Through 12 weeks, the 2021 NFL season has been one of highs and lows for the Indianapolis Colts.
We fondly recall the images of a rain-soaked victory over the Niners. The recent domination of the heavily favored Bills provides a peek at the unlimited upside for this club.
However, our reverie is quickly shaken by recollections of the ‘Monday night mess’ in Baltimore. Two winnable games haunt us against the hated Titans that slipped away agonizingly.
It’s been difficult to grasp the pulse of this team from the jump. And, sitting at 6-6, the Colts are staring down a five-game stretch with massive organizational ramifications.
So let’s explore the possibilities, shall we?
If the Colts go 0-5 in their remaining schedule, they will finish with a devastating 6-11 record. Given the state of the division, they would probably still qualify for 2nd in a depressed AFC South. However, even the most upbeat supporter would have to agree that this result would be unacceptable.
The Colts are contractually tied to Carson Wentz through at least the 2022 season, after which they can get out of the current deal with no dead cap money. However, it’s fair to wonder whether he would be viewed as a lame-duck next season with such an abysmal season under his belt.
It’s also fair to wonder whether Wentz’s mentor, Frank Reich, would survive stumbling across the 2021 finish line. In his 4th season with the team and a talented roster, is it possible that Jim Irsay would deem it necessary to make a change? Certainly, the optics of losing out would not be good, and it’s within reason to think that a significant leadership change could be made.
Given the inconsistent performance of the Colts thus far, it’s hard to say which of these extremes is more likely. But with games against the Texans, Jags, and Raiders remaining on the schedule, it’s certainly not inconceivable that the Colts could win out to finish the year.
That triumphant outcome would give Indianapolis an 11-6 record on the season. Currently only two games behind a suddenly fading Tennessee squad, that result may be sufficient to claim a division title.
On a 5-game win streak and hosting a home playoff game, there’s no telling what this Colts may be capable of. Do any of the AFC teams seem like a prohibitive lock for Super Bowl LVI? Tennessee has lost two straight. New England is hot but has a rookie quarterback at the helm. Kansas City has looked anything but dominant. And, the Colts just beat up on a Buffalo team that was once considered a favorite.
Though it may seem far-fetched at the moment, there is most certainly a scenario where this hard to define Colts team ends up vying for a conference championship.
Meh… Somewhere in the Middle
The season’s closing stretch includes games against Houston, New England, Arizona, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville. The Colts are likely to be favored in 3 of those contests. So, let us consider the chalk of a 3-2 finish.
Sure, that result would technically result in a winning season. But would a 9-8 finish be enough to claim a playoff spot? Well, in a competitive AFC, this notion is not quite as out of reach as you might suspect. At 6-5, the Chargers are currently in the catbird seat for the conference’s third and final wild card bid. They lead a harem of 6 clubs (including the Colts) that are all within a game of 0.500 and vying for a playoff bid.
The playoffs would not be out of the question if the Colts won only those games that they were expected to. However, luck would need to be on their side.
Playoff berth or not, it would be shocking to see significant changes to the roster and/or leadership after a 3-2 finish. Wentz’s debut season would likely be viewed as something to build on. I would anticipate Reich returning to guide the franchise. And, Ballard would continue stocking the pantry for a much-anticipated run at the division in 2022.
The overall goal of this little thought experiment is to illuminate just how pivotal the remaining games of this season will be for the entire Colts franchise.
I do not believe it to be hyperbole when I say that every extreme is in play, from a disgraced coach and a quarterback with one foot out the door to hoisting the Lamar Hunt trophy en route to Super Bowl LVI.
For the sake of the fanbase, let’s hope that the outcome is closer to the latter of those options. A lengthy debate about who is to blame for a disappointing 2021 would make for a lousy offseason. And frankly, Colts fandom is much more fun when it’s you and me for the Shoe!