the fifth seed and the Jets would be the sixth seed.
As luck would have it, the Colts face the Broncos, Patriots, and Jets which gives them the opportunity to create a little separation. It also gives them a chance to get a firsthand look at their potential playoff opponents.
Two things jump out from that list: One is that four of the five possible matchups deploy the 3-4 defense as their base package. That has been an issue for Peyton Manning and the Colts in the past, particularly in the playoffs.
Now, a number of teams have switched the 3-4 in recent years and Manning has been tearing them apart at a record pace thus far in 2009, but the fact remains that two "kryptonite" defenses exist in Pittsburgh and New England have to be cause for concern. In the past three seasons, the Patriots and Steelers have not been as successful against the Indianapolis offense, so it may not be as much of a concern, but it's still noteworthy.
Also in play is that the Jets defense was designed by head coach Rex Ryan, who was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore defenses. However, Manning has traditionally dominated Ryan's schemes. Josh McDaniels has implemented a Belichick-esque 3-4 scheme in Denver. Manning has faced three 3-4 defenses this season and won and will face five more before the season ends, so he will have plenty of exposure to it.
The second thing is that the San Diego Chargers are out of the playoff picture, which is extremely good news for Colts fans everywhere. The Chargers have eliminated the Colts from the playoffs two straight seasons and, no matter where they stand right now or what happens the rest of the season, would represent a very tough matchup for Indianapolis.
If the season ended today, though, that is a very favorable playoff bracket for the Colts. The Jets, Bengals, and Broncos are all lean on postseason experience, New York has a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez, Denver has Kyle Orton who has no playoff experience as a starter, and Cincinnati has Carson Palmer who has very limited playoff experience.
Indianapolis was able to go into Pittsburgh in 2008 and defeat the defending champions. And Manning and company have had Tom Brady and Co.'s number for a few years now.
Things are looking very promising for the Colts if they can continue to take care of business and secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. That starts with a win against the 49ers on Sunday, continues with those two crucial division games against the Texans, and games against the Patriots and Broncos to decide tiebreakers.
It's a long season and Indianapolis needs to stay the course, but it is looking awfully rosy at the moment.
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