Image Credit: Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Taylor and his 253 rushing yards led the Indianapolis Colts to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in a must-win Week 17 contest.
As a result, the Colts have clinched the newly added No. 7 seed in the AFC. Now, they have to travel to Buffalo for the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs. So how did the Colts go from 7-9 a year ago to 11-5 and in the playoffs?
2019 to 2020
General manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich built the team around controlling time of possession offensively and having a stout defense that forces turnovers. After a 7-9 season in 2019, the Colts spent the offseason reinforcing their strengths. The Colts used their first three picks to trade for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, draft possession receiver Michael Pittman Jr., and draft power tailback Jonathan Taylor.
The Colts also selected Julian Blackmon in the third round, a safety from Utah that many felt was a reach. This included NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, who had a fourth- or fifth-round grade on him. However, similar to when the world felt the Colts reached to take Darius Leonard towards the beginning of the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Ballard and the Colts trusted their gut and got their guy.
Many expected Blackmon to be a long-term project because he was coming off of a knee injury. But Blackmon was no project, as he was an instant impact player on defense. By Week 3, he was starting, and by Week 6, he had two interceptions — one of which helped seal their victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
They also made some seemingly minor offseason additions to areas of strength that also improved depth from the 2019 roster. Xavier Rhodes, TJ Carrie, and Sheldon Day were smaller defensive moves that paid dividends. Roosevelt Nix and Trey Burton bolstered the Colts’ run game.
Colts’ 2020 Season
As a fringe playoff team, the Colts capitalized by beating the non-playoff teams. In their nine games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, the Colts were 8-1. The lone loss was a 27-20 defeat in Week 1 at Jacksonville – the Jaguars’ lone win of 2020.
In those nine games, the Colts averaged a scoring margin of 31.2 to 19.3. They also were a +11 in turnover differential against those teams.
Compare those stats to their games against playoff teams, and it’s clear why a team that was 8-1 against non-playoff teams needed a Week 17 win to punch their ticket to the playoffs. In the seven games against playoff-bound teams, the Colts were 3-4.
In those seven games, the Colts averaged a scoring margin of 24.3-26.9, with a turnover differential of -1. Against the upper-tier teams, they allowed an average of 7.6 more points per game and scored 6.8 less points per game, a 14.4-point swing, in large part due to the difference in turnovers forced.
The Wild Card Round
The Colts will face the second-seeded Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round. They are likely to open as underdogs, because the Bills have been scorching hot as of late. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen looks to be making the jump from good to great, with potential All-Pro honors on the horizon.
Since their Week 11 bye, the Bills have logged a six-game win streak, and looked terrific in the process. In those six games, the Bills have averaged a scoring margin of 38.17-18.33. Offensively, the credit goes to Allen. During the winning streak, Allen has a 70.7% completion percentage, 278.8 passing yards per game, and 19 total touchdowns (16 passing, three rushing) compared to just three interceptions.
However, that incredible six-game run the Bills went on featured only one playoff team (Pittsburgh). This season, they are an impressive 6-3 against teams at or above .500. Despite this and their 13-3 record, the Bills are only 3-2 against playoff teams.
Traveling to Buffalo in January is always tricky, especially as a dome team. There is still some hope for Colts fans. Even if they are facing the No. 7 seed, the Bills definitely have their work cut out for them against this scrappy Colts team.