INDIANAPOLIS – The next seven games will tell us much about the 2023 Indianapolis Colts.
The team is firmly in the playoff hunt in the muddled AFC. However, if the NFL playoffs started today (they don’t!), the 5-5 Colts would be on the outside looking in, finishing behind the surprising 5-4 Houston Texans and the 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals.
Houston would claim the seventh and final spot.
But with seven games left, the Colts are still in it. They’re not alone. The Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders (both 5-5) remain in the AFC playoff hunt, as do the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets and Denver Broncos (all 4-5).
They team has already eclipsed its winning total from 2022. By this point last season, the Colts had fired their head coach and hired an interim after the team failed to meet expectations.
Season filled with obstacles
The 2023 Colts have overcome some significant obstacles.
Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered a season-ending injury against the Tennessee Titans in Week 5. That thrust Gardner Minshew into the starting role, leading to a three-game skid that included losses to Jacksonville, Cleveland and New Orleans.
In those losses, Minshew turned the ball over nine times, with four turnovers against the Jags, four against the Browns and one against the Saints. The mistake-prone stretch put the Colts on the minus side of the turnover ratio. Before the Jacksonville game, the team had been +3 on the season.
The Colts rebounded from the losing streak by beating Carolina and New England. Yes, the Panthers and Patriots are among the worst teams in the NFL, but both were road games, with one of them requiring an international road trip.
The team also started the season without its most explosive player, as Jonathan Taylor landed on the PUP list and missed the first four games before agreeing on a new contract. While he’s showed some signature big-play potential, Zack Moss leads the team in rushing yards with 617.
Various injuries have also forced the team to shuffle the tight end group and offensive line.
A season-ending Achilles injury to Dallis Flowers devastated an already experience-thin secondary. Second-round pick Juju Brents flashed potential before leaving the Browns game with a quad injury. He hasn’t played since.
The group, already inexperienced, has had to lean on seventh-round pick Jaylon Jones and first-year starter Darrell Baker Jr. The team turned to special teams standout Tony Brown against New Orleans to less-than-ideal results in Week 8.
Grover Stewart, a defensive stalwart and vital cog in the run defense, received a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. Without Big Grove in the lineup, the Colts are giving up 154 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
Before Stewart’s suspension, the run defense was considerably stingier, surrendering 113.5 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. The latter figure would rank among the league’s best.
Entering Week 6, the Colts ranked eighth in overall rushing defense. By Week 11, they’d dropped to 23rd. The decline coincides with Stewart’s absence.
He’ll miss two more games—at home against Tampa Bay and a road game in Tennessee—before he’s eligible to return against the Bengals on Dec. 10.
Indianapolis is still playing meaningful football with ten games in the rearview mirror. As the Colts use Week 11 to rest up, here’s a look at their remaining schedule:
- Week 12: vs. Tampa Bay (4-5), Nov. 26
- Week 13: at Tennessee (3-6), Dec. 3
- Week 14: at Cincinnati (5-4), Dec. 10
- Week 15: vs. Pittsburgh (6-3), TBD
- Week 16: at Atlanta (4-6), Dec. 24
- Week 17: vs. Las Vegas (5-5), Dec. 31
- Week 18: vs. Houston (5-4), TBD