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It's going to take more than Luck.
It is really hard to not make Andrew Luck puns. Even when you're not trying to do it, you'll just wind up using the word 'luck' when writing about the Colts and think 'Damn it. What is a good synonym for 'luck'? I don't want to turn this entire article into an ESPN headline!" Good fortune? Blessing? Even thesaurus.com can only come up with a couple usable synonyms, which is far less than the five synonyms for luck that actually contain the word luck. ("Run of luck"? I didn't ask how I could use it in a phrase.)
Hey, that's hardly a synonym, Thesaurus! I was trying to avoid the word altogether!
The word 'luck' is almost unavoidable when talking about the Colts, in fact it is quite synonymous with their season. How lucky it was to wind up with the first overall pick in this draft and spend only one season of awful between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck? How lucky do you have to be to have Luck lead an NFL-high seven game-winning drives? How lucky it is to play in the AFC this year. And even if you don't believe in luck, how fortunate and blessed are the Colts for having Luck right now and seeing him as the biggest difference between a 2-14 season and an 11-5 season? With those seven game-winning drives and four fourth quarter comebacks, they quite literally would not be in the same position that they are in now:
Four wins away from a Super Bowl championship. Can they do that? They're certainly going to need all kinds of Luck, both real and imaginary.
Why the Colts win the Super Bowl
Have I said Luck yet?
I had a feeling that Indianapolis would go to the playoffs this year. Despite their 2-14 record, the Colts weren't terrible last season when they had Dan Orlovsky, a below-average quarterback, as the starter. They were mostly just terrible with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter. With Orlovsky, they went 2-3, and nearly made an incredible comeback against the Patriots in New England. So if you're decent with Orlovsky, you should be significantly better with Luck. That was only part of the equation though:
The AFC is terrible. The Colts had a significant roster overhaul. A new head coach. A winnable schedule. The stars were aligned in many ways, but at the end of the day none of it would have worked out this well with Painter or Orlovsky. Andrew Luck is the difference. Indianapolis only has two wins this season of more than a touchdown, you can't slice the lime that thin and expect it to be just as good with a duller knife.
There was Week 2 against the Vikings, when Luck took the Colts from their own 20 with :31 left to the Vikings 35 and setting up a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal. The emotionally-charged Week 5 win over the Packers when Luck hit Reggie Wayne for the game-winning touchdown with :39 left. Or being down 12 points in Detroit with less than 3:00 left, and Luck hitting LaVon Brazill for a 42-yard touchdown with 2:47 left, and Donnie Avery for the game-winner with :03 left. That's less than half of the game-winning drives of Luck's season. They simply aren't here without him. Fact: Luck. Beats. Battlestar Galactica.
I personally have Andrew Luck as third in the Rookie of the Year contest behind Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson by a significant margin, but you are almost never going to see a rookie quarterback as good as Luck. It's just an odd phenomenon that you just happen to have three great rookie seasons all in the same year. (However, if you want to talk about bad luck, Wayne, Avery, and T.Y. Hilton each have at least six drops this year, contributing to his low completion percentage.)
What you have to love about Luck though, is that you feel like he's going to keep you in the game no matter what. If the Colts were down 21 going into the fourth quarter, I wouldn't completely count them out. They still have a lot of work to do, but they are set at quarterback for a very long time.... again. How lucky.
The AFC "Least" is now almost the entire AFC
Face it, the Colts might only need to pull one upset to make the Super Bowl. It's not much of an upset if they beat the Ravens, losers of four of their last five games. At that point, they could head to either New England or Denver and there is literally no way to know which of those teams it will be, but neither are invincible. Heck, to find the last time that the Patriots were upset by a lesser team after a Bye week in the playoffs you'd have to go back to... 2010. When even Mark Sanchez proved he could beat the Patriots in the playoffs.
Indianapolis beat the Vikings, the Packers, and the Texans. They can compete against any team, and they have won nine of their last eleven games. That's the same record that the Patriots have over their last eleven games. This is a good spot for Indy to be in.
Special Teams on a special team
For a team that had so many close games this year, special teams can be the great equalizer, and the Colts desperately need an edge somewhere. To be honest, Indianapolis ranks in the top 10 (or even the top half of the league) in almost no major categories, other than being 10th in yardage, which can have a number of different factors that attest to so much yardage. Other than that:
- 18th in scoring offense, 18th in net yards per pass attempt, 22nd in rushing yards, 26th in yards per carry, 23rd in giveaways
- 21st in scoring defense, 26th in total defense, 21st in passing yards allowed, 21st in net yards per pass attempt allowed, 29th in rushing defense, 21st in rushing touchdowns allowed, 31st in yards per carry allowed, 30th in takeaways, 26th in takeaway/giveaway differential, and the Colts were outscored by 30 points this season.
So how can a team that looks so below-average be 11-5? Special teams helps and Football Outsiders ranks the Colts as 12th in overall special teams DVOA and 9th in Weighted DVOA, which takes recent games more into account than early-season games. T.Y. Hilton averages 11.5 yards per punt return, Deji Karim just had a major 101-yard kickoff return on Sunday, Adam Vinatieri is an experienced veteran that may have a good playoff reputation (?) and Pat McAfee averages 47.9 yards per punt.
We often treat special teams like the "Ronnie DeVoe" of football, but you simply wouldn't have Bell Biv DeVoe without him. They are integral to your success. When you aren't very good on defense and your offense relies heavy on 40+ pass attempts from your quarterback, having a good special teams and coverage unit is feather on the scale tipping it in your favor. Pure "Poison".
Why the Colts won't win the Super Bowl
Well, I did say a lot of unkind things about them in that last section
Indianapolis winds up at 11-5 in major part because of Luck, but also thanks to a favorable schedule that Football Outsiders ranks as the easiest in the NFL. "Hey you get to plays the Jaguars twice, the Titans twice, the Chiefs, the Bills, the Dolphins, the Jets, and the Browns!" Sign any NFL team up for a schedule like that and they'll get you twice the amount of presents for Christmas.
Not only that, but they actually lost once to the Jags and 35-9 to the Jets. The Jets scored 35 points in a game this season!
FO also ranks the Colts as having the second-worst defense in the NFL, only a touch behind the historically-bad Saints defense. FO would put Indy more like 6-10, Pythagorean theorem would say more like 7-9, though their actual record came out at 11-5. Indianapolis does not have a good pass defense, they have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, they struggled to stop tight ends, and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry.
By most standards (anything other than their actual W-L record) they would come out as a below-average football team, but they were fortunate enough to have an easy schedule and a "clutch" (whatever that really means) quarterback. It's undeniable that Luck and special teams were the great equalizer to winning so many close games, but they were beaten easily by the Bears, Jags, and the Patriots. And we can't ignore that a road to the Super Bowl could very well go through New England, the same place that saw Indy lose 59-24 in Week 11.
The Colts took care of business this season and there is nothing more that you could ask them to do, especially coming off of one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They spent a lot of draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, and the future is very bright there, but they have a long way to go on defense. They overcame the loss of their coach mid-season and proved Chuck-strong enough to win 11 games and tie up the 5-seed in the AFC. At this point, their season can't be considered anything but a success. However, the Colts still do have work left before looking like a strong contender for a championship. Anything can happen, as we saw with the Giants just a year ago, but it doesn't seem likely that this defense could contain both Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in order to earn that coveted trip to New Orleans. Normally I would give three reasons as to why a team won't win a Super Bowl but I think this section is reason enough.
For Indianapolis to win a Super Bowl this year, they would have to play better football than they have played all year. Perhaps a convincing win over the Texans that they knew wouldn't effect their seeding was a solid step in the right direction, but if they win it all this season, it would mean that they got exponentially better as well as getting incredibly lucky.