NFL Playoff Picture: Sketching out the Road to a Playoff Berth for Colts

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIINovember 12, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture: Sketching out the Road to a Playoff Berth for Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts currently rank at the top of the AFC Wild Card standings. They're in the driver's seat if they want to be a part of the 2012 NFL playoffs. This wasn't supposed to happen in year one of a rebuilding effort.

    The reason the Colts are in this unexpected situation is due to a number of factors. It starts at the top with owner Jim Irsay and trickles down through the front office, coaching staff and the players. They've bought in to what the organization is all about and are all in for a fight for the playoffs.

    There's seven games left on the Colts schedule, and this is the blueprint for them in making a dream run to New Orleans.

Continue to Improve Each Week

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    If there was a manual on how to rebuild a franchise, No. 1 on that list would be improving each week. This season wasn't supposed to be about wins or losses, but rather, just getting better from week to week.

    This team has gone beyond the learning curve and getting better exponentially. The Colts are nowhere near the same team as in September or October. You can see Andrew Luck and the younger players growing up before our eyes.

    The playbook has opened up, and the team is doing things more efficiently. It can make a run to the playoffs if it can continue to improve better and better each week. It can't afford to regress at any moment.

Keep Running Game Strong

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    In this day and age of the NFL, running games are becoming less important. The way the Colts are using the ground game, though, is the recipe for not just a playoff run, but a Super Bowl-bound season.

    The day of one guy rushing for over 100 yards are getting to be over. As long as at least two backs are getting carries and pounding the line, eventually, it will open up the passing game. This is exactly what Indianapolis is doing.

    The Colts are using rookie Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter to wear down the defense. They're substituting the three in and out to keep fresh legs in at all time and get positive yardage each play. By doing this, it allows Andrew Luck to be able to utilize play action passes and get huge yardage for the offense.

    The Colts know their offensive line struggles to protect Luck on straight pass plays. They are good, though, at making holes for four to six-yard gains. If they can keep doing this, the Colts will be a hard team to stop.

Don't Turn the Ball over

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    The Colts have been winning lately all due to maximizing possessions. Most of the time, whoever has the most turnovers loses the games. They see that and have been doing a better job at this.

    Going forward, the Colts need to hold on to the ball and not give it away. Outside of the Jacksonville game, they've struggled getting takeaways themselves. That's put them in a tough spot, and just in case they revert to not forcing turnovers, this team needs to not commit any itself.

    Luck is getting better at not forcing passes, and the backs are doing a good job of holding on to the ball. The season is going to come down to this factor.

Stop the Run

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    The defense has been improving each week after the lack of effort in New York back in October. It allowed a bad Jets offense to run all over it, and the lack of stopping Shonn Greene was the reason it lost.

    Since, it has kept all four opponents from making big plays on the ground and making huge strides at becoming a run stopping defense. If it can continue, this effort there's no reason it won't win 10 games.

    Look at all the teams successful in the NFL in the last decade. All of them can stop the run and force teams to pass in long situations. Indianapolis has been doing this lately and needs to keep it up.

Force Turnovers

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    The Colts have done a bad job at creating turnovers this season. Prior to the Jaguars game, they didn't force a turnover in five games. They did a good enough job at getting by, but that's not going to get a team in the playoffs. Coach Bruce Arians has been saying if they didn't create turnovers, they wouldn't win on the road.

    Four of the final seven games are on the road, and in order to win away from home, you have to create turnovers.

    The Colts did a great job of doing that in Jacksonville and need to keep that effort the rest of the season.