The Colts are the Super Bowl Darkhorse in the AFC

The Indianapolis Colts are a real Super Bowl contender in the AFC

By: Noah Nichols

The Indianapolis Colts finished the 2020 NFL regular season in disappointing fashion. It started with a 21-0 lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second-to-last game of the regular season. The Steelers would rally, and the Colts would falter, ultimately losing to the Steelers 28-24. The Colts would then wallop the Jacksonville Jaguars the following week, but then lose the week after in the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills. The loss against the Bills showed that the Colts had mostly everything they needed to win playoff games. And perhaps even win a Super Bowl. But Phillip Rivers retired in the off-season, which led to Carson Wentz being brought in to be the starting quarterback.

This leads to a few questions. First of all, can Carson Wentz play to the same level as Phillip Rivers did in 2020? Can the Colts improve on being good everywhere, and ascend to great? There are a few reasons to believe that the answer to those questions might be yes. And if the Colts can improve in those areas, then the Super Bowl is certainly not out of the question. And the fact that almost no one is talking about the Colts should provide a little fuel to the fire. The Colts have been pushed aside, left aside by the media in favor of flashy teams like the Bills, or Tennessee Titans.

That might be a mistake.

“You move teams. You go through what Carson has gone through, and an opportunity like this presents itself you use it for what it is. It’s time to hit the reset button. If you know Carson the way I know him, he’s embracing that.” Frank Reich knows that Carson Wentz struggled in 2020. Reich was not going to ignore it, probably because there was no way he could deny how awful Wentz was in 2020. But that does not mean that Reich no longer believes in Wentz. If that was the case, Wentz would not be a Colt.

Wentz could be, scratch that, is the x-factor for the Colts in 2021. His job is to replace Phillip Rivers’ level of play with something similar, and hopefully, better. A new situation is good for Wentz. He needed out of Philadelphia. Especially after these stats which he posted last year. Wentz led the NFL in interceptions (15) and sacks (50) while posting career-lows in completion percentage (.574), touchdown-to-interception ratio (16-to-15), and yards per attempt (6.0). Not looking so good.

But the Eagles had drafted a quarterback in the second round, and faced injuries on offense that, at times, seemed insurmountable. But that begs the question, can Reich fix Wentz? Possibly. But Reich doesn’t need to fix Wentz. He just needs Wentz to produce like Rivers did in 2020. Rivers threw for roughly 4,200 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His completion percentage was 68 percent, a career high by four points.

Wentz does not have to play that much better to reach those stat lines. He wont be running for his life in 2021. Instead of playing behind the worst offensive line in the NFL last year, he will be playing behind one of the best. To make this clear, the Eagles gave up 65 sacks in 2020. The Colts gave up 21. With the statue at quarterback that is Phillip Rivers. The pressure wont be all on Wentz. He not only will be able to have more than 0.3 seconds to throw the football, but have a capable running back to hand the ball off to. Jonathan Taylor will lead a Colts rushing attack that is growing to be one of the best in the league. Taylor will most certainly improve in 2021, and he had the 3rd most rushing yards in the NFL in 2020.

To switch gears momentarily, that rushing attack will certainly propel the Colts into the dark-horse-Super-Bowl- contender category. With one of the best offensive lines and running backs, in the NFL, the Colts could be a lot to handle on the ground. Taking even more pressure off Carson Wentz and allowing him to succeed. Admittedly, there is no way to prove that Wentz will be better in 2021 and near the level of Rivers. However, with the way 2020 went, there seems no place for Wentz to go than up, because he definitely hit rock-bottom in 2020. Hopefully.

Sarcasm aside, the pieces surrounding Wentz in Indianapolis are much better then in Philadelphia. There is little real pressure on Wentz, because expectations are so low. And he has been reunited with his old quarterbacks coach. Wentz should perform better in 2021, and there is little reason to expect that he will be as bad in 2021 as he was in 2020.

But Wentz playing at an average level, or even above average, might not be enough to take the Colts to the Super Bowl. The Colts are searching for players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball that can be star players. Not pretty good, or really good players. They need stars. And they have some.

To begin with, Jonathan Taylor looks like he might be one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2021. He was third in the NFL with roughly 1,200 yards rushing and had 11 touchdowns. He also caught the ball 36 times- something he never did at Wisconsin, for 299 yards. He averaged exactly five yards running the ball, and eight catching it. Heading into 2021 Taylor looks to be ready to explode onto the scene. He will have a year under him to learn the nuances of being a running back, and there is almost no reason for the Colts to limit his touches. Most likely, the Colts will increase his touch total from 268 to over 300.

The Colts also are expecting, and rightly so, that their passing game improves. At least, they are right to expect their receivers to improve. T.Y. Hilton is still a good receiver, but he has never been a true number one. However, the Colts have high expectations for second-year player Michael Pittman entering into 2021.

“There was a conscious effort to get the ball to him in the way that we did,” Reich said of Pittman. “We saw this in his college days. I remember Chris (Ballard) and I talking a lot about this, but this guy is fearless, now. He’s fearless in every way, but when the ball is in his hands, he wants to hurt somebody. ” Reich continued to heap the praise on Pittman. “That wasn’t possession-type stuff, that was big-play receiver stuff,” Reich said. “And we need to see more of that.”

The 6″4 223-pound wide receivers certainly should improve from his 40 receptions, 503 yards, and one touchdown. Pittman looks to blossom into a star on offense. And that’s all the Colts really seem to need. Darius Leonard leads a solid defense. The Colts are looking for first-round draft pick Kwitty Paye to add to their pass rush. If Paye can compliment Leonard, the Colts could suddenly have a darn good pash rush tandem. Their secondary is deep, but with no real star player.

But the Colts cannot have everything, like every team in the NFL. And the Colts don’t need everything to win the Super Bowl. If Carson Wentz can play like an average NFL quarterback, then the Colts passing game will not really lose its luster. Pittman should take a big jump in year two, and become the clear number one wideout that T.Y. Hilton never was. And Jonathan Taylor should become one of the best running backs in the NFL.

What more does it take? Not much. The Colts nearly beat the Bills in the playoffs last year, and the Colts have certainly improved at almost every position since that point. The biggest question is really Carson Wentz. The Colts Super Bowl hopes ride on his shoulders. His expectations are low and perhaps he will use that to his advantage.

The Colts certainly are being forgotten in the Super Bowl discussion. Probably because of Wentz. But all the Colts need is for Wentz to be OK. Throw the ball up to Pittman on crucial downs, and hand the ball off to Jonathan Taylor every-other snap. The rest will take care of itself. The media has forgotten the Colts. Don’t make the same mistake. They are too strong of an organization, head coach, and team, to fall off a cliff. If Anything, they will improve from 2020 and could potentially win the Super Bowl in 2021. They wont be the most flashy team in the NFL. But they have the playmakers, potential and determination to do it. And that’s all it takes.

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