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Pre-Game Recon: The Colts Are On A Mission

Andrew Luck still carries his football team on his back on a weekly basis, but that might be all Indy needs to secure another AFC South title.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Wilson of our sister site, Stampede Blue, is back again to give an update on the Colts after they rallied all the way back to be tied for the division lead in the AFC South heading into Week 14. Indianapolis is coming off a dominant 41-10 victory over the Jets on Monday night, and with Andrew Luck finally (seemingly) healthy, this team is right back in the hunt for the playoffs. Here is what Josh had to say about his resurgent team in advance of this Sunday’s game:

1. A lot has changed since the Texanscome-from-behind win over the Colts earlier this season - primarily that the AFC South is now in a three-way deadlock for first place between the Texans, Colts, and Titans. What is your confidence level that the Colts can come all the way back from the depths of despair and actually win this division?

My confidence level in the Colts is not all that great, but neither is my confidence level in any of the AFC South teams right now. So that, coupled with the fact that Andrew Luck is playing well, gives reason for optimism for Colts fans. I actually think that the Colts stand a good shot at winning the division, but that would of course require a win this Sunday. With Luck playing good football this season, that gives the Colts a definite chance, but no guarantee. I don't expect the Colts to run the table and win their last four games, but the reality is that they've won the last three games that Luck has started and are playing the best they've played all year (which really isn't saying a lot). I think they have a good chance at winning the AFC South, but it could very well come down to the winner of Sunday's game. Whoever wins this crucial battle will be the clear-cut favorite to win the division, and since I think the Colts have a very real chance this Sunday, I think they have a very real chance to win the division.

2. Let's just pretend that Colts do in fact win the South. Do you think this team - by the grace of Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton - could make noise in the playoffs against the NFL's elite?

On the surface, I don't. I don't really think the Colts as a team measure up against the teams that will likely make the playoffs, and they'd likely face a first round game against the AFC West runner-up (either the Raiders or the Chiefs, probably). That's a really tough matchup, so on paper the Colts shouldn't win that game or make noise in the postseason. But the wild card is Andrew Luck, and he's proven capable of putting the team on his back in any given situation and winning games that the team has no business of winning. He could absolutely do that again. He's led the Colts on a massive comeback to beat the Chiefs in the postseason and has led the Colts to a road divisional win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos, so it's certainly plausible he could do it again (with the help of guys like T.Y. Hilton, who you mentioned). While I wouldn't expect it to happen, having Andrew Luck on the field always means that there's a chance of something special happening.

3. Are Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson still on the hot seat?

My answer at this point is that they should be and that they probably are, but I still wouldn't expect changes unless things completely fall apart in the final few weeks of the season. Jim Irsay made the stunning decision to extend both of them last offseason, and I think it will take a lot for him to admit that he was wrong after just one season. He made a commitment last offseason to stability and continuity, and it's clear that's what he values. I don't think they have the right guys leading the team and therefore think getting the right people is more important than keeping stability, but Irsay seems committed. If they have another average season (such as an 8-8 finish and miss the playoffs), my guess would be that both are safe. But as we learned last year, things can be entirely unpredictable when it comes to the NFL.

4. What would you say is the best part about watching the Colts play football right now? What about the worst?

The best part about watching the Colts play is Andrew Luck, who's having a very good season. He's completing 64% of his passes for 3,105 yards (7.7 yards per attempt), 23 touchdowns and eight picks for a passer rating of 98.3, while he's also rushed for 272 yards and a touchdown while averaging five yards per carry. He's the team's best player and their most fun to watch, and he's proven to everyone that his 2015 season was just an aberration rather than cause for lingering concern. It's also fun to watch T.Y. Hilton, who's having the best season of his career and who is currently second in the league in receiving yards. It's fun to watch the special teams units, as Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee are continually on top of their game and among the very best at what they do in the entire NFL. There are other things I could mention too, but those are a few of the good things that stand out when watching the Colts.

Some of the bad things are centered around the other side of the ball, as the defense has been a work in progress all year (and that's my nicest way of saying it). They've improved as of late, but despite the improvement they're still not a very good unit. And now, with the loss of D'Qwell Jackson for four games due to a suspension and the lingering injury situations to players like Clayton Geathers and Robert Mathis, it's hard to imagine things getting much better anytime soon. While they've improved since Week One, they're still not a very good unit

5. What is your prediction for the game on Sunday?

My biggest expectation for this game is that it will be a close, hard-fought contest. Games between these two teams always tend to be that way, and both sides are perfectly aware of the stakes of this one: Colts players this week were saying that they're treating it like a Game Seven atmosphere. I expect both teams to be motivated and to give their best effort. In terms of how the game goes, I look back to last year's game between these two teams in a similar situation. The Colts lost to the Texans in a close, hard-fought game they had to win without Andrew Luck, and this year the stakes are very similar - only this time, the Colts will have Luck. I look back to the game between these teams earlier this year, when the Colts were clearly outplaying the Texans until the final few minutes of the game as Indy epically collapsed. Given the fact that Luck will play (and has been playing at a high level this season), plus the fact that we've already seen the Colts prove to be able to do well against the Texans this year (and the fact that in recent weeks the Colts have learned how to actually finish close games they almost blew), I'm going with the Colts in this one. I'll take the Colts 27, Texans 23.

It’s hard to argue with any score that favors Andrew Luck over Brock Osweiler, but if there was any defense that Osweiler could perform well against, it’s probably this Colts unit. Texans fans should not expect a shootout in any capacity, but Houston’s offense might not look completely inept, either. That should be considered an improvement.

Neither of these teams have beaten the other by more than seven points since the 2013 season, so this game will likely come down to the last couple of possessions for both sides. If the Texans can capitalize on those late-game opportunities like they did earlier this season, they have a great chance of coming away with a victory. If not, well...there’s always next year.