The Indianapolis Colts are better than anyone could have imagined.
They finished the first half of their schedule at 5-3 with a real shot at the playoffs.
Here's a recap of the first half of the year.
Their best-case scenario at the time was 8-8, and that has to be lifted to 10-6. While the Colts are generally exactly who I thought they'd be, there were three factors I didn't balance correctly.
Andrew Luck is much, much better than I thought possible.
As a corollary, Reggie Wayne is much, much better than I thought possible.
The AFC is a horrible football conference. The collapse of the Titans was something I didn't take into account.
The Football Outsiders predicted their DVOA to be minus 6.4 percent on offense, 7.1 percent on defense and minus 13.5 percent overall. They had the Colts at 6.0 projected wins.
In other words, the Colts are significantly better on offense than expected but drastically worse on defense.
Without a doubt, the emotional 30-27 thriller over Green Bay was a turning point for the season. The unexpected come-from-behind victory evened Indianapolis' record on the season and made their current run possible.
Indy was blown out on the road twice, but that's to be expected from a young team. Allowing an 80-yard touchdown pass by Blaine Gabbert in the final minute of play?
That's a stomach punch.
The Colts have had their fair share of miracles this season, so fans can't feel bad about the one that got away. Still, internally, the team has to feel like it was a missed opportunity.
Rookie Check Point
The fair expectation baseline for Luck now looks right on target, except for the volume. All the traditional metrics have been right on for Luck, only multiplied by the incredible number of throws he's asked to make.
The combined projection for Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen was 700 yards and seven touchdowns. They currently have 471 and two scores. The touchdown totals are low in part because Luck has been running in the red zone more than expected.
T.Y. Hilton is in the process of annihilating preseason guesses. His baseline for the season was 25/350/2. His current slashline stands at 24/355/2. That's remarkable.
Obviously, the defense is the big worry. They have forced just three turnovers on the season.
By now, everyone is tired of that stat, but until it changes, it's going to be repeated over and over.
Unless the Colts find a way to force turnovers, they can't possibly keep winning at the same rate in the second half.
Robert Mathis has six sacks on the season but has only played in five games. He's battling a balky back, and it seems impossible for him to continue his current pace, even if he stays on the field.
That could be disaster for an Indianapolis defense that features very few dynamic plays that don't originate with him.
On the bright side for the Colts, Dwight Freeney is coming off his best game and may finally be healthy.
Overall, the Colts are a team on the rise with a lot of young players. Regression isn't something they need to worry about.
Second Half Outlook
Their season-ender against Houston may be a blessing in disguise as the Texans could well have sealed up the top seed in the AFC by that point.
Even considering it highly unlikely they win road games at New England and Houston, there are several paths the Colts can take to get to nine wins.
In a down year in the AFC, nine might just be enough to land them in the playoffs.