|Realistically speaking, it is not actually possible to tiptoe your way to the top of a division in the National Football League, but the Indianapolis Colts have given it their best shot.|
The Colts have rarely been flashy and have gotten to 6-3 by being a defensive power first and foremost. They began their season with a defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is about as big a crusher of optimism as you can get.
They have Philip Rivers under center, who came into the campaign having been dismissed and derided as too old and too erratic. To cap it all off, the Colts’ divisional rival, the Tennessee Titans, grabbed all the early AFC South attention by starting with a five-game winning streak.
Yet here are the Colts, and old man Rivers too, heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX) as a team worthy of our focus and with a real shot at turning this into an outstanding season.
Given the attrition rate of the NFL, one that dictates that so many wannabe contenders have been exposed as frauds by the time we get to Week 11, now comes a little more scrutiny.
We are all victims of perception and the simple reality is that we don’t expect a team with genuine aspirations of making a playoff splash to be led by someone like Rivers, a couple of weeks shy of his 39thbirthday and seemingly brought in as a stopgap following the end of his long association with the Chargers.
A lot of people are surprised. Former All Pro Brandon Marshall, co-host of FS1’s First Thins First, is not.
“This is one of the teams I picked to be my dark horse – because of Rivers,” Marshall said. “If he continues to make great decisions, this team could be really good. Philip Rivers, make good decisions and you will be right where you need to be at the end of the season.”
The AFC South is a two-way fight that the Colts took control of by beating the Titans last weekend. The Jaguars haven’t won since that opening weekend upset and the Houston Texans turned a slow start into a truly horrible season.
According to FOX Bet, the Colts are currently listed as the favorites to win the AFC South at -175, and are currently tied for the ninth best odds to win the Super Bowl at 25-to-1.
Green Bay will be a major test and a victory over Aaron Rodgers and company would officially mean the Colts are not under the radar any longer. Rivers is unlikely to be flustered either way.
He’s thinking his way through the season, his smarts and experience of immense value behind an outstanding offensive line that is young enough to keep improving. One way in which his knowhow has come into play has been in exploiting the lack of crowd noise this year.
With no fan noise to drown things out, watching back the television tapes from games has allowed savvy heads to pick up on certain tells from the opposition, while trying to eliminate their own.
Colts head coach Frank Reich naturally couldn’t go into too much specific detail, but indicated that by using things like dummy calls and listening to defensive reactions at the line, Rivers has been able to give the team an edge.
“Philip is really good at that,” Reich told the Indianapolis Star.
Rivers is also in an odd spot. He is not expected to come back for 2021 but when he has played his best games there have been calls from fans to give him another year. The flip side is that the better he plays, the more the Colts win, and the closer they resemble a team of genuine championship promise. With that, the incentive to find a top level QB for the future increases.
With the Colts unlikely to have a high draft pick, FS1’s Colin Cowherd urged them to make the kind of bold move that the Chiefs did to land Patrick Mahomes.
“Time to roll the dice, fellas,” Cowherd said. “Kansas City did, and it paid off. What do you want to be? The Colts are going to make the playoffs, (they have a) really good roster, a lot of good young players, they are very dynamic at certain spots, but have a ceiling at QB.
“What do you want to be? If you want to be the Chiefs … go for it … or you’re going to be the (Minnesota) Vikings. I think the Colts are that good. They are a ‘go for it’ move at QB away.”
A ‘go for it’ move would potentially bring about the end of Rivers’ career. After 17 years and with nine children at home, it is hard to see him moving towards Tom Brady years in terms of longevity.
He’ll be remembered mostly for his tenure with the Chargers but this season he has done a heck of a job without getting much notice for it.
While he’s getting closer to the end, the Colts are at a crossroads, both for their near future and also for the current season. They’re one win away from being at the forefront of the discussions regarding AFC contenders – and a defeat removed from slipping back into the quiet zone.
Here’s what others have said …
Chris Blystone, SB Nation: “Rivers has taken a lot of grief from Colts fans, who’ve gotten pretty accustomed to stellar quarterback play, something perhaps only Packers fans can appreciate. Realistically, Rivers has done absolutely everything he was brought in to do. He gave the Colts a passionate leader who came into the building from the jump familiar with Frank Reich’s offense.”
Jeff Kerr, CBS Sports: “(Philip) Rivers’ Hall of Fame candidacy is starting to get more complete as he continues to move up the all-time passing list in a number of categories. Even if he fails to land a Super Bowl, it will be hard to ignore the final numbers when his career does come to a close.”
Greg Jennings, FOX Sports: “It’s a no brainer. Philip Rivers is a Hall of Famer. When you’re in the top-six in categories like passing yards and touchdowns, those are numbers that jump out at you and say ‘look at me.’ The one thing that Philip Rivers lacks is the Super Bowl, but when you look at why he lacks that — it’s because of the one guy that has them all — Tom Brady, as well as Peyton Manning. That’s not a knock on Philip Rivers, that’s just their teams were better and they were better than him in those games.”