The Indianapolis Colts (5-5) enjoyed some time off this past week as the team had their bye week. Before the bye week, the Colts ripped off two consecutive wins against the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots to get back to .500.
"I think you start playing your best football in November and December, and you start climbing," head coach Shane Steichen said after the win against the Patriots. "You kind of find out about teams late second half of the season. So to be 2-0 and finding different ways to win and our defense has obviously stepped up the last two weeks in Carolina and then now here against the Patriots. But the big thing is just playing that complementary football back and forth going forward so we can be at our best coming off the bye."
The Colts find themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff race with seven games remaining. Before the Week 11 action, Indy stood just a half-game behind the Houston Texans for the seventh seed. The results from various contests around the league caused the playoff picture to come into focus.
Let's look at how some key matchups affected the Colts' playoff standing during their bye.
The Baltimore Ravens (8-3) kicked off the week with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-5) on Thursday Night Football. While the Ravens got the win, the bigger story was the injury to Bengals superstar quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow suffered torn ligaments in his throwing hand and will be out for the rest of the season.
The loss of Burrow is a massive hit to the Bengals. The Bengals sit tied with the Colts in terms of record, and the two teams will face off in Week 14. Without Burrow, the Colts may have one less team to worry about in the playoff push.
More quarterback injury news came down this past week as Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Deshaun Watson was lost for the season. But the Browns (7-3) kept the train rolling behind their string defense, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) to take sole possession of fifth place in the AFC. The Steelers currently sit sixth in the AFC after the loss.
The Colts have already played the Browns this season, a 39-38 loss marred by controversial officiating. But the Colts still have a date with the Steelers in Week 15 that could help decide the fate of each team. For right now, the Colts will be chasing the Steelers for playoff position.
The Green Bay Packers (4-6) pulled off a thrilling victory over the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) in front of a raucous crowd at Lambeau Field. The loss drops the Chargers to 13th in the AFC standings, a game behind the Colts and two games behind the final playoff stop. For a team with great talent on both sides of the ball, the Chargers have not been able to put it together.
While the Colts do not play the Chargers in 2023, the Chargers have a brutal schedule ahead. Six of their remaining seven games come against teams with a .500 record or better. It will be a tough climb for the Chargers to make a playoff push.
Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has his least efficient day as a pro on Sunday. After throwing just two interceptions all year, Stroud threw three interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals. But in the end, the rest of the squad picked up the slack as the Texans (6-4) took down the lowly Cardinals (2-9) to hold steady at seventh in the AFC.
Before the season began, it would have been crazy to think that Colts vs. Texans in Week 18 may have playoff implications. Now, it seems that could be a reality. The Colts came out victorious over the Texans in Week 2. Could they do it again in Lucas Oil Stadium to get into the playoffs?
The Las Vegas Raiders (5-6) have been through a lot this season. But after the firing of Josh McDaniels, the Raiders were 2-0 under interim head coach Antonio Pierce. But the feel-good story could not overcome a talented Miami Dolphins (7-3) squad at Hard Rock Stadium, dropping the Raiders to 12th in the AFC.
While currently a half-game ahead of the Raiders in the standings, the Colts have a chance to take out the AFC West team themselves. The Colts will face the Raiders in Week 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium, with both teams likely still in the playoff hunt. It could be a must-win for both squads on New Year's Eve.
The Buffalo Bills (6-5) got back on track against a struggling New York Jets (4-6) offense that could hardly do anything on Sunday. Josh Allen had one of his most efficient days of the season and powered the Bills to a dominating victory. The win puts the Bills ahead of the Colts and in the eighth spot in the AFC, a half-game behind the Texans.
The Colts do not play either of these teams the rest of the way. However, of the two teams, the Bills are the most dangerous. They have plenty of talent across the roster and still have the potential to be one of the best teams in the AFC. Do not be surprised to see the Bill make a late-season push to make the playoffs.
Sunday Night Football did not disappoint as the matchup between the Denver Broncos (5-5) and Minnesota Vikings (6-5) came down to the wire. In the end, Russell Wilson and Courtland Sutton worked their magic to get the fourth straight win for the Broncos.
After starting 1-4, the Broncos have come on strong to tie the Colts in record. These teams do not play each other, but the Broncos have a lot of momentum heading into the stretch run. Denver is certainly a team to watch the rest of the season.
After this weekend's slate of games, the Colts sit ninth in a very tight AFC. The Colts have many meaningful games over the final seven weeks of the season. Four of the Colts' seven remaining games are against teams in the thick of the AFC playoff race. There are plenty of opportunities to knock down their opponents.
However, the Colts cannot think about that now. Coming off the bye, Indy welcomes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. If they want to stay in the playoff picture, it starts with getting a win this week.
Want more Colts content? Check out the latest episode of the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast!