Why the Indianapolis Colts Are Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIOctober 30, 2013

Oct 20, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) waves to the crowd as he leaves the field after the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-2 with wins over the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts are officially Super Bowl contenders coming out of their bye week.

Despite all of the injuries to this team, the Colts keep finding ways to win against tough opponents.  They've looked shaky against weaker teams, but based off of what we've seen so far, this team is built for a very deep playoff run.

This isn't the Colts team we're used to seeing, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Let's take a look at a few reasons why they are a true Super Bowl contender.


An Easy Remaining Schedule

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In order for the Colts to make a run at the Super Bowl, they first have to make it to the playoffs.

That shouldn't be a problem at all for this team.  The rest of the division is struggling, with the Tennessee Titans sitting behind the Colts in the AFC South at 3-4.  Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are surprisingly just 2-5 and the Jacksonville Jaguars are at 0-8.

AFC South Standings

Looking down the road, the schedule gets much easier coming out of the bye week.  Through their first seven games, the Colts played opponents with a combined record of 30-23.  After the bye week, their opponents are just 31-37, with just two games against teams with winning records in the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs.

Based off of the remaining schedule, it's not crazy to think that the Colts could win 11 or 12 games this season.  With what we've seen from the rest of the AFC, there's a chance that they could get the No. 2 seed and a possible first-round bye entering the postseason.


An Improved Defense

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The numbers don't look very appealing on defense for the Colts, but it's not hard to see that they have improved quite a bit from previous seasons.

The Colts are currently 20th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 350.7 yards per game.  However, as most people know, yards don't always end in points.  While they struggle giving up yards, they're also allowing just 18.7 points per game, which is the eighth-best mark in the league.  According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) the Colts rank seventh in total defense with a 36.5 grade.

Oct 14, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (98) lines up during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the departure of Dwight Freeney during the offseason and the injury the Bjoern Werner, many were expecting the pass rush to struggle.  Instead, they've been able to step up and get to the quarterback more than expected.  Robert Mathis has been huge on that front, leading the league with 11.5 sacks.  

In fact, through just seven games, Mathis has already tied his career high for sacks in a season.  Only Elvis Dumervil has a higher pass-rushing grade for 3-4 outside linebackers, according to PFF (subscription required).

Perhaps the best way to describe the Colts defense is to just look at their last game against the Broncos.  They allowed 429 yards and 33 points, but they played much better than those numbers indicate.

Peyton Manning struggled in the second and third quarters, although box score statistics won't show that.  He had an interception late in the game, fumbled once out of the end zone and simply wasn't able to stay poised in the pocket, making some bad throws.

They don't have the flashiest numbers, but the defense makes plays when they have to, and with an offense like the Colts have, that's exactly what you need to be a Super Bowl team.


An Efficient Offense

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Speaking of that offense, the Colts do a great job maintaining balance through both the air and on the ground.  Perhaps more importantly, the Colts do a great job playing efficiently.

There is no team in the league with fewer turnovers than the Colts.  Andrew Luck has thrown just three interceptions and the team as a whole has just six turnovers.  The only teams close to the Colts in turnovers are the New Orleans Saints and Titans with seven and the Chiefs with eight.

Colts Turnovers By Game

The Colts put up 344.7 total yards and 26.7 points per game, ranking 12th and eighth in the NFL, respectively.  In the ground game, Indianapolis ranks seventh with 4.5 yards per carry.

Not turning the ball over and maintaining balance is important to be a a contender, but there's one thing that almost all Super Bowl winners have had over the past few seasons.


An Elite Quarterback

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Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

During their Super Bowl runs, all of these quarterbacks were elite, with the possible exception of Flacco, although he did have an unbelievable postseason.

People will say that defense wins championships, but you're not going to do squat in today's NFL without a truly elite quarterback.

I know that he's only in his second season, but Luck is already showing everyone that he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  He has the fifth-highest QBR at 71.9, ahead of players like Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick while being just behind Brees.  PFF (subscription required) has Luck as their fourth-best QB with a 15.5 grade, behind just Peyton, Philip Rivers and Rodgers.

People will argue that Luck isn't elite because of his numbers.  He's completing just 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions.  However, the reason he hasn't put up monster stats is because the Colts aren't using him as much as they could be.

With just 224 pass attempts, Luck ranks 21st in the NFL.  To put things in perspective, he's thrown fewer passes than Matt Schaub, Geno Smith, Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler.  That seems almost criminal, but it's working so far.

The Colts aren't having Luck air it out because they know that they can win games without him doing so.  When they do need to win in a shootout, they can call upon Luck, much like they did against the Broncos.  He threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns to go along with another touchdown on the ground, giving him his best game of the year.

What makes Luck even more dangerous is his mobility.  So far in his career, he's ran for 438 yards and eight touchdowns.  At 6'4'' and 234 pounds, Luck is deceptively fast and elusive, able to escape the pocket and run down the field for first downs and game-changing plays.

Once the playoffs begin, the Colts will need to turn to their star quarterback, and Luck will have the opportunity to carry his team to a Super Bowl.


Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDBrooke




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