Talk about dark horses, these come in a shade of Royal Blue.
Since the season of despair three seasons ago, you know, the one that saw All Universe QB Peyton Mannings 200 plus games played streak end, where the Colts finished an abysmal 2-14, their only big win in hindsight was a victory in the draft for the next season.
After much back and forth between Colts owner Jim Irsay, then GM Bill Polian, and Manning, the club decided it would move in a different direction, one that may play a big part in these current playoffs. Manning was let go, and armed with the number one overall pick and not one but two promising quarterbacks entering the draft in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffith III, it was easy to see why Peyton was sent out to the pasture.
No one knew that Manning would revive his career the way he did, but by the same token, the Colts needed to get younger, and after plenty of seasons of giving one guy a large percentage of the club’s cap allowance, a young QB would be a better option, not just for the position, but for the team as a whole.
The Colts would eventually settle on selecting Luck, a hard nosed player out of Stanford, and forged to play tough football by then Stanfor/now 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Luck wasn’t as athletic as RGIII(or even Russell Wilson, the wunderkind who went later in that same draft and now is the key cog in a high powered Seattle Seahawks offense), but he had a steady record of playing against quality competition, a winning attitude, and all the tools one looks for in a successful QB in today’s NFL. Coming out of Tennessee in 1998, plenty of critics said much the same things about Manning as they did about Luck, and all he has done since entering the NFL is prove them wrong.
The team has gone 11-5 in the two seasons with Luck at the helm, and have provided no shortage of 4th quarter thrillers. This team is never really out of the picture during a game, and it makes them extremely dangerous in these playoffs. They have reeled off three straight victories, and they seem to excel when the competition improves, having a 4-0 record against four top playoff contenders, with wins over the Seahawks, Niners, Super Bowl favorite Broncos and the team they are slated to compete against this weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Colts did lost to two other playoff contenders, the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals, but I just don’t see either club as having the same chance as the previously mentioned four clubs.
That victory just happened to be part of the aforementioned winning streak the Colts are riding into the playoffs. Despite all the feel good sentiment regarding Andy Reid’s resurrection as a quality coach, and the Chiefs turning their fortunes around, the Colts are quite possibly the worst first round matchup for them. The only issue for the Colts, and it is a big one, is if the offensive line can continue to play solidly after being severely leaky at times. Former 1st rounder Trent Richardson, a powerful running back sent to the Colts in a trade for a future 1st rounder, has not been as advertised, but Donald Brown is helping everyone forget about this. Missing Reggie Wayne hurts, but Luck and Co. have managed well with the youth on the roster with T.Y. Hilton emerging as Luck’s go-to guy.
Where the Colts might not win on talent they balance it with willpower. Simply put, the Colts refuse to lose when the stakes are high. If they can keep Chiefs All Pro RB Jamaal Charles on the sidelines with ball control, this game will be an easy one for Indy, seeing as how they did a decent job of keeping Chiefs QB Alex Smith off balance and ineffective in their previous contest. The Colts would be wise to utilize unappreciated RB Donald Brown, a player who came out of college with much promise, and never seemed to get off the ground or the breaks necessary to establish himself as a presence. He is clearly outperforming Richardson, and should see the bulk of carries.
The Chiefs have been letdowns against top flight competition this year, bowing out twice to the Broncos, the Chargers, and basically were the beneficiaries of an incredibly soft schedule outside of those games. They have had a great season, but there are no bottom feeders in the playoffs, and this will be the root cause of the Chiefs impending demise against the Colts.
I completely expect the Colts to build a running game, work a Luck-to-Fleener short passing game, and occasionally try the long ball with Hilton and newcomers De’Rick Rogers & Lavon Brazill. They will have to keep Charles between the tackles, and cut off the outside game for the Chiefs in order to move on to the next round where they will likely face the New England Patriots.
If they commit to this game plan, they should dispatch the Chiefs. My prediction? 27-17 Colts.
*Photo courtesy of NFL.SI.com