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Saturday’s blowout by the Indianapolis Colts didn’t feel like the type of random outcome we’ve seen previously on the early Saturday afternoon of wild-card weekend.
It felt like an announcement. The Colts have arrived. And settle in, because they’re going to be a contender for a while.
The Colts weren’t just the better team than the Houston Texans, they embarrassed a Texans team that had won 11 of 13. The Colts won 21-7 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The last time Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson lost a game he started and finished by more than a touchdown, he was in high school. The Colts were just that much better on Saturday. Indianapolis was up 14-0 before people settled in on their couches for the first game of the NFL postseason, and it was instantly clear what the outcome would be.
This also might not be the type of situation we’ve seen before, when a team looks great on wild-card weekend and then gets overwhelmed in the divisional round. The Kansas City Chiefs get the Colts next – on Jan. 12, at 4:35 p.m. ET – and they will have a big challenge, especially when it comes to slowing down Andrew Luck. Indianapolis has won 10 of 11 and are clicking at all levels.
And just think, the Colts might be much, much better next season.
Colts should improve a lot in the offseason
You may have heard this among the various Le’Veon Bell speculation lately, but the Colts have the most projected salary-cap space in the NFL, and by a wide margin. According to Spotrac, the Colts have $121.6 million in projected cap space, the Jets have $104.5 million and nobody else has more than $82.9 million.
The Colts could sign Bell, another elite free agent and still have more cap space than anyone but the Jets. That’s scary because the Colts are already good and very young.
Indianapolis had no idea if Luck would come back healthy after missing a season due to shoulder surgery. The Colts suffered the ignominy of Josh McDaniels accepting their head-coaching job and then leaving them waiting at the altar. The roster was in serious disrepair, even if Luck came back strong.
Then everything went the Colts’ way. Frank Reich was hired, and he already looks like one of the NFL’s best coaches. Reich’s coordinators, all rookie coordinators in the NFL this season, look special too. Indianapolis made some great value signings in free agency led by tight end Eric Ebron, then had a grand-slam draft that includes All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard. It’s the first time since the 1965 Bears, with Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, that one team has had two rookies on the All-Pro team. Luck came back and played as well as anyone outside of Patrick Mahomes this season.
As recently as October, when the Colts were 1-5, the thought of Indianapolis being a dangerous playoff team this season seemed ridiculous. Now the idea of them being Super Bowl contenders next season isn’t too crazy, and it’s not even that outlandish to think they could do it this season.
Colts were tremendous on Saturday
By the time the Colts beat the Titans in Week 17 to clinch a wild-card spot, most NFL fans understood the Colts were legit. If there were any holdouts, they should be converted by now.
Indianapolis did everything right against the Texans. Luck was as masterful as ever. The Colts ran the ball well on a very good Texans run defense; Marlon Mack had 148 rushing yards. The Colts have built one of the best offensive lines in football and it was tremendous against J.J. Watt and the Texans. Indianapolis’ defense, led by coordinator Matt Eberflus, rarely made any mistakes against Watson and flew around to the ball. All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins was limited due to a severe shoulder sprain he suffered in the first half. Eberflus could end up being a hot head-coaching candidate in a thin crop, and for good reason.
The Colts were never challenged. On the first drive of the game, Luck hit Hilton for a 38-yard gain on an unbelievable pass to T.Y. Hilton to set up an Eric Ebron touchdown, and the Texans were rarely competitive after that. It was a complete performance by the Colts.
Get used to it. The Colts were a revelation this season, and there’s a good chance they get much better before next season. It’s also possible their hot streak this season continues for a while longer.
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• Report: USC is denying NFL teams permission to talk to Kliff Kingsbury
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