After a strong showing at Arrowhead Stadium with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Indianapolis Colts have thrust themselves back into the list of AFC contenders. It helps that all of the top AFC teams have shown weakness over the last few weeks, with the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals all losing to mediocre teams.
The Colts, on the other hand, have strung together two strong weeks in a row, beating both the Houston Texans and Chiefs by double digits. After an inconsistent patch following their bye week, the Colts seem to have found a groove on both sides of the ball, outscoring their opponent 48-10 during the last two weeks.
Now, the Colts look ahead to Week 17 with a chance, albeit small, to finish as one of the AFC's top two seeds. With the NFL scheduling Week 17 as all division matchups this season, it's sure to be an eventful slate of games.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars their final opponent and a playoff spot locked up, the Colts may end up resting a few players this week, but will still be looking to win and finish the season with 11 wins for the second year in a row.
While injuries and some questionable coaching decisions have frustrated fans throughout the season, the Colts have finished right about where they were predicted to by most and have as good of a chance as anybody to make a run in the AFC. With a chance to move up in seeding and potentially avoid a trip to Denver as long as possible, however, the Colts can't look past the Jaguars in this week's matchup.
|AFC South Standings|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Point Diff.||AFC Rank|
A weaker division than most expected has certainly helped Indianapolis, but nobody is complaining about wrestling the division title back from Houston, who held it for the past two years. Well, wrestling may be not be the best way to put it. Let's say Indianapolis picked it up off of Matt Schaub's lifeless corpse.
Nevertheless, the division has potential, especially in Jacksonville, where new general manager David Caldwell and first-year head coach Gus Bradley have put together a promising squad. The Jaguars have gone 4-3 in the second half of the season and have been competitive despite having one of the worst quarterback situations in the league.
Houston still has talent on their roster, although the front office's mishandling of Gary Kubiak and the quarterbacks this past season leaves some room for concern. With what will likely be the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Houston has a chance to potentially fix the quarterback problem, which would mean a massive leap in 2014.
So, despite the Colts' easier-than-expected takeover in 2013, they can't stay stagnant going forward.
|Week 17 Injury Report|
|Ricky Jean Francois||DL||Foot||Questionable|
|Montori Hughes||DL||Knee||Out (IR)|
The Colts have a large injury report for this week, but have plenty of players possibly coming back from injury, including Hugh Thornton, Sergio Brown and Ricky Jean Francois, all of whom missed Sunday's game. Greg Toler played just seven snaps on Sunday but should see a larger role in Week 17 as he continues to come back from a groin injury suffered in Week 8.
Joe Reitz may be back this week as well, as he suffered a concussion in Week 15 and was not cleared to play last week. He has just one more test to clear before he can return. Cory Redding left Sunday's game with a scary shoulder injury, but appears to be fine. While some of these players may be limited in Sunday's game, they should be ready for the playoffs.
On the pessimistic side of things, the Colts placed rookie defensive lineman Montori Hughes on the injured reserve list with a knee injury. It is the Colts' 15th player on the injured reserve list this season.
What Needs to Improve
It's Christmas, and the Colts have strung together two straight weeks of impressive play, so this will be short.
The Colts offense has been much better over the last few weeks, as Pep Hamilton has allowed Andrew Luck to air it out a bit more early in games. After struggling to score first-half points in the weeks following Reggie Wayne's injury, the Colts have gotten out to leads in each of the past two first halves.
While the play-calling has improved, there is still questionable decision-making regarding personnel, namely the running backs. Donald Brown has started, as he has earned, but Trent Richardson still has gotten more snaps than warranted.
|Brown vs. Richardson Usage Weeks 13-16|
|Opponent||Brown Snaps||Rich. Snaps||Brown Runs||Rich. Runs|
|Pro Football Focus|
Against Houston, this makes sense, as Brown left with an injury. In the rest, however, Brown outperformed Richardson (as he has all year), yet Richardson has stayed even with or has gotten more snaps.
The Titans game is really the ideal usage of the two backs. Richardson has use in short-yardage situations and in order to spell Brown. Even in situations when the Colts want to run the clock out, Brown is the better option. He's simply a better running back right now and gives you more than Richardson does.
It's excusable in wins like Kansas City and Houston, where the Colts have a big lead and the opponent's offense is completely shut down, but that likely isn't going to be the case in the playoffs. The Colts will need to score points and be efficient offensively, and Brown is their best chance to do so.