COMMENTARY | No one could have seen this coming. Last year, the Indianapolis Colts were incredibly incompetent on their way to a 2-14 laugher of a season and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Now, after 11 games, the Colts are 7-4 and in the driver's seat of an AFC Wild Card playoff spot.
Colts fans beware, though. Midnight could strike on this Cinderella story.
The primary reason for this: the Colts' schedule.
A Little Help from the NFL
The NFL bends over backwards to establish as much parity as possible each season. The upside to this practice is that fans of any team can have some hope that their team has a fighting chance each year. Personally, I like the practice.
One way the league accomplishes this is through the NFL Draft, giving the worst teams the highest draft picks.
Another way the NFL does this is through its scheduling. Outside of division play and games against other specific divisions (this year, the Colts drew the NFC North and the AFC East), teams are matched based on how they performed last year. Thus, Indianapolis drew games against the comparably awful Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs.
A Little Help from Fate
Fate also played a role in the Colts' schedule. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are horrid in the AFC South. There's four of Indy's games right there. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are pretty bad in the AFC East, and the Detroit Lions are struggling in the NFC North. There's a total of four more games, making up half of Indy's schedule.
Throw in the Cleveland and Kansas City games, and 10 opponents are struggling this year.
What this all boils down to is that the seven teams that the Indianapolis Colts have beaten so far this season have a combined record of 31-46. One of those victories was an improbable home win against a Green Bay Packers team (7-4) that stumbled out of the gate before putting together a string of five consecutive wins after the Colts loss.
The teams the Colts have lost to have a combined record of 22-22. Those losses include getting shelled by the Chicago Bears (8-3), the New England Patriots (8-3) and the Jets (4-7), who played their best game of the season by far against Indy. Then there was a last-second loss to lowly Jacksonville (2-9).
What's to Come
The remaining schedule is a mixed bag. Two games are left to be played against the Houston Texans (10-1). Ouch. There's a home game left against Tennessee (4-7) and a road game to be played against Kansas City (1-10). A reasonable person might expect a 2-2 record in those four contests.
This week's game at the Detroit Lions (4-7) is a bit of an enigma. Detroit just took Houston to overtime before falling, but these same Lions also lost to Tennessee earlier this season and are currently on a three-game skid. Which Detroit team will show up on Sunday is anyone's guess.
The bottom line is that at this point, Colts fans are probably looking at a 9-7 or 10-6 finish which, barring disaster, should qualify them for the AFC Playoffs. If NFL.com's predictions come true, it could also send Indy to Colorado to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (8-3) .
That could wind up being an ugly end to an outstanding season--a road game against a strong team conjures up memories of visits to Chicago and Foxboro and an ugly loss in New York. For many fans around central Indiana, though, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Manning to advance in the playoffs at the expense of the Colts.
All of this being said, it sure is nice to see the Colts win more often than they lose. I'll take a 7-4 record--even if it is against a soft schedule--any day over what we all endured last year.
The author is a resident of central Indiana and a longtime fan of the Colts. He is also a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.