Breaking Down How the Colts Match Up Against Every Possible Playoff Opponent
At 11-5, the Indianapolis Colts are back in the playoffs for the second season in a row, and the 13th time in the last 15 years. It's largely due to the quarterback situation, obviously, which has had more stability than any team in the league over that time span.
This season, it was Luck, a streaky defense and big plays that carried the Colts to an AFC South title and a playoff spot. With every playoff spot locked up, the Colts now look ahead to their opponent, and potential future opponents, they'll face in January.
How do the enigmatic Colts match up against those teams? We take a look at each of the potential battles in this New Year's special.
Kansas City Chiefs
The one opponent the Colts are guaranteed to face is also the one they match up the best with, fortunately for Indianapolis.
If Charles is excelling, the passing game can be dangerous with the extra attention given to Charles, but if Charles is slowed, the offense will suffer.
With Indianapolis' secondary playing press-man coverage, they generally can control the wide receivers, as they did at Arrowhead in Week 16. As long as the linebackers don't ignore Charles in the passing game and can keep him somewhat contained, the Chiefs' offense isn't scaring the Colts.
Defensively, the Chiefs were a bit overrated after facing a slew of poor offenses led by inconsistent quarterbacks in the first half of the season.
The Chiefs have been lit up by better offenses in the second half of the season, and the Colts were one of those teams, scoring on five straight drives after two early three-and-outs, and scored 23 in the second and third quarters alone before running the clock out in the fourth quarter.
That's not to say Kansas City can't win. The Colts run defense is vulnerable against the run, finishing 22nd in run DVOA this season, according to Football Outsiders, and Charles certainly could find a few seams for big gains.
But the Colts have done a good job of shutting down running backs when they make it a priority this season, and the edge lies with them overall, especially if Pat McAfee can negate their large special teams advantage with touchbacks in the Lucas Oil Stadium.
Another team the Colts faced in the regular season, the Broncos are the best team in the AFC, but certainly have vulnerabilities.
The Colts were able to slow the Denver offense in Week 7 with press coverage on the outside and well-timed pass rush from Robert Mathis, but the Broncos still can score more consistently than any team in the league, and will be a difficult opponent the second time around.
Should the Colts face the Broncos at Mile High Stadium, they'll need another phenomenal performance from CB Vontae Davis and some physical play from Darius Butler across from Wes Welker to slow the explosive Broncos passing offense.
More importantly for Indianapolis is the coaches' play-calling and defensive disguises. Greg Manusky likes to bring his safeties and linebackers up to cheat against the run or blitz the quarterback, but Peyton Manning reads the field better than any other quarterback in the league.
The Colts have to disguise their blitzes well in order to fool Manning, or the game will be a long one for the Colts defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos defense is very vulnerable. The most important matchup will be the Broncos' defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton versus a very questionable interior offensive line for Indianapolis.
If the Colts can keep those two from getting penetration up the middle, Luck should be able to have plenty of time to pick apart an ailing secondary.
New England Patriots
Like the Broncos, the Patriots match an efficient offense with a struggling defense, the kind of team the Colts could possibly upset.
On offense, the Patriots have struggled to stay consistent with Rob Gronkowski out, and rely on short passes to Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen to move the ball offensively.
The Colts would need to key in on those two players and not allow LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley to run wild. If they could do that, they likely could keep New England out of the end zone and keep the score from getting out of control.
The Colts would need to take advantage of the Patriots weakened front seven, which has struggled mightily against the run without Jerrod Mayo and Vince Wilfork.
Despite having a poor interior line, the Colts would likely be able to create rushing lanes against the Patriots, which Donald Brown has exploited for big gains all season.
Along with the run, the Colts would need to use crossing routes to beat the Patriots linebackers in coverage, much like they did against the Chiefs and Jaguars in the final two weeks of the regular season.
T.Y. Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers and Donald Brown are all explosive after the catch, and could create big plays without risking turnovers.
Considering the Week 14 loss at Paul Brown Stadium, it would seem that the Colts have an unfavorable matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. When you look at the makeup of the two teams, it makes sense.
It all starts with the defense, which has carried Cincinnati all season. The Bengals defense has a strong front seven combined with a decent secondary.
The front seven is led by Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson at defensive end, who dominate the run game and make it difficult for teams to run off-tackle. This is especially a problem for Indianapolis, who is married to the power-run game and run best behind their tackles.
The Colts running backs ran for just 31 yards on 10 carries against the Bengals earlier this season, and it severely limited their versatility.
They were able to find some success throwing the ball in the second half, but it was late at that point, and Cincinnati was playing prevent defenses.
If he's having a good day, like he was in Week 14, he can find enough holes to exploit the Colts defense. Adding to the problem is Giovani Bernard, who gave the Colts major problems in their first game. The Colts would need to take him out of the game if they want to win a game at Paul Brown Stadium in the postseason.
San Diego Chargers
Like the Patriots and Broncos, the Chargers bring an explosive offense to the table, but lack in defense. Despite the poor defense, the Chargers were able to hold the Colts to nine points in their early season matchup.
A big reason why the Colts couldn't score is that the Chargers controlled the clock throughout the game with a strong running game; Ryan Mathews had over 100 yards on 4.6 yards per carry and the Chargers had over 17 minutes more time of possession than the Colts.
The Chargers are dangerous throwing the ball, especially rookie to Keenan Allen, who beat Vontae Davis and LaRon Landry for the Chargers' only touchdown.
Allen and Danny Woodhead have been the Chargers' most lethal red zone weapons, and would need to be corralled in a playoff rematch.
The Colts had a terrible third down percentage in that game, largely due to drops. The Chargers defense is certainly vulnerable, it was more of a fluke in the first matchup.
San Diego finished as Football Outsiders' worst defense in the league, and the Colts should be able to move the ball, the question is whether they could keep up with Philip Rivers and Co.
The NFC and the Super Bowl
Seattle and San Francisco: A bad matchup for Indianapolis, a repeat performance by the Colts' offense would be unlikely with Reggie Wayne out.
The Seahawks defense is really built to beat a team like Indianapolis. Fortunately, the two offenses are stoppable if you can keep Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick from extending plays outside the pocket.
Carolina: Another less-than-favorable matchup, the good thing about Carolina's defense is that the secondary is questionable. The Colts would need to pass downfield, however, as the Panther linebackers are very athletic.
Green Bay and Philadelphia: Two more teams with stronger offenses than defenses, and the Colts would need strong defensive performances to keep up. New Orleans fits into this category as well, although the defense could provide issues if Luck struggles to read blitzes.