INDIANAPOLIS – First, you put yourself in position.
Next, you take advantage of how you’ve positioned yourself on the NFL landscape.
As the Indianapolis Colts sit back and make the most of their bye week – enjoy it and heal up the body – they should draw a measure of satisfaction from where they sit 10 weeks into the season.
They’ve already surpassed last season’s win total – 4-12-1, remember? – and are one of 11 teams in the AFC at 5-5 or better. Last Sunday’s 10-6 win over the New England Patriots in Frankfurt, Germany came on the heels of a 27-13 victory at Carolina and helped mitigate a three-game losing streak during which they allowed at least 37 points in each game.
Just like that, the Colts face meaningful games once they return from their bye.
Mo Alie-Cox has noticed.
“Just having momentum going into a bye (and) getting back to .500 especially coming off a three-game losing streak, being able to get two in a row we put ourselves in a good position and we are in the thick of the playoff race,’’ the veteran tight end said Monday.
You don’t have to accept Alie-Cox’s admittedly-biased opinion. Just take a peek at the standings.
The AFC South probably is a bridge too far. Despite being rolled 34-4 at home Sunday by San Francisco, Jacksonville leads the division at 6-3. They’re a game ahead of surprising Houston (5-4) and essentially have a 2½-game lead over the Colts on the strength of already sweeping them.
A wild-card spot is a different story entirely.
AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland currently hold the top two wild-card spots at 6-3, with the Texans sitting with the No. 7 seed.
Tightly bunched after that are: Cincinnati (5-4) and three 5-5 teams – the Colts, Buffalo and the Las Vegas Raiders. The Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets and Denver Broncos are at 4-5.
Shane Steichen made certain to educate his team on how it stacks up in the jumbled AFC after Sunday’s win over the Patriots.
“In the locker room it’s, ‘Hey, get healthy, and let’s make a run at this thing. We have seven games left. We’re right in the thick of it and let’s play our best football in November and December,’’’ he said during his post-game meeting with the media.
Or as defensive end DeForest Buckner pointed out: “Everything is in front of us.’’
Yes, it’s a tad early to be focused on whether the Colts have a realistic shot at earning their first playoff spot since 2020.
But the fact they’ve remained relevant despite losing rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson to shoulder surgery shouldn’t be casually dismissed. Few would have expected the Colts and Bills to match 5-5 records at this point of the season.
Here’s a few issues to consider as the Colts deal with the final two months of the season:
The remaining schedule is conducive to the Colts making a playoff push deep into December. If, that is, they handle their own business. The seven opponents have a combined 32-33 record (.492). It consists of home games with Tampa Bay (4-5), Pittsburgh (6-3), the Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) and Houston (5-4), and road tests with Tennessee (3-6), Cincinnati (5-4) and Atlanta (4-6).
Here’s where we remind you the Colts are 1-4 at Lucas Oil Stadium and 4-1 away from home. Go figure.
We’re not going to break down every team’s remaining schedule, but will detail the treacherous paths of Buffalo and Cincinnati.
The Bills face teams with a .578 winning percentage: the Jets (4-5), at Philadelphia (8-1), at Kansas City (7-2), Dallas (6-3), at the Chargers (4-5), New England (2-8) and at Miami (6-3).
Cincy’s challenge is even stiffer (.653): at Baltimore (7-3), Pittsburgh (6-3) twice, at Jacksonville (6-3), the Colts, Minnesota (6-4), at Kansas City (7-2) and Cleveland (6-3).
More from Minshew
We’ll draw some fire with this, but a case can be made the Colts reached .500 despite Gardner Minshew II. There were consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Cleveland when he turned the ball over four times in each, and the wins over the Patriots and Panthers when he passed for 194 and 127 yards, respectively, and averaged a combined 5.9 yards per attempt and 9.2 yards per completion.
Minshew seemed to vacate the pocket too quickly against the Patriots, which forced him to make tougher throws on the move. Until he’s able to steady himself and pump life into the passing game, Jonathan Taylor is going to run into loaded fronts. The last two games, he’s been limited to 2.8 yards per attempt (116 yards on 41 rushes).
The contrast in Minshew the starter with Minshew the reliever is dramatic.
In his six starts, Minshew is 133-of-217 (61.3%) for 1,395 yards with seven TDs, six interceptions and a 79.2 rating. He’s averaged 6.4 yards per attempt.
When he replaced Richardson against the Texans and the Titans, he was 30-of-37 (81.1%) for 326 yards, one touchdown and a 112.4 rating. He averaged 8.8 yards per attempt.
Clearly, defenses have had a better read on Minshew when they’ve prepared for him.
Tighten up the D
The defense has been instrumental in the two-game winning streak. Against the Panthers, Kenny Moore II became the first Colt with two pick-6s in a game and the defense finished with three interceptions and four sacks. Against the Patriots, Julian Blackmon and Rodney Thomas II came up with pivotal interceptions and Dayo Odeyingbo accounted for 3 of the team’s 5 sacks.
But the defense has been gouged for 305 rushing yards the past two weeks, and the Patriots and Panthers averaged 4.8 yards per attempt.
The return of Grover Stewart will help immensely. He’s missed four of the required six games after being suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. His first game back: Dec. 10 at Cincinnati.
In the last four games without Stewart, the run defense has allowed averages of 154 yards per game and 4.6 per attempt.
In the first six games with Stewart and Buckner anchoring the middle of Gus Bradley’s defense, teams averaged 113.5 yards per game and 3.7 per attempt.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.